Ayahuasca Study Shows Breakthrough in Resolving Intercultural Conflict
Can plant medicines heal long-standing, sociopolitical conflicts? A new study brought together groups with deep-rooted enmity for each other in an ayahuasca ceremony—could this be the solution for a more peaceful world?
Plant medicines, including ayahuasca and psilocybin from “magic mushrooms” have become breakthrough therapeutic modalities for treating depression, anxiety, and addiction, as taboos around psychedelics fade and scientists study their effects in sanctioned clinical settings. And now a group of scientists from the US, UK, and Israel has begun to look at ayahuasca as a tool for resolving intercultural conflict. By bringing together Israelis and Palestinians for a group ceremony, the researchers looked for signs of reconciliation and intergroup contact between the subjects.
Dr. Maya Shetreat MD, is a neurologist and herbalist specializing in plant medicine and psychedelic-assisted therapy. She had this to say about the recent study…
“We should definitely be able to experience significant shifts in identity politics because we know that psychedelic medicines like ayahuasca or psilocybin have these ego-dissolving properties that change the way our brains see us, see our identity, and perceive us as being separate from one another,” Dr. Shetreat said. “So, theoretically it’s possible that any kind of identity issues, whether it be political or otherwise, could be more in a place of resolution because people can see past differences.”
Results of this recent study proved to be profound, with several participants reporting visions in which they re-lived trauma from the perspective of those from the opposite culture. And in one instance, a participant was able to embody a single experience from both perspectives.
But while these results held significant weight for those involved, how does this translate at a larger scale?
“You know we have to ask the question, is it really necessary for everyone to be in ceremony and go through a psychedelic experience in order to create change? And actually, I think there’s an argument that it doesn’t take that many people, not everybody has to be in that role and enter that liminal space. The people who are called and the people who are motivated to engage with the medicine have those revelations, integrate, take action, and actually lead other people to see those connections that other people might not be able to see,” Dr. Shetreat said.
There’s a belief held by many within the plant medicine community that there is a sentience in these plants that has worked to form a bond between indigenous cultures and the modern, western world. Are these plants trying to communicate and work with us to actively heal our collective consciousness?
“Yes, I do think that plant medicines like the ones we’re talking about (psychedelics) do have some intention in their desire to be in relationship with humans and that’s why they emerge in this way.”
In modern society we are bombarded with constant streams of information from the many channels of communication we have access to, but within that comes a deluge of competing values and viewpoints, vying to be heard. How can plant medicine ceremonies and studies like these help human communication in this era?
“I think that this study in particular really demonstrates that engaging with psychedelics, whether it be through microdosing or macrodosing, may be able to help draw people out of that black and white, oppositional, polarized way of being and help them come back into that sense of connection and see beyond the differences that we have. I think it’s a really profound study in that way and I think it’s very hopeful.”
As scientists continue to study the myriad ways in which plant medicines are able to heal psychological trauma and rifts between global cultures, it will be interesting to see how these studies manifest into potential solutions and how they will be received within the mainstream culture. For now, at least we can see their efficacy within small groups willing to participate and open their minds to new outcomes toward peacebuilding.
Brain Scans of Shamans Show Ability to Alter Consciousness Naturally
A new study is the first to investigate what occurs in an alternate state of consciousness by looking inside the brain of a shaman.
Shamanism is considered to be the most ancient form of healing and spiritual practice. While science has been studying the healing benefits of the psychoactive plants used by shamans to enter into an altered state of consciousness, there have been very few studies to look at the neurological nature of the state itself. A groundbreaking new study investigated the shamanic state of consciousness accessed without the use of psychedelics.
Carlos Tanner is a longtime student of traditional shamanism and the director of the Ayahuasca Foundation. an educational and ceremonial center in Peru. “Shamanism refers to an alternate dimension, a dimension where spirits reside, where communication is possible, where greater insights can be acquired and brought back to the waking-day life,” Tanner said. “So a shaman would be someone who can enter into a different dimension and then pull that back.”
The process by which shamans access this state is rooted in the rich tradition of what Tanner calls, a ‘science of consciousness enhancement.’
“Oftentimes, there is the term ‘ceremony’ to describe the intentional entrance into this shamanic state. So there would be a preparation where there might be rituals to essentially prepare, certain clothing might be worn, and the use of certain tools, oftentimes a musical instrument, might be used,” Tanner said.
“All of those are a beautiful science of consciousness enhancement that, I think, has been developed through the continual use of a psychotropic substance, although to a point where, in many cases, the psychotropic substance is no longer needed to enter that state because the consciousness enhancement that was provided by the psychotropic substance can be accomplished without it.”
Richard Harris Ph.D. is a researcher at the University of Michigan who conducted the recent study on the shamanic state of consciousness. Dr. Harris and his team were interested in investigating this state in its purest form, unaffected neurologically by the use of any exogenous substances. To facilitate the entrance into the altered state without the use of psychedelics, the practitioners all listened to a recording of shamanic drumming.
“So, we did a study with 24 shamanic practitioners and 24 normal, control individuals and we collected EEG data (electroencephalogram data), you know brain activity data, while each participant had their eyes closed while they were listening to classical music which was the control condition, and then while they were listening to shamanic drumming music which was the more experimental condition,” Dr. Harris said. “So, what we’re doing with the shamanic drumming, we’re using the person’s own physiology to engender the state.”