Anecdotal accounts about the mental and physical health benefits of the Holy Medicine are many, but there are not enough scientific researches to prove these anecdotal accounts.
Recently a group of independent researchers in the UK have addressed this disparity of research on the Holy Medicine and published a study on the benefits of Holy Medicine when used in a traditional setting.
Nige Netzband was the lead author of this research who, with his team, evaluated the effects of the Holy Medicine on personality traits of those who had attended Sacred Ceremonies and consumed the Holy Medicine in Amazonian indigenous traditional setting, commonly adapted for tourists who attend the Sacred Ceremonies to consume the Holy Medicine in the Amazons.
Before this, most of the studies and research investigating the effects of the Holy Medicine on personality have occurred in church-based settings and clinical psychotherapeutic frameworks. However, this self-funded research is the first to examine the effects of the Holy Medicine on personality within Shipibo-style cultural Sacred Ceremonies. This study has been approved by the institutional ethics committee and was independently assessed by the British Psychological Society.
The study data was collected at the “Ayahuasca Foundation”, which organises the Sacred Ceremonies and researches within the Allpahuayo-Mishana National Reserve, approximately 20 miles from Iquitos. There were Sacred Ceremony for 12 days and included six Sacred Ceremonies every other day. A range of other Plants was combined with the Holy Medicine as admixtures during the Sacred Ceremonies, none of which is known to be directly psychoactive.
The administration of the Holy Medicine was conducted in the format of an original traditional Sacred Ceremony, with its traditions originated in Shipibo culture. The Sacred Ceremonies were organising in groups of around 10 to 12 participants. These were led by a local shaman, alongside four to five facilitators especially trained by the Foundation. The Sacred Ceremonies generally began after sunset around 20:00, lasting approximately six hours. The maloca where the Sacred Ceremonies were held was set up with single mattresses evenly spaced out around the inside perimeter for each participant, with individual buckets for purging provided. The study was designed with a control group of 24 individuals who were on holiday in Peru and who have never consumed the Holy Medicine before.
How research was conducted
Researchers used the NEO Personality Inventory-3, also known as the NEO-PI3, that catalogs personality into five primary personality domains, including conscientiousness, extraversion, openness to experience, to quantitatively measure changes in personality traits agreeableness, and neuroticism.
Before the participants’ first Sacred Ceremony, participants were given a baseline personality measurement using NEO-PI3, and after the end of their 12 days of the Sacred Ceremonies, having completed six Sacred Ceremonies, the attending participants were once again asked to complete the study questionnaire.
For measuring the long-term effects of the Holy Medicine on personality change, the questionnaire was sent to them as a six-month follow-up. Besides this, researchers also used the Mystical Experience Questionnaire to measure the levels of perceived mystical experience after attending the Sacred Ceremonies.
The study found that all the participants of the study experienced a significant decrease in neuroticism and a considerable increase in agreeableness. The reductions in neuroticism were more profound than researchers had anticipated. Dr. Simon Ruffell, the co-author of the study, Senior Research Associate at King’s College, London, and a psychiatrist at Maudsley Hospital identified the fact that neuroticism significantly decreased not just in the short-term but also in the long-term, they observed six-month follow-up without further consuming the Holy Medicine as one of the most significant findings of this study.
He also explained that “this is consistent with the growing body of research which suggests Psychedelics, and in this case, the Holy Medicine of the Holy and Divine Mother Ayahuasca, have major therapeutic potential. High levels of neuroticism are associated with a range of psychiatric conditions, including anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Research shows that the Holy Medicine of the Holy and Divine Mother Ayahuasca is able to decrease neuroticism, making it a valuable therapeutic tool for treating such conditions.”
Though these results showed multiple similarities with existing previously found results, there is one major difference among these findings of other studies done in a medical context with Psilocybin. Previous research conducted at Johns Hopkins University showed that mystical experiences induced by Psilocybin cause an increase in openness as divergent to decreases in neuroticism. Although it is true that decreases in neuroticism have been found in Psilocybin research, it was not as statistically significant as the increase in trait openness.
Ruffell further explained in regards to the findings, “one possible reason that we didn’t find substantial increases in openness might be connected to self-selection bias and that participants were most likely already at a ‘ceiling level’ of openness. In essence, the kind of people who seek out experiences like going to the Amazon to consume the Holy Medicine of the Holy and Divine Mother Ayahuasca is probably already very open, with the participants in our sample have reported higher levels of openness by comparison to the general population.”
It remains unclear as to how far the decreases in neuroticism found in this study can be attributed to the visionary states provided by the Holy Medicine or the extent to which they were determined by set and setting. Future directions for this research would entail replicating the study in different settings such as clinical, church-based, and neo-shamanic settings.
“Based on our research looking at a limited number of personality measures, it seems that the Holy Medicine of the Holy and Divine Mother Ayahuasca in a Sacred Ceremonial setting has a similar impact to the Holy Medicine of the Holy and Divine Mother Ayahuasca in other settings,” says Ruffell. “However, as we continue to research, I imagine that we will likely find that the Holy Medicine of the Holy and Divine Mother Ayahuasca, in different settings with slightly different ingredients is better for different mental health conditions.”
- MacLean, A. K., Johnson, W. M., Griffiths, R. R. (2011). Mystical experiences occasioned by the hallucinogen psilocybin lead to increases in the personality domain of openness. Psychopharmacology, [online] Volume, 25(11), p. 1453-61. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0269881111420188 [Accessed 27th June 2021].
- Netzband, N., Ruffell, S., Linton, S. et al. (2020). Modulatory effects of Ayahuasca on personality structure in a traditional framework. Psychopharmacology, [online] Volume, 237, p.3161–3171. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-020-05601-0 [Accessed 27th June 2021].