Evaluating the Therapeutic Potential of Ayahuasca for Substance Use Problems

Brian Rush, PhD


Abstract: This presentation will provide a broad framework for the different types of research necessary to investigate and understand the therapeutic potential of ayahuasca. It will briefly summarize what we know about the effectiveness and active ingredients of treatment of substance use problems, the definitions and methods used to define treatment “success,” and the implications for ayahuasca treatment research. An important distinction will be drawn between studies of basic mechanisms of therapeutic effects; clinical research on small samples under tightly controlled conditions; and substance use services research that investigates treatment settings, samples, and outcomes in naturalistic settings. Across this spectrum of research strategies, an overview of the emergent literature on treating problematic substance use with ayahuasca is offered, both in the biomedical and social sciences field. The presentation will close with an outline of an interdisciplinary research project to investigate the therapeutic offerings of a group of centers in Latin American countries incorporating ayahuasca as a key component of the treatment of substance use problems.

Brian Rush, PhD, is an Epidemiologist and Health Services researcher working as a Senior Scientist and Head of the Health Systems and Health Equity Research Group with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. He is also Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, Canada. He is currently in the initial stages of formulating an interdisciplinary research project to evaluate ayahuasca’s potential in treating drug abuse in the Latin American context as well as research in Canada on the prevalence and pattern of ayahuasca use in the general population and self-reported reasons and benefits of use.


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