Ayahuasca for PTSD: Integrating Psychedelic Therapeutic Strategies for Neurotrauma into a Bioinformatics Framework

Jessica L. Nielson, PhD & Julie D. Megler, MSN, NP-BC


Abstract: This presentation is part of our work developed at the University of California, San Francisco using a bioinformatics framework and multivariate statistics to fully characterize the syndrome of spinal cord injury (SCI). This approach can be applied to other forms of neurotrauma, including traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Studies about MDMA-assisted psychotherapy have demonstrated safety and remarkable, long-lasting beneficial effects for treatment-resistant PTSD. We hypothesize that by incorporating the data from these clinical trials into our bioinformatics framework, along with additional studies from previous and future PTSD trials, we will be able to identify syndromic risk factors for treatment-resistant PTSD and its appropriate treatment. We will present a pilot study currently being developed in collaboration with the Paititi Institute in Peru to collect data from individuals suffering from ailments including PTSD who have voluntarily traveled to participate in shamanic ayahuasca ceremonies in order to heal themselves. Our study will use outcome measures similar to those that are currently being used for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD (e.g. CAPS) to assess the effects of ayahuasca on PTSD, including pre-treatment and post-treatment follow-up interviews. The goal of this project is to identify the potential risk factors for treatment-resistant PTSD, and to determine whether substances such as MDMA and ayahuasca will prove to be additional therapeutic options for veterans suffering from PTSD.

Jessica Nielson, PhD, received her BS in biology from Cal Poly Pomona in 2003, and her PhD in anatomy and neurobiology from the University of California, Irvine, in 2010. During her doctoral work she resolved a century-old controversy regarding the fate of the corticospinal tract following spinal cord injury, definitively demonstrating that this important motor pathway survives injury and is available in chronic cases for therapeutic interventions to promote regeneration and functional recovery. She joined the Brain and Spinal Injury Center at University of California San Francisco in 2011 as a postdoctoral scholar, where she has been developing a novel bioinformatics approach to characterize syndromic features of spinal cord injury, with future plans to apply this approach to traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Julie Megler, MSN, NP-BC, is a licensed nurse practitioner in both psychiatry and family practice. In 2009, she received her Master’s of Science in nursing from the University of Miami, Florida. In 2010, she began working at an emergency room in Detroit, Michigan. Her ER experience illustrated for Julie the gap between medical and psychiatric care, and how the mind/body connection is often ignored, leading her to develop a practice that integrates medicine and mental health for more effective treatment. In 2012, she completed her post-Master’s certificate as a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner at the University of California, San Francisco. Julie is now working for the San Francisco Veteran’s Medical Center (SFVMC). At the SFVMC, she is seeing dual diagnosis psychiatric patients. Julie has particular interest in veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the implications of ayahuasca for PTSD treatment.


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