Ayahuasca-Assisted Therapy in the Treatment of Addiction in a Canadian First Nations Band

Gerald Thomas PhD, Philippe Lucas MA, N. Rielle Capler, M.H.A and Kenneth Tupper PhD

Abstract: This presentation is a comprehensive overview of an unpublished observational study of ayahuasca-assisted therapy for addiction and patterns of dependence conducted in British Columbia, Canada, in 2011. The study took place in the longhouse of a coastal First Nations band in cooperation with the Band Council and health office. The research tracked the progress of 12 indigenous participants of the “Working with Addiction and Stress” retreats organized by Dr. Gabor Maté, which combines four to five days of psycho-spiritual counseling with two ayahuasca ceremonies in the Peruvian Shipibo indigenous tradition. This presentation will examine “observational” research designed to evaluate the therapeutic potential of illicit substances like ayahuasca, and then discuss researchers’ observations of the retreat itself. Ayahuasca-assisted addiction therapy was shown to have a significant and lasting positive impact on the lives of many of the retreat participants. This talk will close by sharing the final study results, and a discussion of the challenges and opportunities of using ayahuasca-assisted therapy to reduce drug-related harms and address stress, trauma, and problematic substance use in aboriginal and non-aboriginal populations.

Gerald Thomas, PhD, received his doctoral degree in political science from Colorado State University in 1998 and a Master’s degree in economics in 1996 from the same institution. He has worked in the addictions field in Canada since 2002. He is currently a collaborating scientist with the Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia. His research interests focus on investigating ways to evolve the beneficial uses of substances while minimizing their social and personal costs. In his past work, he has compared the social costs of alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis in Canada; developed a public health approach to alcohol policy for British Columbia; and helped to create a policy-relevant typology for assessing cannabis use. He is currently involved in a number of national and regional research projects including being the principal investigator for an observational study of the use of ayahuasca-assisted therapy for stress and addictions.

Philippe Lucas, MA is a Research Affiliate with the Center for Addictions Research of British Columbia and a founding Board member of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies Canada and the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. His research interests, projects, and publications include the use of cannabis, ibogaine, and ayahuasca in the treatment of addiction. He is currently a Primary or Co-Investigator on a number of studies examining “cannabis substitution theory,” and is Coordinator and Co-Investigator of an observational study of ayahuasca-assisted treatment for addiction and stress.

N. Rielle Capler, MHA, has worked as researcher and policy advisor in the medical cannabis field for 13 years. She helped pioneer Canada’s first compassion club, where she worked as the policy analyst and research coordinator from 1999 to 2007. Rielle is co-investigator on several community-based research projects, including the Health Effects of Medical Marijuana Project (HEMMP) with UBC’s School of Nursing, and the Medical Cannabis Standards, Engagement, Evaluation, and Dissemination (SEED) Project. Rielle is a co-founder of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries (CAMCD) and Canadians for Safe Access, a national organization promoting safe access to cannabis for medical use and research. She sits on the advisory board of the Drug Policy Committee of the BC Civil Liberties Association. Rielle is also a co-investigator on an observational study of ayahuasca-assisted therapy in the treatment of addiction that took place in British Columbia, Canada, in 2011-2012. She is currently a doctoral student in Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of British Columbia.

Kenneth W. Tupper, PhD, is an Adjunct Professor in the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia. His 2011 PhD dissertation focused on ayahuasca, entheogenic education, and public policy. His other research interests include the cross-cultural and historical uses of psychoactive substances; public, professional and school-based drug education; and the creation of effective public policies to maximize benefits and minimize harms from currently illegal drugs (kentupper.com).

Also available on
Help translate and caption videos on