In this Drug Science webinar, we learn how ayahuasca may be helpful in the treatment of addiction, trauma, and anger issues from addiction recovery coach Mark Drax, who describes the efficacy of ayahuasca to treat sex addiction.
From the age of 3, Mark Drax’ childhood was riddled with physical abuse both in his home and at school. Having been beaten by his childhood nanny, and tortured by his peers and headmasters at school, Mark sought a psychological escape – a way to suppress the pain and fear that had built up internally. At early adolescence, he discovered masturbation and its ability to “make the pain go away”. At such a formative age, this development set the stage for an unhealthy relationship with sex and intimacy that became pervasive in his life.
It was not until his 40’s that Mark was honestly confronted by his then-girlfriend about his toxic and self-sabotaging behaviour. This point marked the beginning of Mark’s recovery journey, as he checked into a treatment centre, and began facing the emotions that pushed him to escapism. Around ten years after beginning this journey, Mark again found himself struggling with his sex addiction, despite participating in regular therapy and a 12-step sex addiction program. Ultimately sabotaging a meaningful relationship, Mark was desperate for a treatment option that could provide further insight and answers.
At a 2016 conference, Mark attended a talk given by Dr Gabor Mate on the therapeutic potential of ayahuasca. Interest piqued, Mark sought the input of Dr Mate, who advised him to travel to The Temple of the Way of Light in Iquitos, Peru and participate in an ayahuasca ceremony. Alongside 23 others, Mark began a 3-week journey in the Peruvian jungle, drinking ayahuasca every third night at the guidance of a shaman.
On the first night, immediately after consuming the brew, Mark found himself compulsively yawning, which he cited as being a lifetime of negative energy being forced out of himself. The morning after the first experience, Mark reflected with his accompanying girlfriend on their hallucinations of the previous day. Mark’s girlfriend began to describe a vision of Mark as a young child cowering in bed under a blanket, screaming at a group of boys who were beating him with socks filled with bars of soap. Mark then offered to describe his own vision from the day before which, quite astoundingly, was completely identical to the story told by his girlfriend, down to even the most minute details. At the second ceremony, Mark set his intention to discover the painful experiences of his past that he had suppressed. That night, he envisaged the experiences of being beaten by his childhood nanny in extreme detail, which he later verified with family members who did not realise he had forgotten these memories in the first place.
Mark cites these three weeks as life-changing and credits the ayahuasca for tapping into parts of his own psyche that 14 years of treatment had not even approached.
While controlled, systematic research assessing ayahuasca as a potential addiction treatment is presently lacking, existing data provides encouraging signs. Qualitative studies and anecdotal data have provided a framework of evidence that ayahuasca could be a useful tool in treating substance dependency and addiction.
Fabregas et al (2010) found that ritual-users of ayahuasca in Brazilian ceremonies scored significantly lower on the Addictions Severity Index (ASI) than non-users. Barbosa et al (2009) measured 23 Santo Daime and União do Vegetal individuals immediately before and six months after their first ayahuasca experience, finding increased attitudes towards independence, increased confidence, and improved mental health.
Currently, the Ayahuasca Treatment Outcome Project (ATOP) is a multi-site (Canada, Peru, Brazil, Mexico) project exploring the efficacy of ayahuasca-based therapy in treating addictions and other mental health conditions. Legal restrictions and social stigmas are an obstacle in ayahuasca research, but it appears to show therapeutic potential in some cases.
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