Ayahuasca has been used as a medicine in Mesoamerican ceremonies for thousands of years, but the primary psychoactive compound, DMT, was not synthesised until 1931. DMT was studied during the wave of psychedelic research in the 1950s and 60s until research was banned in 1971 by the Convention of Psychotropic Substances. Ayahuasca was not included in this treaty and, despite being outlawed in many countries, traditional practices have generally been exempt.
Rising interest in ayahuasca ceremonies, and the proliferation of ayahuasca retreats, demonstrates the demand for this ancient medicine. Now, as psychedelic research enters a renaissance, the need to understand these substances is growing.
The first brain scans of DMT were published in 2019, and in 2021 clinical trials began investigating DMT as a treatment for depression. As other classical psychedelics show promise in the treatment of a range of mental health conditions, further research into both DMT and ayahuasca is highly anticipated. An understanding of these substances will be a vital asset in the future of psychedelic research.
Module 1 – History & Current Law
Module 1 introduces DMT and ayahuasca and explains the historical use of and research into these lesser known substances. This includes a chronological look at DMT research, traditional use of ayahuasca, and why it was banned in the first place. We will also examine the current legal status of DMT & ayahuasca internationally, explaining why the current Schedule 1 status is preventing vital research, due to the exceptional safety profile of these substances, and similarity with psychedelic compounds that have already demonstrated potential for therapeutic treatments.
Our goal in this module is to educate medical students on this substance to prepare them for the integration of this substance into western medicine.
Module 2 – Pharmacology
Module 2 takes a deep dive into the neurology and pharmacology that underpins DMT. This slide set explains the metabolism of DMT, its interactions with the brain, and the effects that these have on the human body and mind. We will then explain the difference between DMT and ayahuasca, how the preparation alters the effects of DMT, and the research into both substances. Understanding the psychoactive properties and physiological effects of DMT and ayahuasca is essential for medical students regardless of their legal status. While the ancient history of ayahuasca use suggests potential for therapeutic applications, the risks and possibility of adverse events with both DMT and ayahuasca must be understood.
Being aware of all of these relevant factors will help inform the next generation of psychotherapists and researchers.
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