In recent decades, ritualistic use of ayahuasca has spread throughout the world. Retrospective studies have suggested a good psychological safety profile, but prospective studies involving ceremony ayahuasca-naive participants are lacking.
We conducted the study using a subsample from a previous study, for which first-time ceremony ayahuasca participants were recruited. The subsample consisted of 7 subjects who experienced acute and challenging psychological reactions. The semistructured Mini-International Neuropsychiatric Interview and psychometric questionnaires were administered before participants attended the ayahuasca ceremony and at 1 and 6 months after exposure. Subjective experiences were also recorded.
Seven subjects from a sample of 40 reported having experienced intense challenging psychological effects during the ayahuasca ceremony. Four of those 7 subjects met the diagnostic criteria for 1 or more psychiatric disorder before the ayahuasca ceremony. One month after the ceremony, 2 of those subjects no longer showed psychiatric symptoms, whereas the symptoms of the other 2 were reduced considerably. Those results persisted at the 6-month follow-up. Inappropriate setting/context (poor guiding skills and screening) contributed to some of the challenging reactions. Most of the participants (6 of 7) did not take ayahuasca again during the study period.
Based on the cases reported here, we suggest that although it is possible that participating in ayahuasca ceremonies may entail acute psychological negative reactions, those challenging experiences can also have positive long-term effects. Prospective research on the safety profile of ayahuasca and how it is affected by the context of different practices and safety strategies is therefore necessary.