Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 44 (3), 209–215, 2012 Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 0279-1072 print / 2159-9777 onlineDOI: 10.1080/02791072.2012.703100

A Study of Ayahuasca Use in North America

Rachel Harris, Ph.D. & Lee Gurel, Ph.D.

Most of the subjects reported the experience of being guided, receiving both inspiration and often explicitly personal advice. Some felt they had learned to trust life and surrender to such guidance; others felt that they now had a mission in life.

An overwhelming number of subjects did not seek therapy, saying that therapists who had not experienced ayahuasca would not be able to understand.

Almost all subjects described changing their lives in a positive way, most often citing feeling more calm and centered with a greater appreciation of life, more open and loving, an increase in spiritual awareness and being more present in the moment.

Almost all subjects reported drinking less alcohol or stopping altogether.

Improved abilities most often mentioned were healing, psychic intuition, creativity and musical expression.

People said they were more conscious of their diet, making better choices for healthier food and less junk.

When asked about changes in relationships, subjects most often responded feeling more connected to their hearts and able to love. They were more interested in authentic, honest relationships and more tolerant, patient and aware of others. A few described letting go of toxic relationships.

The most frequent words used to describe changes in mood were calm and peaceful, compassionate and loving.

Regarding changes in attitude toward their own selves, the words most often used were more loving, accepting, forgiving and self-confident. Subjects reported being less judgmental and more grateful, content, kinder, and more comfortable in their body with greater clarity about their life purpose. One subject said, “I’m becoming my own best friend.”

Attitudes toward life changed in the direction of more faith in a divine presence along with more confidence in guides and trusting the unknown: “I’m more confident to trust that life is supporting me wherever I go.” One subject described this as a “major shift in world view;” another said, “I’m part of the Cosmos.”

“I now believe the universe is connected through consciousness, that we are all one and interconnected through an energetic web and love of life. I used to not believe in anything.”

A PhD psychologist wrote: “Always choose love. We are singularly alone yet never alone. No traditional psychotherapy can achieve the results that ayahuasca can heal. The heart of learning is that everything changes.”

When asked whether they had a personal relationship with the spirit of ayahuasca, 74% of subjects replied “yes.” The spirit of ayahuasca was most often described as a wise teacher, grandmother or healer from a higher spiritual dimension and intelligence who provides guidance and loving, comforting, protective support.

The qualitative data were so overwhelmingly positive that Rachel Harris began to actively search for interviewees who had a negative response to an ayahuasca experience. The reports closest to negative had a similar theme: “I had a very hard time. . . .” “It was a difficult trip. . . .” Then the interviewee would invariably add “. . . but I learned so much from it.”

How people are integrating their ayahuasca experience appears to be a spiritual process as much as a psychological one.

Two well-known professors of religion (Huston Smith and Robert K. C. Forman) were asked, “What is the spirit of ayahuasca?” Since both independently replied, “We don’t know,” psychologists would do well to be open to the possibility of not knowing.

This study strongly supports the view that ayahuasca users are, in fact, engaged in an authentic spiritual process. The data support the right of ayhauasca churches to legally use ayahuasca as a sacrament in keeping with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that granted a similar right to Native Americans to use peyote in their ceremonies.