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Rate of Adverse Physical Effects High With Ayahuasca Use

69.9 percent of sample reported acute physical health effects; 2.3 percent reported need for subsequent medical attention

THURSDAY, Nov. 17, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Use of ayahuasca, the plant-based decoction whose use has been expanding for mental health purposes and spiritual and personal growth, is associated with a high rate of adverse physical effects, according to a study published online Nov. 16 in PLOS Global Public Health.

José Carlos Bousos, Ph.D., from the International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research and Services in Barcelona, Spain, and colleagues used data from the Global Ayahuasca Survey collected between 2017 and 2019 from 10,836 participants from more than 50 countries to examine the risk/benefit balance of ayahuasca use.

The researchers found that 69.9 percent of the sample reported acute physical health adverse effects (mainly vomiting), with 2.3 percent reporting the need for medical attention. In the weeks or months following consumption, 55.9 percent of the sample reported adverse mental health effects; 88 percent considered these effects as part of a positive process of growth or integration. Professional support for these effects was sought by about 12 percent. There was an association for physical adverse effects with older age at initial ayahuasca use, having a physical health condition, higher lifetime and previous year use, having a prior substance use disorder diagnosis, and taking ayahuasca in an unsupervised context. Positive associations were seen for mental health adverse effects with anxiety disorders, physical health conditions, and the strength of the acute spiritual experience; a negative association was seen with consumption in a religious setting.

“The international expansion of ayahuasca practice creates a series of new challenges for global public health policy and regulation,” the authors write.

Two authors are directors of a not-for-profit medicinal psychedelics research institute, which has received funding from the biotechnology industry.

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