News / Health

Potent Jungle Vine Brew Has Potential to Treat Addiction

Researchers say ayahuasca, found in the Peruvian rainforest, could be used for a variety of ailments

In the South American jungles, ayahuasca is used in religious ceremonies to induce visions and also as a remedy to cure illness.
In the South American jungles, ayahuasca is used in religious ceremonies to induce visions and also as a remedy to cure illness.

Multimedia

Audio
Erika Celeste

New research suggests ayahuasca, a jungle vine found in the Peruvian rainforest, can have a powerful effect on the human central nervous system when brewed with other plants. Researchers say one of ayahuasca's most promising uses could be in treating drug and alcohol addiction.

According to the World Health Organization, medicines derived from plants play a major role in the health care of 80 percent of the world's population. Western medicine has synthesized many of these natural drugs, from the painkillers in willow bark to the anti-cancer compounds in the neem tree, and is constantly searching for more pharmaceuticals in the biodiversity of the world's forests.

Click to Listen:

Download/Play Audio File


Ayahuasca is one traditional plant-based medicine that has drawn the attention of investigators. In the South American jungles, it is used in religious ceremonies to induce visions and also as a remedy to cure ills.

Vine of the dead could help improve life

At the Onanyan Shobo spiritual retreat center in the rainforest near Iquitos, Peru, shaman Alfredo Kayruna Canayo shows off a section of the twisting, leafy vine. "What ayahuasca means is vine of the dead," he explains through an interpreter. "Some people call it soul vine."

Ayahuasca is known as a master plant, a very powerful remedy that treats the whole person: body, mind, and soul. "The ayahuasca [can] cure anything you have," the shaman says. "Start with simple things. For example, it's very simple to cure or repel the bad energies from your insides. What is the bad energy? One of them could be the fears, then some wound or injury you have."

Shaman Alfredo heads for a treatment at Onanyan Shobo.
Shaman Alfredo heads for a treatment at Onanyan Shobo.

Whether the plant is being used for religious or medicinal purposes, ayahuasca is taken only in a ceremonial setting under the direction of an experienced shaman. To turn it into a drink, also called ayahuasca, pieces of the vine are pounded into a pulp and combined with several other plants, then brewed down for eight or more hours into a thick orange liquid.

That combination, shaman Alfredo says, is critical. "Only by itself, this plant doesn't work good, you have to add this with the other plant - the chacruna - which is the help to the ayahuasca. In Shipibo culture, they believe the chacruna is the wife of ayahuasca because they help and work together."

A sophisticated chemical concoction

An international research team is investigating the pharmaceutical potential of ayahuasca, known scientifically as Banisteriopsis caapi. Principal investigator, Dr. Charles Grob, is a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the UCLA School of Medicine. His team has done a chemical analysis of the medicinal drink.

Pieces of the vine are pounded into a pulp and combined with several other plants, then brewed down for eight or more hours into a thick orange liquid.
Pieces of the vine are pounded into a pulp and combined with several other plants, then brewed down for eight or more hours into a thick orange liquid.

While the shaman's characterization of the herbal interaction may be whimsical, Grob says science confirms that the ayahuasca brew is a potent medication. "It's a very sophisticated form of pharmacology, which somehow the native peoples of the Amazon region have figured out. Ayahuasca is generally a decoction of two plants. Each plant if taken separately has no effects on the human central nervous system, but when taken together there's a very powerful synergy."

The active ingredients in the brew are DMT, a naturally occurring brain chemical similar to serotonin, and a natural antidepressant. DMT is inactivated in the human gut, but when combined with the antidepressant, it can be absorbed by the body.

Grob says one of ayahuasca's most promising uses is in treating drug and alcohol addiction. "Number one, it does not appear to be addictive and the individuals do not develop a tolerance, they do not go through withdrawals, and generally speaking, it is very unusual for people to take it on consecutive days over an extended period of time."

The potion also has anti-parasitic properties, which can help prevent malaria. There is also some evidence that it diminishes the symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

An illegal brew, for now

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies the principal active ingredient in ayahuasca as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, which is not considered to have any legitimate medical use. As a result, the ayahuasca brew is illegal in the United States, and most of the pharmaceutical studies are being conducted in South America.

Grob says the studies are important. "There's great potential to learn about the range of ayahuasca and to explore its therapeutic value, but first steps first, and I think first we need to fully understand how it's utilized in South America and then do trials in the U.S. and Europe."

Retreats like Onanynan Shobo in the Peruvian jungle, have become popular destinations for the medical tourism industry.
Retreats like Onanynan Shobo in the Peruvian jungle, have become popular destinations for the medical tourism industry.

Because many Shamans claim ayahuasca cures a variety of cancers, tumors, and other diseases, the Peruvian jungle has become a popular destination for the medical tourism industry.

Most of the visitors at Onanynan Shobo, where Shaman Alfredo practices, are European, with the remainder coming from the United States, Australia and Asia.

As long as its use in western medicine is illegal, anyone wishing to explore ayahuasca's medical benefits will have to come to the source in South America.

You May Like

Multimedia Obama, Modi Resolve Nuclear Deal Issues

Leaders find resolution on issues of liability of suppliers to India in event of nuclear accident, US demands to track whereabouts of material supplied to country More

WHO's Late Efforts in Tackling Ebola Highlight Need for Reform

Health experts debate measures to reform agency’s response to global public health emergencies in special one-day session on deadly outbreak More

One Tumultuous Year in Power for CAR's President

As sectarian violence raged across Central African Republic, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has Herculean task: to end civil war and put country back on right track More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid