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Ayahuasca for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Assessing Risks and Benefits through Anonymous Community Feedback
Jessica Nielson, Ph.D.
Sunday April 23, 2017 • 4:30 PM - 5:00 PM • Grand Ballroom
Continuing Education


Ayahuasca-assisted healing is gaining notoriety in the Western world as an alternative therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Ayahuasca has been used in traditional and legal contexts in South America for centuries, and evidence from the scientific literature over the past 40 years has shown promise for its healing potential for a variety of disorders. Although ayahuasca is legal in several countries, because a major ingredient in ayahuasca is dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a current Schedule I substance in the United States (US), people who wish to take ayahuasca must either do so illegally, or within approved religious contexts. Prior studies have shown ayahuasca to be safe under the appropriate conditions, however a handful of deaths and controversies have been associated with the use of ayahuasca, and appropriate therapeutic applications are being explored to maximize healing and reduce harm. This presentation will report on the results of an anonymous online survey whose participants have tried ayahuasca in various contexts, many of whom were trying ayahuasca to treat their PTSD. Although many people describe the transformational and healing experiences they have had with ayahuasca, some people do report adverse experiences that may suggest it to be traumatizing if not administered in the appropriate setting with experienced facilitators and community-oriented after-care. These risks and benefits will be described in the context of the development of treatment protocols designed for FDA-approved studies into the therapeutic potential of ayahuasca for PTSD.

Jessica L. Nielson, Ph.D., is a research faculty at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) specializing in neurotrauma basic and clinical research. Dr. Nielson received her PhD from UC Irvine in 2010 in anatomy and neurobiology, and her postdoctoral training in bioinformatics and multivariate statistics at UCSF. Dr. Nielson’s current research involves working with animal and human data repositories for archived and ongoing trials aimed at precision diagnosis and treatment of several neurological disorders, including spinal cord injury (SCI), traumatic brain injury (TBI), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and schizophrenia. Dr. Nielson has authored more than 50 peer-reviewed publications, conference abstracts, book chapters, and newsletters over the past 10 years, and is currently gathering preliminary data through an anonymous online survey to assess user-reported risks and benefits of the ayahuasca experience in various ceremonial and alternative contexts, specifically related to the treatment of PTSD in trauma survivors.

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