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The Impact of Ayahuasca-Assisted Therapy for Addiction and Stress Among a Rural First Nations Community in Canada: A Qualitative Analysis
Gerald Thomas
Co-authors: Rielle Capler, Elena Argento, Ken Tupper, Philippe Lucas
Saturday, April 22, 2017 • 4:30 PM - 5:00 PM • Skyline Room
Continuing Education


Gerald Thomas

Results from an observational study of ayahuasca-assisted therapy for addiction and stress demonstrated reductions in self-reported substance use, including statistically significant reductions in problematic cocaine use among participants from a Canadian First Nations population. This presentation explores the lived experiences of the ayahuasca-assisted therapy participants, and the impact of the therapy on their psychosocial and physical wellbeing. Methods: Qualitative interviews were conducted with 11 adult participants (6 men, 5 women) of the ayahuasca-assisted “Working with Addiction and Stress” retreats (June-September 2011). Semi-structured questionnaires assessed the personal experiences of participants following the retreats at six months follow-up. Thematic analysis of interview transcripts was conducted. Results: Narratives described the ways in which the ayahuasca-assisted therapy retreats affected the participants’ sense of self, improved their relationships with others, and enhanced their connection with nature and/or spirit. Narratives also revealed that the retreat experiences helped participants alter negative thought patterns and confront psychological barriers to healing and overcoming addiction in ways that differed from conventional therapies. The retreats resulted in reductions in self-reported substance use, with some participants reporting the complete cessation of drug use at six months follow-up. These results corroborate findings from our prior quantitative analyses that demonstrated statistically significant reductions in problematic cocaine use and marginally significant reductions in tobacco use. Conclusions: This qualitative study highlights the therapeutic potential of ayahuasca-assisted therapy to facilitate healing from stress and addiction for members of a First Nations community. Results reveal that the ayahuasca-assisted retreats led to considerable reductions in substance use and cravings and overall improvements in participants’ relationships with the self, others, and nature/spirit. Given limited efficacy of conventional treatment for mental health and substance use issues, further research and intervention efforts should explore the role of ayahuasca and other psychedelic-assisted therapies for ameliorating problematic substance use and improving psychosocial wellbeing.

Gerald Thomas is the Director of Alcohol and Gambling Policy at the BC Ministry of Health, a Collaborating Scientist with the Centre for Addictions Research of BC, an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Psychology at UBC, and owner/operator of Okanagan Research Consultants. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Colorado State University in 1998 and has worked in the area of Canadian addiction policy since 2004. He served on the secretariat of the Working Group that created Canada’s first National Alcohol Strategy in 2007, has worked on several national and provincial level projects related to substance use and addiction, and has published numerous peer-reviewed articles with leading researchers in the field. Gerald led a small observational study assessing the effectiveness of ayahuasca-assisted therapy on addiction with the results published in 2013. He lives with his family in Nanaimo, British Columbia, where he enjoys a variety of outdoor pursuits including mountain biking, hiking, and windsurfing.


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