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An exploratory study of experiences with conventional eating disorder treatment and ceremonial ayahuasca for the healing of eating disorders

  • Marika Renelli
  • Jenna Fletcher
  • Kenneth W. Tupper
  • Natasha Files
  • Anya Loizaga-Velder
  • Adele LafranceEmail author
Original Article

Abstract

Purpose

Ayahuasca is a traditional Amazonian medicine that is currently being researched for its potential in treating a variety of mental disorders. This article reports on exploratory qualitative research relating to participant experiences with ceremonial ayahuasca drinking and conventional treatment for eating disorders (EDs). It also explores the potential for ayahuasca as an adjunctive ED treatment.

Methods

Thirteen individuals previously diagnosed with an ED participated in a semi-structured interview contrasting their experiences with conventional ED treatment with experiences from ceremonial ayahuasca. The interviews were analyzed using thematic analysis.

Results

Participant reports were organized with key themes including that ayahuasca: led to rapid reductions in ED thoughts and symptoms; allowed for the healing of the perceived root of the ED; helped to process painful feelings and memories; supported the internalization of greater self-love and self-acceptance; and catalyzed spiritual elements of healing.

Conclusions

The results suggest that ayahuasca may have potential as a valuable therapeutic tool, and further research—including carefully controlled clinical trials—is warranted.

Level of evidence

Level V, qualitative descriptive study.

Keywords

Eating disorder Psychotherapy Ayahuasca Adjunctive treatment Psychedelics Traditional medicine 

Notes

Funding

This study was not funded.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Ethical approval of the study was granted by Laurentian University and the University of British Columbia.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyLaurentian UniversitySudburyCanada
  2. 2.Mental Health FoundationsOttawaCanada
  3. 3.Director of Implementation and PartnershipsBritish Columbia Centre on Substance UseVancouverCanada
  4. 4.School of Population and Public HealthUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  5. 5.Mental Health FoundationsVancouverCanada
  6. 6.National Autonomous University of MexicoMexico CityMexico

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