As the psychedelic renaissance is marching on, more and more companies and investors are starting to look how to make profit on this newly emerging field in the US and Canada. One of these companies is Filament Health. In a recent article published on Psychedelic Spotlight, they are proud to announce the coming Phase 1 clinical trials for their freshly processed, newly created, standardized Ayahuasca pill. In the following, I would like to provide you with some different perspectives so that you can have a well-rounded knowledge about the history of Ayahuasca and the link between Ayahuasca and cultural appropriation.
Filament Health claims their main motivation for creating an Ayahuasca pill is to make it more accessible to individuals. In other words, to help individuals access an authentic Ayahuasca experiences without requiring a trip to South America.
I believe availability is a question of perspective.
The fact is an Ayahuasca ceremony is more available than ever. Of course, Ayahuasca is widely available in the Amazon region of Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia. We can say that, as of 2022, it is quite widely available in the West thanks to the regularly visiting Ayahuasca shamans and the growing number of legally operating Ayahuasca Churches in the US, Canada, and Europe.
Apart from Ayahuasca, there are countless medicinal and psychedelic plants all over the world. There are several plants and animals containing DMT, like Ayahuasca, Acaica, Yopo, Sirian rue, Mimosa, Bufo Alvarius, some sea sponges, just to name a few. Each continent has its own local medicinal and psychoactive plants and traditions of how to use them. The most commonly used psychoactive plants in North America are mushrooms and cacti. In Europe, psilocybin-containing mushrooms also grow in abundance, and other plants like Datura are used to reach altered states of consciousness. Mother Nature makes sure that wherever you live you have access to healing and mind altering plants.
Is Ayahuasca available to everybody? No.
Should it be available to everybody? I personally don’t think so.
My personal opinion after working with this medicine in a therapeutic context for over ten years is that Ayahuasca is not the best solution for everyone. DMT is the most potent psychoactive element on Earth. The ceremonies and rituals surrounding Ayahuasca and created by the Indigenous guardians of this medicine are there for a good reason. That is, to create a safe place with energetic and spiritual protection where deep healing and transformation can occur. In the original, shamanic context, it is unheard of to take Ayahuasca without proper preparation, ritual and integration.
Ancient Rituals for Protection
The Indigenous people of the Amazon, who have worked with this medicine for thousands of years, have strict protocols established on how to prepare and use the Ayahuasca brew. There are specially trained people Ayahuasceros/Ayahuasca Shamans who prepare and serve this medicine, and there are strict guidelines on how to conduct an Ayahuasca ceremony.
When you drink Ayahuasca, She takes you into a different “reality” where most people have never been and are not familiar with. I believe that taking this medicine completely out from the spiritual context and consuming it without sacred ritual is ethically wrong and possibly medically dangerous to the individual. Without a sacred space and a professional space holder who can navigate in altered states of consciousness, individuals can be lost and possibly end up in a worse mental state.
Limited Research on Ayahuasca
Even though there is now a tremendous amount of people who have an Ayahausca experience, and many can talk about seemingly miraculous healings and life changes, Ayahausca is the least scientifically researched psychedelic plant. Part of the reason is that the main active ingredient DMT (dimethiltryptamine) is still a Schedule 1 drug in the US, meaning it has no medicinal value and is restricted at the highest level.
The other reason could be that Ayahuasca brew is a combination of two different plants mixed together, containing many affective ingredients. While the research of the therapeutic application of Ayahuasca is behind psilocybin, there is a great deal of individual interest is directed toward Ayahuasca which warrants more research and exploration.
Most of the research shows psychedelic-assisted therapy has great success with conditions such as anxiety, PTSD, and depression based on research with psilocybin, ketamine, and MDMA. This doesn’t mean that Ayahuasca can’t help to heal these conditions. However, the research and data Filament Health used to justify making Ayahuasca widely available to all who struggle with mental health comes from research done not specifically on Ayahuasca.
Creating Consistent Dosage and Experience
If you come from a material, scientific, pharmaceutical background, it is very understandable that the first thing you want to do is to standardize dosage and measure the effects.
According to Filament Health by “creating an Ayahuasca pill and standardizing dosing protocols, researchers hope to create a more consistent experience with predictable effects so they can study its therapeutic potential more accurately”.
At the same time, anybody who works with Ayahuasca in a traditional way can tell you that the magic of this medicine is that everybody will have a different effect and experience. This is not because the dosage is not proper, but it is because Ayahuasca knows best what each person needs and tailors herself to them. The way Ayahuasca works goes beyond our current scientific understanding and can be difficult to explain to somebody without a personal experience.
The idea that Ayahuasca can be standardized is almost impossible, in my opinion. The reason for this is that Ayahuasca not only has a physical effect on the body, but also has a mental, emotional, spiritual effect that reaches beyond the Ayahuasca ceremony, manifests over time, and is difficult to measure scientifically.
In addition, a lot of the healing and change happens after the Ayahuasca ceremony in what is called the integration period. A lot depends on how much therapy work, guidance, and support the individual gets during this period. Having conscious integration with a professional guide in a therapeutic container can make a huge difference between one’s Ayahuasca healing experience. This means there are other important factors apart from Ayahuasca ceremony, such as proper preparation and integration, that are contributing to the long term effect of this plant medicine.
However, the effect can be measured in many ways and more research is being done based on long term observation of people’s direct experience. In my experience, the biggest rate of success is when we provide people with adequate support and guidance throughout their entire healing journey including the preparation and integration process, and not only focus on their Ayahuasca experience.
Ayahuasca and Cultural Appropriation
One definition of cultural appropriation refers to the use of artifacts or elements of a non-dominant culture by a person from the dominant culture without reverence or respect for the source.
It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways, or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive. Even though this definition can be interpreted quite widely, I think the emphasis here is on exploitation and destruction of culture, people, and the Earth. I think to make an Ayahuasca healing experience into a standardized pill is a perfect example of linking Ayahuasca and cultural appropriation.
Let’s have a look at the company Filament Health. This for-profit company was founded in 2020. The company team consists of global experts in botanical extraction and commercialization. Their team of 17 people consists of scientists and businesspeople mostly with pharmaceutical backgrounds. It is not clear if any member of their team has a personal experience with Ayahuasca. In their company, there is not one psychologist, therapist, or Western or Indigenous person who works with this medicine.
“Striking a balance between the commercialization and medicalization of sacred plants” is one of the slogans of Filament Health. What kind of balance are they talking about?
Benjamin Lightburn, the CEO of Filament Health, assures us that “consultations have taken place with relevant local communities in Peru, though specifics remain confidential until research progresses”. However, the lack of transparency about any Indigenous permission or cooperation is more than suspicious.
All in all, Filament Health focuses on “people seeking trips with therapeutic benefits” to sell their Ayahuasca pill to and make profit on without any consideration for thousands of years old Ayahuasca traditions, without the permission and involvement of any Indigenous guardian of the medicine, and without the involvement of any Western therapist who works with this medicine in a therapeutic context.
According to the definition, taking Ayahuasca from the people of the Amazon region without reverence or respect for the source is connecting Ayahuasca and cultural appropriation. The minority people of the Amazon region are already suffering from poverty, the devastation of their habitat, and the loss of their traditional culture. I invite the readers to think about how we can uplift, give back to, and build bridges between the west and the Indigenous guardians of Ayahuasca.
Arrogance, Ayahuasca and Cultural Appropriation
It takes a great deal of arrogance to think that you know everything better; that you know exactly what other people need; that you know better how to use Ayahuasca than people who have thousands of years’ experience with this medicine; that you are wiser than nature, culture or tradition; that money and profits justify any behavior.
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History shows what happens to the sacred when the capitalist consumer arrives. Tobacco, once a sacred and medicinal plant, has been modified, loaded with chemicals, and distorted. Cannabis and alcohol have been similarly exploited, with devastating effect. Our greed had no limits. I believe that this arrogance and the greed is part of the disease, the dysfunction we need to heal as a collective.
In terms of the Mother Ayahuasca, I believe she is available to all who are ‘called’ to walk this path of healing. There are many other psychedelic plants. Every continent and culture has a history of using mind altering substances. Psychedelic plants and animals are everywhere in great diversity.
The Disease of the West: Ayahuasca and Cultural Appropriation
Some Shamans say that the disease of the west is our disconnection from the Mother Earth and the Great Spirit. They believe that the Mother Ayahuasca can help us to remember our connection to nature and to the spiritual world and to live accordingly.
Can an Ayahuasca pill, torn from the Earth and processed in a laboratory, devoid from any spiritual ritual and ceremony help us to do that?
You tell me!