AYA2014 Conference: A Reflection
Ayahuasca has reached critical mass. No longer is the brew an obscurity from the depths of the Amazon - Ayahuasca has escaped the forest and arrived in the urban centers of the world. The rapid popularization has made its curative powers accessible on an unprecedented scale, giving rise to a form of cosmic psychotherapy on an unprecedented scale. Now avoiding the traps of growth becomes a more pressing issue than ever before: Most professions, particularly in the field of medicine and health, are guided by a code of conduct by which practitioners abide. However, in the case of Ayahuasca, the absence of an international unifying platform has given rise to unethical and opportunistic practices, which are unsustainable as Ayahuasca moves further into contemporary society. In order to address these questions and form a unified voice, the organization ICEERS has created the interdisciplinary conference AYA2014 on which a global model for the use of Ayahuasca can discussed and adopted.
In the spirit of unification, the conference succeeded in shedding light on the various aspects that surround Ayahuasca: Tribal traditions, religious use, personal development, psychotherapy, legality, ethnobotany, and perhaps most prominently - the scientific understanding of the process.
From the forest to the lab
One of the most striking elements of the conference was the unification of traditional culture with modern science: The Kaxinawá tribal leaders and their entourage - dressed in complete native regalia - are contrasted by rows of scientists, psychotherapists, researchers and lawyers. This polarity was woven throughout the conference, with the expressed goal of integrating ethnobotanicals as therapeutic tools in contemporary society. To achieve this successfully, a body of research is necessary to scientifically back up and understand the Ayahuasca experience.
Analyzing the inexpressible is the tough nut researchers around the world are working to crack. Using the latest developments in neuroscience and neuroimaging technology, the mechanisms of psychedelics within the human brain are slowly starting to be mapped out and understood. After decades of stagnancy in this field, it is highly encouraging to see the renewed vigor with which psychedelic research is returning. Thanks to the findings of scientists such as Dr. Draulio Barros de Araujo, Gabor Mate, Jordi Ribas, and many more, more and more is understood about the mechanisms of Ayahuasca.
In particular the Beckley Foundation, directed by Amanda Feilding, plays a key role in creating a body of research that forms the grounds for evidence-based drug policies. Among many projects, the foundation has conducted the world’s first fMRI and MEG study with psilocybin and LSD, providing insight into how those psychedelics influence the brain and produce their effects. Beyond pushing the boundaries in neurological research, the foundation is also busy exploring the practical applications of those substances in the treatment of illnesses, ranging from mental disorders to terminal diseases.
The Ethnobotanical Stewardship Council: Addressing Ayahuasca globalization
In this pivotal moment, the ESC was called into life to foster a safe and sustainable future for Ayahuasca and its culture. As its use expands, many hurdles need to be overcome: Amazonian culture face survival threats, Ayahuasca is being over harvested, mis-guided drug policies are criminalizing its use and charlatans are threatening its reputation. Solving those challenges is the mission of the ESC, which is establishing a dialogue between all „stakeholders“ - seekers, cultivators, resort owners, experts, healers, policy makers, etc. Through a series of Ayahuasca Dialogues the key questions of ethics, safety and sustainability and explored and ultimately will be worked into the Ayahuasca Agreement, which is a „global consensus on principles and criteria for implementing and recognizing safer and more sustainable Ayahuasca cultivation and use from the ground up using globally recognized best practice.“ Once implemented, the agreement seeks to establish a vital ayahuasca culture that is based on sustainable resource management, community training, interaction with government officials, and the formal certification of centers implementing the agreement. Learn more about the ESC on www.ethnobotanicalcouncil.org.
Is this all really necessary?
That all sounds like a hell lot of organization, structure and regulation. And it’s a legitimate question: Is this professionalization really necessary? Clearly, some are happy with the current state and convinced that things will regulate themselves, as they always do. And surely, considering many current governmental regulations, one could surely hope to spare Ayahuasca the same fate. But that’s what it is precisely about: As Ayahuasca use expands, regulation will come - from one side or another. It is crucial to take up the matter in this pivotal time and show that indeed the self-regulatory mechanisms are working to create a safe and sustainable framework where governmental intervention is not necessary. Also, the Ayahuasca matter is beyond what any one government could possibly regulate - it requires a dedicated global approach that is guided by the spirit of service to ensure a flourishing Ayahuasca culture in the future.
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