Brazil Is Starting To Treat Inmates With Ayahuasca

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Brazil Is Starting To Treat Inmates With Ayahuasca

The ability of ayahuasca to help us reflect on who we are is well known. This ability is now being harnessed in Brazil to help rehabilitate maximum security prisoners.

The scientific community is going through a psychedelic renaissance, with the use of many long outlawed drugs now being permitted for medical research purposes. So far, results have been excellent, with study after study suggesting that various hallucinogens can be used help break apart and treat a number of psychological disorder – especially those that focus on negative though patterns.

It would appear that medical intervention is not the only application of psychedelics being tested out, as prisoner in Brazil are being given ayahuasca as part of the therapy involved in their reform. And we are not just talking about petty criminals here, but full blown max-security prisoners, convicted of kidnapping, murder, and rape.

For those who haven’t heard of it before, Ayahuasca is a traditional Amazonian hallucinogenic brew made from various plants from within the Amazon rainforest. It contains DMT, one of the strongest hallucinogens known to man, and has been used for centuries by the indigenous tribes. In recent years, Ayahuasca has rapidly grown in in popularity, as both its medical and recreational potentials are realised and appreciated by the wider world.


This new foray into prisoner rehabilitation comes courtesy of Acuda, a prisoners’ rights group based in Porto Velho. The idea is that by giving prisoners ayahuasca assisted therapy, they are much less likely to re-offend, and thus ease tension on an overburdened and over stretched prison service. This therapy is being conducted completely voluntarily by Acuda, and doesn’t have official backing. As such, finding a place to conduct the therapy has been quite hard, but they were eventually accepted by an open-air temple in Ji-Paraná, where the prisoners often take part in ayahuasca rituals with the local residents.

To the more conservative crowd out there, the idea of sending maximum security prisoners off into the middle of the jungle to take part in peaceful and open therapy could seem light handed, and not retributive enough. However, the nature of hallucinogens allow us to take a good long hard look at ourselves, and see our actions, and who we are, in a new light. If a prisoner genuinely wants to reform themselves, than it stands to reason that ayahuasca can play a role in making it happen.

Euza Beloti, a psychologist involved in the therapy said “Many people in Brazil believe that inmates must suffer, enduring hunger and depravity. This thinking bolsters a system where prisoners return to society more violent than when they entered prison.” She went on to say, “We simply see inmates as human beings with the capacity to change.”

“We are considered the trash of Brazil, but this place accepts us,” said Darci Altair Santos da Silva, a man convicted of sexually abusing a child under 14. “I know what I did was very cruel. The tea helped me reflect on this fact, on the possibility that one day I can find redemption.”

Trying to rehabilitate instead of punish inmates has come with a cost, and many of the psychologists involved in the project have lost private clients who disagree with the care being given to people who have committed such atrocious acts. But hate simply breeds more hate; for someone to change and repent, they must understand why what they did was wrong, and wish to redeem themselves in the eyes of society. Dealing out punishment without chance of redemption does nothing but further alienate those involved. Hallucinogens like ayahuasca appear to be facilitating this bridge to atonement, potentially changing lives. This has been backed up by American research, which suggests psychedelics dramatically reduce the likelihood of a criminal re-offending.

It is funny to think really, that a drug that can just as easily land you in prison is being used to actually treat prisoners. But if anything, it simply highlights the inadequacies of an antiquated justice system. Yes, prison is about punishment, but it is also about rehabilitation, and it looks like ayahuasca can do that.