The World Ayahuasca Conference 2014 takes place this September 25-27 in Ibiza, Spain and is open to the public and you can register here. The conference, organized by the ICEERS Foundation, aims to be a multidisciplinary event that brings together leading scientists, legal experts, practitioners, environmentalists and other experts involved in the ayahuasca field. The interest and use of ayahuasca has expanded exponentially over the past decade . This phenomenon has both activated the advancement of scientific research into its effects, risks and therapeutic potential, as well as serious legal, ethical and sustainability challenges to be addressed at the gathering.
Check out the AYA2014 teaser video:
Reset.me spoke with Benjamin De Loenen, the Founder/Executive Director of Iceers.org, to have him answer some questions about the medical benefits of ayahuasca and the upcoming gathering:
What is ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca is an ethno-botanical preparation in which the Amazonian vine Banisteriopsis Caapi is boiled in water often with DMT containing plant species such as Psychotria viridis (Chacruna). For the indigenous communities of the upper Amazon ayahuasca has played a mayor role for centuries to facilitate the well-being of the individual and survival of the group. In this frame, ayahuasca served as a medicine to heal illnesses, both physical as spiritual, as a tool to resolve interpersonal conflict, for divination, for protection against the enemy, etc. Then, when ayahuasca traveled to other parts of the planet, it started to be used as a sacrament in syncretic churches that started in Brazil (Santo Daime, Unão de Vegetal, etc.), and it gained popularity for its healing and personal growth properties. For us at ICEERS, ayahuasca is most importantly a psychotherapeutic catalyst and enhancer that, if integrated in a multidisciplinary therapeutic framework, plays a crucial role in efficiently addressing mental health, behavioral and interpersonal dysfunction. Not only should it’s potential in treating ailments not be underestimated, in conjunction with proper therapeutic preparation and integration work, ayahuasca can vastly potentiate personal development, healthy family dynamics and career growth in adjusted people.
What ailments is ayahuasca being used to treat and heal?
Ayahuasca has gained a lot of popularity as a treatment of addiction. However, drug dependency is a complex bio-psycho-social phenomena that requires a multi-layered therapeutic approach in which ayahuasca can be one of the therapeutic tools applied. Single or various ayahuasca sessions without any additional work is likely to not result in sustained success. There is currently also promising research going on with ayahuasca in the treatment of depression. Not only are there neurophysiological effects of the MAO inhibitors in ayahuasca that are known to have anti-depressant effects, the experience with ayahuasca often allows the individual to look at his/her life situation from a fresh perspective, leading to insights and therapeutic openings that can lead to overcoming the depression. Ayahuasca is seems also very promising in helping people overcome grief processes. At ICEERS we did a survey gathering information about people’s experiences with ayahuasca and how they played a role in dealing with grief. Many people reached peace and acceptance with the loss of their loved one through their experiences. A part of these issues, people have reported improvement of behavioral issues, mental health, conflict with their relatives, improving physical health, increased consciousness about their life style, etc.
Why do you think ayahuasca is spreading so rapidly around the world?
While Western medicine has advanced greatly in many fields over the last 50 years — we are capable of doing surgery with laser, doing transplants, greatly extending the lives of HIV patients, etc. — the whole field of psychiatry and mental health remains with a very limited understanding of the causes of many of the mental issues it deals with, medications have a lot of side effects and most of them are symptom-reduction based. Additionally, our Western medicine model separates psychological, spiritual, social and family-related factors from physiological issues, and even focussing on physiological symptoms separated from the whole body (e.g. if you have a lung problem you go to the lung specialist who might not take other organs into account). All of this is of course helpful and important, but ethnobotanicals such as ayahuasca facilitate the overall ‘diagnosis’, focussing on the underlying issues of our issues; including bringing subconscious material to the surface to process (traumatic events, fears, behavioral and psychological patterns passed on from parents to siblings, etc.) The ayahuasca experience often empowers the individual to take his/her life into own hands and make the needed changes. Also, psychotherapy, meditation and other disciplines that are available to help people address their life-issues are slow processes and require persistence and patience. Ayahuasca is capable of accelerating these processes greatly. And lastly, humanity as always used techniques to access altered states of consciousness, critical to ones spiritual development. The powerful mystical, perinatal or transpersonal experiences that ayahuasca is capable of inducing have made it become the sacrament — the direct access to the divine — in the ayahuasca churches, and a welcome spiritual tool in the growing interest and need for spirituality in modern society.
What are some of the concerns as ayahuasca gains mainstream popularity?
With the rapid popularization of ayahuasca, not only do we count on a vast advancement of the scientific research conducted by various groups around the world, we are also increasingly facing serious legal, public health and sustainability challenges that have emerged as side effects of this growing phenomenon. Despite the hard work of many, and important advancements over the last 25 years, the reality is that today irresponsible and unethical practices, opportunism, misleading information and exploitation of the ayahuasca tourism is seriously endangering this field turning it into a threat to public health, and obstructing the possibilities of a constructive regulatory course of interdisciplinary therapeutic and spiritual practices involving the use of this brew. All eyes of international regulatory bodies such as the INCB, national authorities and the mass media are fixed on the course ayahuasca use is in, penetrating more and more layers of modern society.
What is the importance of having a conference to gather leading ayahuasca experts and researchers?
Because of the rapid growth of ayahuasca use worldwide and the above mentioned challenges, it is crucial to create a space for bringing together experts in all the different aspects of ayahuasca: ethnobotany, scientific research, law, human rights, anthropology, sustainability, clinical practice, indigenous culture, safety, ethics, etc. The idea is that this conference is a participatory event, with spaces for debate, working meetings, Q&A’s with the film directors in the film forum program, round tables, etc. What is novel in this conference is that we count on the participation of important drug-policy institutions such as the Drug Policy Alliance, Open Society Foundations, TransNational Institute, etc. Because of the current pressure on ayahuasca through national legal prosecution and at international UN level it is crucial to involve these experts in the cause of ayahuasca.
What do you hope to accomplish with the conference?
The goal with the AYA2014 conference is to strengthen the cohesion of the international community, respecting the richness of diversion of worldview, culture and perspective, interchange knowledge and experience and united commit to the crucial group effort of addressing these challenges efficiently. One of our primary goals with this event, is to facilitate self-regulation over prohibition by validating and implementing a code of ethics for practitioners who work with psychoactives like ayahuasca, for which ICEERS developed a draft proposal. Secondly, we have managed to gather many key legal and drug policy experts and government representatives from around the world, with whom we hope to lay out efficient strategies towards providing legal frameworks for therapeutic and spiritual uses of ayahuasca in international and national policy.
What can attendees expect to learn during the conference?
Attendees can expect an intimate conference, with around 500 participants of which over 100 are speakers from over 40 countries, 26 films in the film forum program, book and project presentations and different ‘unofficial’ spaces for networking and options for enjoying the beautiful island of Ibiza. For those who want to dive deeper into certain matters, we have special workshops in the days before and after the conference that will be of interest to many of the participants. The languages of the conference are Spanish and English and the main room has simultaneous translation during the whole conference. The conference will be a pivotal moment in the whole process of creating new opportunities for advancing this field.