Freedom and Research: The Study about the Ayahuasca Ritual has Enriched and Helped to Refine the Debate
Lucas Kastrup Rehen and Stevens Kastrup Rehen
Translated version of an article published @ O Globo (December 12, 2016)
Brazil is responsible for the arousal of several religious practices. Ayahuascan religions (Santo Daime, Barquinha, UDV) are so called for the use of a psychotropic plant decoction that combines the vine and the leaves from an Amazonian bush. Ayahuasca is used by over 70 Indian peoples. Its origin dates back to the Amazonian peoples, being commonly described as the “medicine of the forest”. Propitiating visions, it acts on the brain with psychoactive effects that alter perception, mood and awareness.
Brazilian actresses Lucélia Santos and Maitê Proença, as well as Brazilian singers Ney Matogrosso, Gilberto Gil, Milton Nascimento and the English singer Sting are a few of the public figures that have given statements about their personal experiences with the drink in the 80s, which helped to make it popular.
In 1984, the then Minister of Justice Ibrahim Abi-Ackel declared that matters related to the Ayahuascan religions should not be analyzed in the military or police spheres, but should be studied by Medicine, Sociology, Anthropology and History professionals instead. Two years later, the Health Minister released an opinion that excluded ayahuasca from the list of outlaw substances through the Brazilian National Division of Sanitary Surveillance of Drugs. Its religious use, however, was only fully regulated in 2010.
In the 90s, the first Santo Daime and UDV churches appeared in the U.S., the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and Japan. Nowadays ceremonies occur in over 30 countries with millions of joiners throughout the world, not including the great number of visitors.
Its international expansion, however, runs into the constant debate about its legitimacy. For containing dimethyltryptamine, the consumption of ayahuasca is questioned in several countries. The U.S. and the Netherlands have obtained the right to practice the religious ritual of ayahuasca. In the European case, the ninth article from the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms Convention was crucial, as it defined religious freedom as a fundamental one.
The contemporary globalized society combines at the same time the prohibitionist model when it comes about psychoactive substances, with the policy of “war on drugs”, and also brings in parallel an appreciation of religiosities of Amazonian origin, where ritual practices with Amerindian influences have an increasing number of followers, including in the urban centers of Brazil and abroad.
Anthropologists, psychiatrists, neuroscientists and other specialists have been working in a multidisciplinary perspective that debates public policies and widens the therapeutic applications of several psychoactive substances. The study of the ayahuasca ritual has enriched and helped to refine this debate by taking into account the social context of its usage.
A small part of the Brazilian scientific community studies substances that alter the state of mind and consciousness. The findings are striking and include new therapeutic approaches to depression and addiction. One of the rare situations in which we stop being peripheral to become central in the international scientific Universe. Curiously, we benefit in the first instance by the religious freedom of our country.