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  • Writer's pictureSteven Huang

Ayahuasca in Middle Eastern and North African Immigrants and Refugees

Research by: Matthew X. Lowe, Hannes Kettner, Del R. P. Jolly, Robin L. Carhart-Harris, and Heather Jackson

Disclosure: I am the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Officer at Unlimited Sciences. I am not in a paid position at Unlimited Sciences and did not inform or advise any piece of this particular study.


Approximately 40% of the 60 million individuals displaced worldwide originate from the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. From a social justice perspective, this population deserves effort, resources and focus in psychedelic science studies. Immigrants and refugees from the MENA region often face complex stressors from the process of migration, such as witnessing death or injury, traumatic exposure to physical and sexual violence, persecution, experiences of war and torture as civilians or soldiers, life threatening situations, and traumatic journeys prior to and during the process of migration, including separation from family, loss of home and livelihood, and acculturation problems.

Enter: ayahuasca. Ayahuasca may hold treatment potential for immigrants and refugees of MENA descent. The existing literature around ayahuasca suggests that a significant reduction in shame and increase in self-compassion accompanies reductions in depression and anxiety.


This survey study included 15 people (mostly women) and recorded their sentiments 2 weeks before the ceremonies, same day prior-to-ceremony, 1-3 days after, 2-4 weeks after, and 3-4 months after; asking a comprehensive battery of validated scales for depression (BDI-II), anxiety (STAI), emotion regulation (ERQ), self-compassion (SCS-SF), external and internal shame (EISS). The research team also captured survey items that they thought might correlate to outcomes, like the State-of-Surrender (SoS), Mystical Experience (MEQ30), Awe (AWE-S), and Communitas (CS).

The Bayesian analysis shows substantial evidence for a decrease in depression and anxiety in the 2-4 week period after ceremony, but not in the 3-4 month post-ceremony period. Communitas (perceived togetherness and shared humanity) and awe decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety, There’s some weak evidence that self-compassion increased and shame decreased from baseline levels.


The results of the study wasn't simply "everybody's trauma was cured!" Unfortunately, ayahuasca doesn't always work like that. The reduction in depression and anxiety was meaningful, but temporary - seeming to fade just a few months after the ceremonies. However, I don't think a study needs to have blockbuster results and p-values to be applauded.

The immigrant and refugee experience, particularly as it relates to healing trauma, merits study. It is SO rare to see historically (and currently) marginalized populations in psychedelic studies. That's why I have to applaud Unlimited Sciences for taking on this project without some huge financial incentive in doing so. As a matter of social justice, we need to explore treatment options for the most marginalized identities in the world. We need healing for all, not just the privileged few.

There's also a limit to the scientific scales. In the survey answers, these 15 individuals considered the experience among the top 10 most personally meaningful, most spiritually meaningful, and most psychologically insightful experiences of their life. They also reported it was one of the most psychologically challenging experiences of their life; it's ayahuasca after all!

I am excited and encouraged to see more research, done in naturalistic settings with proper cultural care, done in places where there is trauma to be addressed. There's so much more to be done, so I'm grateful for this progress and step forward in the right direction.


Reach out via the "Contact Me" session and I will send you a copy.


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