Healing Shadows: Ayahuasca Research, Reducing Shame, and a New Road to Self-Compassion

by | Nov 17, 2023


Written by Kristina Etter

Kristina is a digital content creator and designer. She has a talent for creating engaging and informative content that resonates with our professional audience. Kristina’s passion for the cannabis industry stems from her belief that it has the potential to revolutionize the world in many ways, and has a personal testimony of cannabis success.

Promising New Paths in Ayahuasca Research

In a world where the tapestry of human experience is woven with threads of joy and pain, it’s no secret that trauma touches the lives of many. Startlingly, a staggering 70% of the global population has confronted the echoes of a traumatic event, leaving an indelible mark on their psyche.

This isn’t just a statistic, it’s a testament to the resilience and strength that resides within the collective human spirit.

Yet, within the shadows of trauma, there often lurks an uninvited companion: shame. The weight of shame, born from the hauntings of past experiences, adds an additional layer of complexity to the process of healing. It’s a heavy burden that many carry, often in silence, creating a barrier to self-compassion.

But there is hope for a brighter future. Strides in psychedelic research have unveiled a potential pathway to self-compassion for those navigating the labyrinth of shame intertwined with trauma.

Cannabis Tech had the opportunity to interview Dr. Matthew X. Lowe from Unlimited Sciences about the research backing this theory in psychedelic therapy and ayahuasca research.

ayahuasca research
by eskymaks from Getty Images

An Introduction to Psychedelics for Trauma Survivors

First, to comprehend the intersection between psychedelics, shame, and trauma, it’s crucial to lay the groundwork for understanding the potential these substances hold in the realm of mental health.

The traditional narrative surrounding psychedelics often conjures images of counterculture and mind-altering experiences. However, much like medical cannabis efforts from the past, recent scientific endeavors are reshaping this narrative, positioning psychedelics not as counterculture relics but as potential game-changers in the therapeutic landscape.

The psychedelic renaissance is ushering in a new era, challenging preconceptions and opening doors to nuanced, subtler approaches. Researchers are uncovering that even mild psychedelic encounters may have profound effects on mental well-being, debunking the myth that therapeutic benefits hinge on the extremity of the psychedelic journey.

Shifting Paradigms

Historically, psychedelics were cast in the shadows, stigmatized, and dismissed as substances of recreational indulgence. However, a growing body of research is reshaping perceptions, highlighting their potential as therapeutic tools. Psychedelics like psilocybin, MDMA, and ayahuasca are now being investigated for their efficacy in treating various mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

Pioneering studies conducted by institutions such as Johns Hopkins University and Imperial College London have shown promising results in using psychedelics as adjuncts to psychotherapy. Psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms, has demonstrated notable efficacy in alleviating symptoms of treatment-resistant depression. MDMA-assisted therapy is making strides in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with the FDA designating it as a breakthrough therapy.

Enter Dr. Matthew X. Lowe

In the world of psychedelic research, one figure stands out as a luminary in the field—Dr. Matthew X. Lowe. Hailing from Cape Town, South Africa, Dr. Lowe’s journey through academia and research has been nothing short of remarkable.

His academic pilgrimage started with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, followed by a pursuit of a Ph.D. in experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience at the esteemed University of Toronto. His journey took a pivotal turn when Dr. Lowe was selected for a postdoctoral position at MIT, in the realm of artificial intelligence. Subsequently, a second position at Harvard further enriched his understanding of the intricate interplay between mind and machine.

However, it was during his tenure as the Director of Research at Stanford University that Dr. Lowe’s trajectory veered toward the realm of mental health. A personal narrative began to intertwine with his professional pursuits. Acknowledging the prevalent challenges within academia, Dr. Lowe candidly shared his own experience with mental health issues, shedding light on the high prevalence of major depression among graduate students.

“I had my own challenges with mental health throughout my graduate studies. It’s a little-known fact that throughout the graduate program, 50% of students will at some point experience symptoms of  depression,” Dr. Lowe shared.

It was at the crossroads of personal struggle and professional exploration that Dr. Lowe encountered a transformative catalyst— the use of psychedelics, specifically LSD and psilocybin, as a tool to navigate treatment-resistant depression. This intersection marked a turning point, propelling him into a deeper exploration of psychedelics and their potential to redefine our understanding of mental health, psychiatry, and consciousness.

Dr. Lowe’s transition from the echelons of academia to the frontlines of applied research was a deliberate choice. Fueled by a desire for a more direct impact, he resigned from Stanford and redirected his expertise toward the realms of psychedelics and cannabis. His commitment to these causes led to his current role with Unlimited Sciences, as Executive Director.

Under Dr. Lowe’s stewardship, Unlimited Sciences has emerged as a national authority in psychedelic research, navigating uncharted territories with a commitment to scientific rigor and compassionate exploration.

Ayahuasca Research and Self-Compassion

One recent study sheds light on the transformative potential of Ayahuasca in alleviating shame and fostering self-compassion. Dr. Lowe spearheaded a groundbreaking investigation into the effects of Ayahuasca on mental health, particularly focusing on shame and self-compassion.

The Genesis of Ayahuasca Research Approach

The study was done in collaboration with Malek Asfeer, a filmmaker, photographer, and activist. Asfeer, recognizing the underrepresentation of Middle Eastern and North African communities in psychedelic research, specifically Ayahuasca research, sought to explore the potential of psychedelics in addressing the struggles of individuals navigating the challenges of acculturation, past trauma, and repression.

Conducted over a four-month period through six sequential web-based surveys, the study aimed to comprehensively assess demographics, lifestyle, mindset, and the intricacies of the Ayahuasca experience. This prospective design, collecting data before and after the experience, provided a robust framework for understanding changes in health outcomes over time.

Fifteen participants, predominantly female with an average age of around 30, embarked on a journey with Ayahuasca. Most identified as immigrants or refugees, with a majority representing the Arab Middle Eastern and North African communities. A noteworthy 80% had previously struggled with mental health conditions, including anxiety, eating disorders, personality disorders, and substance-related issues.

ayahuasca research
by Maxima from Getty Images

Modern Ayahuasca Research Combined with a Traditional Ceremony Approach

Ayahuasca research is much different than traditional clinical trials or patient studies. Participating in Ayahuasca ceremonies as part of a five-day retreat, participants were guided by an experienced facilitator who had undergone extensive training in the Amazonian regions of Peru. The ceremony involved the administration of Ayahuasca, a brew containing the leaves of the Psychotria viridis and the Ayahuasca Vine Banisteriopsis caapi. Rigorous preparations, including dietary restrictions and medication guidelines, preceded the ceremony.

“Some preparations took place beforehand. Participants were provided with a strict diet and instructions on clothing materials, Dr. Lowe explained. “They also were provided a list of prescription medications and substances that they were not allowed to consume – that’s incredibly important, as when using Ayahuasca, some substances can lead to complications.”

The study’s findings were nothing short of remarkable. Over 80% of participants rated the experience as extremely positive, with 93% categorizing it as positive. None considered it a negative experience. In the weeks following the ceremony, behavioral improvements were observed, including enhanced relationships, improved diet, and increased physical activity.

The Results

Diving into the crux of the study, Dr. Lowe focused on the scales of shame and self-compassion. Notably, participants reported a significant reduction in shame and a substantial increase in self-compassion. These effects were not ephemeral but endured for up to three to four months after the ceremony. The sustained increase in self-compassion and decrease in shame correlated with lower levels of mental health symptoms, unveiling potential mechanisms by which psychedelics contribute to overall well-being.

“What we found was significantly increased levels of self-compassion for two to four weeks after the ceremony and, interestingly, these effects were sustained all the way through to the end of the study three to four months later,” Dr. Lowe elaborated.

This study, curated under the expert guidance of Dr. Lowe and Unlimited Sciences, provides a glimpse into the profound impact psychedelics, particularly Ayahuasca, may have on aspects of mental health that extend beyond traditional measures.

Breakthrough Studies Lead to Breakthrough Therapies

In mental health exploration, the realm of psychedelics, led by the insights of Dr. Matthew X. Lowe and Unlimited Sciences, reveals a narrative of profound transformation with several pivotal points of perspective.

From pioneering studies at institutions like Johns Hopkins University involving Ayahuasca research orchestrated by Unlimited Sciences, we are witness to a paradigm shift in the understanding of psychedelics. Contrary to conventional wisdom, these substances can offer therapeutic potential even in the absence of intense experiences.

Dr. Lowe’s meticulous exploration into Ayahuasca research unveils a compelling tale for helping those with trauma and PTSD. The participants, guided by an experienced facilitator, discovered not only behavioral improvements but also sustained shifts in emotional well-being. This increase in self-compassion and decrease in feelings of shame stand as milestones for therapeutic potential.

Naturally, with this discovery, the question arises: What other facets of mental health might be illuminated by the psychedelic experience?

“I genuinely believe that psychedelic therapy and research will provide an understanding of psychedelics that will change how we think about mental health and mental illness,” Dr. Lowe predicted.

In the hands of Dr. Matthew X. Lowe and the visionaries at Unlimited Sciences, psychedelics emerge not as mere substances but as catalysts for transformation, offering a path to self-compassion in the wake of trauma and shame. As we navigate the evolving landscape of mental health, let this exploration be motivation for further inquiry, understanding, and compassion. The potential is vast, and the journey has just begun.