Ayahuasca helping Prisoners in Brasil

According to The New York Times, a prisoner’s rights group called Acuda has been offering therapeutic sessions to inmates involving yoga and meditation. After witnessing the success of these programs, they had a new idea: Why not give the inmates Ayahuasca as well? The mixture, commonly referred to as a medicine or a tea, has powerful psychoactive properties, most notably dimethyltryptamine or DMT and many users report having intense, introspective experiences.

The substance is made by brewing two plants together and while it has been used in the Amazon for hundreds of years, the popularity of the mixture has been increasing steadily in western countries such as the United States and Australia. The ceremony around the drinking of the tea is very ritualistic. The inmates gather in a temple, all dressed in white, as a shaman who leads the ceremony begins passing out cups of the powerful brew.

The mixture can prove incapacitating and causes many to vomit. After ingesting the Ayahuasca the inmates say they embark on an intense journey of the self, all the while accompanied by the singing of hymns. As they return to their normal state, the prisoners and other participants gather and dance together in the temple. Despite the radical nature of the approach, it is having the desired effect for many of the inmates.

“I’m finally realising I was on the wrong path in this life,” said Celmiro de Almeida, 36, who is serving a sentence for homicide. “Each experience helps me communicate with my victim to beg for forgiveness,” he told The New York Times. Darci Altair Santos da Silva, a 43-year-old construction worker serving a 13 year sentence for the sexual abuse of a 14-year-old, said the Ayahuasca brew has helped him to reconcile his past actions.

“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,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, the radical idea has its opponents with some questioning the rehabilitative effectiveness of the program and others believing it is simply unjust.

The father of an 18-year-old girl who was raped and murdered in the area called the rehabilitation method, “utterly revolting.”

After hearing one of the men responsible for his daughter’s attack was to be taken into Acuda’s program, he was dismayed.

“My daughter’s dreams were extinguished by that man, but he will be allowed to go into the jungle and drink his tea,” he told The Times.

In addition to the ethical difficulties involved with the alternative therapy, there are of course, health risks. The drug should not be consumed by people who have recently taken narcotics such as methamphetamine or cocaine, or those using antidepressants — doing so could result in serious mental injury. Nor should it be taken by people who are susceptible to mental health issues such as schizophrenia.

However, under controlled circumstances the brew can provide something akin to a psychological cleanse for some users.

According to Dr. Charles S. Grob, a professor of psychiatry at the U.C.L.A. School of Medicine who has conducted extensive studies on Ayahuasca, the plant mixture “has great potential because under optimal conditions, it can produce a transformative experience in a person.”

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