Using Ayahuasca and Psychedelic Plants to Treat Racial Trauma
Psychedelic plant medicines can promote wellness and healing.
Posted November 2, 2022 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch
- Racial discrimination has led to widespread racial trauma, also called race-based trauma.
- Psychedelic therapies can bring about a decrease in stress, depression, and anxiety.
- Ayahuasca and other psychedelic plant medicines can relieve the pain of racial trauma.
- Psychedelic retreats abroad may be one legal avenue for healing.
The Pain of Racial Trauma
Historically, racism has been a prevalent problem across cultures, leading to widespread racial trauma, also called race-based trauma, which has come to the forefront of today's conversation.
Racial trauma has been consistently underrepresented in research studies over the years, resulting in a lack of funding and effort in developing effective treatments for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC).
Despite common misconceptions, racial trauma is rarely caused by a single traumatic event; more often, it results from many discriminatory experiences throughout one's lifetime. Unfortunately, chronic racism and a lack of proper measures to deal with it have resulted in significant racial trauma for many people of color, with very few able to access effective help.
In addition, because many do not understand that the cause of racial trauma is usually chronic exposure, there have been few studies done to investigate the issue. Making matters worse, individuals who have PTSD as a result of racial trauma are more likely to encounter barriers to effective mental health care due to systematic disparities. Even when given access to treatments, success may be limited due to efficacy and adherence. This emphasizes why correct therapeutic approaches for BIPOC are critical.
Racial trauma can be defined as traumatization due to distressing experiences based on race or ethnicity, including physical or psychological threats to oneself or witnessing such threats to another. When exploring the causes of racial trauma, both overt and covert racism have been shown to contribute to symptoms. Covert, or subtle racism, also referred to as microaggression, is also an ongoing source of stress, compounding the problem.
Finally, the media dissemination of police violence against BIPOC also contributes to a sense of racial traumatization and has resulted in measurable psychiatric disability in communities of color.
Psychedelic Plant Medicines
To address these issues, research is being oconducted to investigate the effects of ayahuasca and various other psychedelic plants on racial trauma and PTSD.
Observational research involving members of Brazilian religious groups who regularly drink ayahuasca sacramentally has shown that long-term regular drinkers of ayahuasca tend to have better psychological health.
The use of psychedelics correlates with a decrease in stress, depression, and anxiety symptoms among people of color seeking relief from the pain of racism. New research has emerged in this area, in studies published in scientific journals including Chronic Stress, Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, and Canadian Psychology.
Plant medicines, like ayahuasca, psilocybin mushrooms, San Pedro, and peyote, contain natural psychedelics that may help reduce the stress and trauma of racism, primarily when used in a supportive group setting with other people of color and an experienced guide. However, they are not yet legally available in the U.S. or Canada outside of an approved religious context.
Psychedelic plant medicines do not fix the social and systemic issues that create racial trauma–for example, the criminalization of communities of color through the "War on Drugs" or bias in employment opportunities. Nevertheless, data collected from this research and the experiences of many people of color show us that these substances can relieve some of the psychological distress that emerges from these systemic issues. Moreover, there is hope that with purposeful intention, individuals can also use these substances to reduce their own hidden biases that may lead to mistreatment of others or, in the case of people of color, fuel negative feelings about themselves (also called internalized racism).
Jonathan Flores, a physician and traditional healer, and I have organized workshops that address these issues. Participants can learn more about psychedelics for their own well-being and how to help their clients in a diverse community of healers. These events take place on the Pacific coast of Ecuador, and the next takes place from November 28 to December 6, 2022. It will be co-hosted by Hanifa Washington of the psychedelic hotline, the Fireside Project. This retreat is intended to facilitate a process of mental growth and triumph over the power of racism, in part by creating a safe place and sanctuary for professional Black women. The program is designed for those living in racialized contexts seeking new insights, personal healing, and a deeper connection to others.
Williams, M., Davis, A., Xin, Y., Sepeda, N., Colon-Grigas, P., Sinnott, S., & Haeny, A. (2021). People of color in North America report improvements in racial trauma and mental health symptoms following psychedelic experiences. Drugs: Education, Prevention & Policy, 28(3), 215-226. https://doi.org/10.1080/09687637.2020.1854688
De la Salle, S., Davis, D. D., Gran-Ruaz, S., Davis, A. K., & Williams, M. T. (2022). Acute and enduring effects of psychedelic use among Indigenous peoples in Canada and the United States. Canadian Psychology. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/cap0000338