Can Ayahuasca Help Treat Eating Disorders?

Playing Can Ayahuasca Cure Eating Disorders?

The Doctors discuss ayahuasca, the South American psychedelic brew that has been used in religious ceremonies for centuries and may make users reflect on past memories and create intense emotions. But can it also help people struggling with eating disorders and is the hallucinogenic even safe?

Libby tells us she had dealt with an eating disorder for 20 years and turned to ayahuasca after her depression led to suicidal feelings. She attended a retreat in South America for 3 weeks, where she drank ayahuasca and discussed the experience with others. She says she experienced visions, which she describes as a "vivid dream" where you are awake. She tells us, "I felt like I've never felt before in my life."

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The Doctors are joined by Libby, psychologist Adele LaFrance -- who conducted a recent study on ayahuasca and eating disorders, and psychiatrist Dr. Domenick Sportelli to discuss the hallucinogen's effectiveness and safety.

Libby says she believes the drug helped with her compulsive tendencies and helped with her anxiety. Dr. LaFrance, who met Libby on the retreat in South American acknowledges that her study is not a clinical trial, but calls it a conversation starter about the possible uses for ayahuasca. She claims that one-third of the people at the retreat had disordered eating or an eating disorder.

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"We are a long way from being able to identify who its good for and under what conditions," she says.

Dr. Sportelli shares his take on ayahuasca calling it "fascinating," but expresses concerns about combining it with something like an antidepressant, which can cause serotonin syndrome, which he says is potentially deadly. "There are some significant concerns here, " he notes. 

The Doctors say that ayahuasca can cause side effects like vomiting and diarrhea, and also an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. They note that it can also interact with opioids and antidepressants and in some cases, it has caused seizures and respiratory depression.