Opioid addicts turn to psychedelic plants to treat withdrawal, but doctors warn of risks

published on May 2, 2017 by Malone Mullin in CBC News

Maria Michaelides, 36, thought there was no way out.

The Kitchener, Ont., woman started taking Percocet for chronic pain five years ago. At first, she used the medication as prescribed.

At the time, Michaelides was caught in an abusive relationship that chipped away at her emotional resolve, and she says she began to see Percocet as an escape.

Before long, she found herself buying pills from street dealers. She dabbled in morphine and Oxycontin — anything that would prevent withdrawal symptoms, such as vomiting, pain and devastating depression.

Dr. Kenneth Tupper, who worked with Thomas on the B.C. study, calls ayahuasca a “powerful tool,” one he studied in depth during his time as a drug policy expert for the B.C. Health Ministry.

But Tupper, now a director at the B.C. Centre on Substance Use, cautions that it must be used wisely.

“There’s an optimal setting,” he said.

Tupper said the chanting, tobacco smudging and other ceremonial rituals are a crucial part of experiencing the full effect of ayahuasca.

Drinking ayahuasca recreationally or “treating it like a toy” probably won’t work, he said.

Like Tupper, Gerald Thomas urges those bent on trying ayahuasca to seek out an expert.

“I wouldn’t recommend doing it alone,” he said. “It’s really scary. It takes you into your deepest fears.”

Ayahuasca temporarily alters brain function, Thomas explains.In everyday perception, the brain’s frontal cortex does most of the work, which creates a “normal” awareness. But psychedelics disrupt that hierarchy, allowing other aspects of consciousness to work their way to the surface.

Once accessible, patients can then confront old emotional wounds. “You have to feel it to heal it,” Thomas said.

But not everyone is convinced.

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