The NEIP website is publishing a biomedical study of adolescents in the União do Vegetal. NEIP obtained authorization from the editors of the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs (Richard Seymour and Terry Chambers) to publish a recently undertaken study conducted with 40 adolescents who consume ayahuasca in the context of the União do Vegetal (originally published in: “Ayahuasca use in cross-cultural perspective,” in: Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, vol. 37, number 2, June 2005, p.123-155). The study is the first to report on the impact of the consumption of this psychoactive substance by juveniles.

The topic is polemical. In two prior reports, the former CONFEN (Conselho Federal de Entorpecentes – Federal Narcotics Agency) recommended that ayahuasca not be used by youths under 18 years of age. In the resolution of 4 November 2004, currently in effect, CONAD (Conselho Nacional Antidrogas – National Antidrug Agency) justly removed this negative recommendation and gave parents the right to decide, placing the question in the realm of “paternal power”, that is, in the private domain and not under the oversight of the State. In other words, the decision whether or not to give ayahuasca to minors is analogous to every other decision regarding the upbringing and education of children. And so, as it does the freedom of religion and the constitutional right of the individual, this issue falls under the right to educate and the raise one’s own children.

In practice, nevertheless, the topic can still generate conflicts such as in cases of separated parents who disagree on this point and who might even take legal action on the matter.

The study done with adolescents from the UDV shows that the youths do not differ substantially from the control group, showing normal neurological functioning for their age (see below the summaries of the articles). The qualitative interpretation of the data still has not been published, and the international academic community is anxiously awaiting its release.

Read the articles in their entirety at www.neip.info

Ayahuasca in Adolescence: A Neuropsychological Assessment
Evelyn Doering-Silveira, Enrique Lopez, Charles S. Grob, Marlene Dobkin de Rios, Luisa K. Alonso, Cristiane Tacla, Itiro Shirakawa, Paulo H. Bertolucci, & Dartiu X. Da Silveira

The purpose of the study was to evaluate neuropsychologically adolescents who use ayahuasca in a religious context. A battery of neuropsychological tests was administered to adolescents who use ayahuasca. These subjects were compared to a matched control group of adolescents who did not use ayahuasca. The controls were matched with regards to sex, age, and education. The neuropsychological battery included tests of speeded attention, visual search, sequencing, psychomotor speed, verbal and visual abilities, memory, and mental flexibility. The statistical results for subjects from matched controls on neuropsychological measures were computed using independent t-tests. Overall, statistical findings suggested that there was no significant difference between the two groups on neuropsychological measures. Even though, the data overall supports that there was not a difference between ayahuasca users and matched control on neuropsychological measures, further studies are necessary to support these findings.

Ayahuasca in Adolescence: A Preliminary Psychiatric Assessment
Dartiu Xavier Da Silveira, Charles S. Grob, Marlene Dobkin de Rios, Enrique Lopez, Luisa K. Alonso, Cristiane Tacla, & Evelyn Doering-Silveira

Ayahuasca is believed to be harmless for those (including adolescents) drinking it within a religious setting. Nevertheless controlled studies on the mental/ psychiatric status of ritual hallucinogenic ayahuasca concoction consumers are still lacking. In this study, 40 adolescents from a Brazilian ayahuasca sect were compared with 40 controls matched on sex, age, and educational background fur psychiatric symptomatology. Screening scales for depression, anxiety, alcohol consumption patterns (abuse), attentional problems, and body dysmorphic disorders were used. It was found that, compared to controls, considerable lower frequencies of positive scoring for anxiety, body dismorphism, and attentional problems were detected among ayahuasca-using adolescents despite overall similar psychopathological profiles displayed by both study groups. Low frequencies of psychiatric symptoms detected among adolescents consuming ayahuasca within a religious context may reflect a protective effect due to their religious affiliation. However further studies on the possible interference of other variables in the outcome are necessary.

Ayahuasca in Adolescence: Qualitative Results
Marlene Dobkin de Rios, Charles S. Grob, Enrique Lopez, Dartiu Xavier da Silviera, Luisa K. Alonso, & Evelyn Doering-Silveira

Qualitative research was conducted in Brazil among 28 ayahuasca- consuming adolescents members of the União do Vegetal Church, and 28 adolescents who never used ayahuasca. They were compared on a number of qualitative variables, including vignettes measuring moral and ethical concerns. Psychocultural studies utilizing co-occurences of variables in the real of qualitative studies are useful in understanding and complementing quantitative studies also conducted among this population. Qualitative data show that the teens in the União do Vegetal religion appear to he healthy, thoughtful, considerate and bonded to their families and religious peers. This study examines the modern use of a powerful hallucinogenic compound within a legal religious context, and the youth who participated in these ayahuasca religious ceremonies (usually with parents and other family members) appeared not to differ front their nonayahuasca-using peers. This study helps to elucidate the full range of effects of plant hallucinogenic use within a socially-sanctioned, elder-facilitated and structured religious context.

Report on Psychoactive Drug Use Among Adolescents Using Ayahuasca Within a Religious Contex
Evelyn Doering-Silveira, Charles S. Grob, Marlene Dobkin de Rios, Enrique Lopez, Luisa K. Alonso, Cristiane Tacla, Dartiu Xavier Da Silveira

Ritual use of ayahuasca within the context of the Brazilian ayahuasca churches often starts during late childhood or early adolescence. Premature access to psychoactive drugs may represent a risk factor for drug misuse. Conversely, religious affiliation seems to play a protective role in terms of substance abuse. The objective of this study was to describe patterns of drug use in a sample of adolescents using ayahuasca within a religious setting. Forty-one adolescents from a Brazilian ayahuasca sect were compared with 43 adolescents who never drank ayahuasca. No significant differences were identified in terms of lifetime substance consumption. Throughout the previous year period, ayahuasca adolescents used less alcohol (46.31%) than the comparison group (74.4%). Recent use of alcohol was also more frequent among the latter group (65.1%) than among ayahuasca drinkers (32.5%). Although not statistically significant, slight differences in terms of patterns of drug use were definitely observed among groups. Despite their early exposure to a hallucinogenic substance, adolescents using ayahuasca in a controlled setting were mostly comparable to controls except for a considerably smaller proportion of alcohol users. Religious affiliation may have played a central role as a possible protective factor for alcohol use. Thus, ayahuasca seems to be a relatively safe substance as far as drug misuse is concerned.

(This message was translated from Portuguese to English for the Alto das Estrelas blog by Brian Anderson, to whom I am thankful. NEIP thanks coauthors Marlene Dobkin de Rios and Dartiu Xavier da Silveira for their support of the initiative to make available in Brasil these articles that originally were not accessible online).

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