Ayahuasca in the treatment of bipolar disorder with psychotic features—A retrospective case study

Abstract

Ayahuasca is a plant-based brew of indigenous Amazonian origin. It has psychedelic, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, cytotoxic, and anti-parasitic effects, which are primarily due to monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) and N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT). This article describes the case of a woman in her late thirties with complex trauma due to severe, years-long sexual abuse in early childhood, resulting in a decades-long chronic condition involving suicidality. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, but refused to accept either of them. She presented with delusional parasitosis and deep dissociation. Despite being severely psychotic in private, she appeared high-functioning in public, hiding most of her symptoms. In her mid-thirties, she participated in an ayahuasca ceremony in a legal setting. It resolved her suicidality, eliminated her social isolation, and reduced her shame related to her early trauma. Nine more ceremonies alleviated her distress further. Her abuser also participated in an ayahuasca ceremony and confirmed her memories of childhood abuse. The first interview was conducted 1.5 years after her first ceremony, and a follow-up interview 2.5 years later. She had experienced sixteen additional ceremonies, recognized the validity of her bipolar disorder diagnosis, and believed her early trauma to be its sole cause. Her core trauma remained partially unresolved, but her dissociative symptoms continued to decrease. She had observed several other instances of psychosis and bipolar disorder in which ayahuasca had resulted in positive effects. This case study contributes to a better understanding of the use of ayahuasca in bipolar disorder and severe traumatization. It also reviews the current state-of-the-art in the treatment of bipolar disorder using low-dose ayahuasca, and a case in which bipolar disorder was resolved with LSD. doi: 10.13140/RG.2.2.21294.18243

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