Complementary medicines are an emergent field in the treatment of substance use disorders (SUDs) and include Amazonian medicines, such as ayahuasca. The aim of this multimodal cross-sectional study was to investigate characteristics of people who seek treatment for SUDs at an accredited healthcare facility that applies Amazonian medicines along with conventional psychotherapy.
We collected clinical and sociodemographic data of consecutive admissions at the Takiwasi Addiction Treatment Center (Tarapoto, Peru) using structured questionnaires, interviews, and letters submitted upon program application describing motivation for treatment.
The sample of 50 male participants admitted between 2014 and 2016 was culturally heterogeneous, including patients from Peru (42%), other Latin American countries (34%), and North America/Europe (24%). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, criteria indicated dependencies on cannabis (72%), alcohol (52%), cocaine/base paste (48%), and others; multiple substance use was common (84%). Self-reported depression and anxiety scores showed moderate elevation. Comparison of Addiction Severity Index composite scores to a large U.S. sample suggested somewhat more severe problems in the drug and psychiatric domains. Common motives for selecting the program included interest in Amazonian medicine, the Takiwasi concept of treatment, and unfavorable experiences with past treatments. Being motivated by family, a desire for self-transformation, and spiritual/existential motives were common themes for treatment initiation.
Our results suggest that the Amazonian medicine-based therapy attracts a diverse patient group not limited to regional residents and may be particularly appealing to more impaired SUD patients with a history of unsuccessful treatment. The sample's cultural diversity suggests an existing interest in such therapies among international SUD treatment-seeking patients. These findings are relevant in light of the need for improved SUD therapies and contribute to the emergent research literature on ayahuasca-based treatments.