You may be surprised to learn how effective plant medicine can be in treating addiction and contributing to recovery. While less common in modern medicine, healing with plants like Ayahuasca has been practiced throughout human history. These plant medicines can offer an effective solution for people seeking alternative treatment options outside of western medicine.
Treating Addiction With Plant Medicine
For thousands of years, people all over the globe have been experimenting with and developing uses for various plants. As their mind-altering properties were discovered, these plants became part of sacred ritual and healing practices that are still practiced today. The use of these healing plants is becoming more accessible to those outside of practicing cultures, as awareness grows.
This may be especially helpful for those struggling with addiction who have yet to find an effective treatment. So how can one psychoactive substance possibly alleviate dependency on another? After all, any substance that alters mental processes can be considered psychoactive – alcohol, nicotine, and even caffeine.
But by producing uniquely altered states of consciousness, psychoactive plants have the potential to unlock profound breakthroughs into healing, without risk of dependence or withdrawal.
Through spiritual discovery and revisiting the source of trauma, people who use these medicines often describe feelings of deep connectedness not experienced before. This new understanding can lead to a whole new outlook and recovery. The way hallucinogenic plants interact with the regulation of serotonin and dopamine in the brain may also have a lasting impact to reduce the effects of addiction on those same processes. The other crucial part of the effectiveness of plant medicines is how they’re experienced. Fortunately, that ancient wisdom has been carefully preserved over time by the people who know these plants best.
Ayahuasca is native to South America, and as a medicinal treatment is made from two different plants. When the Ayahuasca vine itself and leaves from a shrub are brewed together to activate DMT, the result is a foul-tasting psychedelic tea. DMT, Dimethyltryptamine, is a naturally occurring chemical that is sometimes referred to as “the spirit molecule,” causing intense visions to be experienced under its influence.
When taking Ayahuasca under the guidance of a shaman or healer, there are strict behavioral and dietary guidelines that are expected to be followed around the ceremony.This may help with managing some of the side effects, like digestive upset, and establishing an optimal environment and mindset. Ayahuasca is no quick fix, and an experience may last for several hours. Though it can be taken independently, many people seek out the traditional Ayahuasca experience for spiritual and therapeutic purposes and its consciousness-expanding effect.
There is no apparent risk of dependency, and it is difficult to take too much. Besides the bitterness, the body naturally gets rid of any excess through the digestive system.
The Peyote cactus has been used for thousands of years in Native American medicine. It’s still used to treat alcoholism specifically in Peru and in the Native American Church. The plant contains mescaline, a hallucinogen, as well as certain alkaloids that may mimic the ones produced when intoxicated with alcohol. The experience seems to make it easier to let go of denial and lower defenses, which of course are important in treating substance abuse. It’s worth noting this may not be the kind of treatment someone would want to undergo alone; the strong community and spiritual support provided in the ceremony are thought to be essential to the success of this treatment.
Psilocybin mushrooms are believed to be the original hallucinogen. Although technically a fungus, not a plant, mushrooms offer a straightforward way to have boundary-dissolving experiences. The psilocybin experience, as with the other hallucinogenic plants, can help a person break out of addictive cycles by revealing the nature of their addiction and connection to the world at large. The feelings of connection, unity, and spiritual understanding that are reported to result from a shroom trip tend to have lasting impact.
Native to Africa, the Iboga shrub is used to create Ibogaine that’s used as medicine and in religious ceremonies. The effects are relatively short-term and have been compared to a waking dream. This experience is said to provide insight comparable to having years of cognitive therapy. Some have likened it to being “reset” to a time before the onset of their addiction, as it helps to actually interrupt addiction in the brain, reducing withdrawal and cravings.
Cannabis is another plant that may help to curb cravings, as well as manage chronic pain and alleviate withdrawal symptoms. It has become rapidly more mainstream in recent years, though it’s been known for ages to be an effective psychoactive for a wide variety of conditions. CBD alone can work to manage pain, improve sleep, regulate mood, reduce inflammation, and treat depression and anxiety.
The herb Salvia has also been used for healing addictions in addition to other physical ailments. It’s been used traditionally by the Mazatec, in Mexico and South America, for healing and as part of ceremonies. Salvia also affects dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with the brain’s reward and motivation centers. Unlike other hallucinogens, it does not interact with serotonin receptors. It is also much more potent than other hallucinogens, and appears to affect the relationship to and perception of the body.
The Biological Effect Of Plant Medicine for Addiction Recovery
Aside from the psychedelic experiences offered by plant medicines, there are some important ways they interact with the brain’s chemistry and structure that can aid in treatment for addiction. Hallucinogenic plants like psilocybin interact with parts of the brain that produce serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for mental processes including memory, learning, and mood. Besides enabling altered states of consciousness, this might also contribute to reduced impulsiveness and change the way the brain learns.
These effects are especially relevant in the context of treatment for addiction.
Ibogaine seems to be particularly effective with opiate addiction due to the way it regulates dopamine levels. And especially compared to drugs like opioids, these plant medicines do not pose nearly the same kind of risks. Hallucinogens generally aren’t considered addictive, and there is no withdrawal. As with the addictions they’re often meant to treat, these plant medicines affect how the nervous system processes information. But they can do so in a way that heals. In addition to the biological effects, the changes in perception that an experience with these plant medicines can induce is also key.
The Spiritual Aspect of Plant Medicine for Addiction Recovery
The ritual itself may determine just how effective a medicinal plant treatment is. Getting at the root cause of the addiction can make the effects longer-lasting. And one way this is possible with plant medicines is by uncovering trauma and revealing damaging patterns during the psychedelic experience.
In the cultures using these plants for healing, there is believed to be a direct connection to spirit, accessible through the plant. This spiritual connection naturally can change a person’s perception of reality itself. Rather than feeling withdrawn or isolated, someone undergoing these treatments can feel supported by a community and integrated with nature and themselves. This then can allow for healthy changes to patterns of behavior to continue past the treatment itself. These profound spiritual encounters, happening in total silence, are difficult to describe and arguably impossible to relate to – unless experienced directly.
For this reason, among others, more research is needed to provide the hard evidence of what so many people have already found to be true. The holistic changes plant medicines help to bring about can greatly benefit those who are looking to deal with their addiction and find a path to recovery.
Recovery Coaching at Omar Pinto Coaching
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