Soltara’s Research Collaboration with Imperial College London & the University of Georgia
Written by Brandon Weiss
It is our sincere pleasure to announce Soltara’s emerging partnership with two distinguished psychological research teams from Imperial College London and the University of Georgia, who will soon begin inviting Soltara’s pasajeros to reflect on their experiences with ayahuasca in ceremonial context and any associated positive psychological effects. The University of Georgia team, led by principle investigator and psychologist, Dr. Keith Campbell, and clinical psychology doctoral candidate, Brandon Weiss, will be examining changes in Five-factor model personality (FFM; i.e., Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness); and the psychological mechanisms that may underlie these changes. These researchers conceptualize psychedelic use as leading to a cascade of psychological and neurobiological processes in which acute changes such as mystical experience, ayahuasca-specific qualia, and re-experiencing of trauma, as well as known perturbations in neural functioning lead to long-standing effects on basic personality traits, emotional/affective traits, and psychological resilience.
They believe personality change occasioned by ayahuasca in ceremonial context is important for at least three reasons. First, and most importantly, examining ayahuasca in ceremonial context permits investigation into the circumstances and mechanisms under which certain personality traits are subject to change. Personality describes “how individuals differ from each other in their persistent patterns of emotion, motivation, cognition, and behavior” (DeYoung, 2015). Personality is associated with the goals we select (e.g., Mount, Barrick, Scullen, & Rounds, 2005), the values we hold (Parks & Guay, 2009), our ability to achieve goals (Barrick & Mount, 1991), and, ultimately, the quality of the lives we lead (Ozer & Benet-Martinez, 2006; e.g., spirituality, well-being, physical health, longevity). Recent empirical findings indicate that the structure of basic personality such as the well-validated and widely used FFM model of personality (FFM; Costa & Widiger, 2002) underlies the structure of mental illness, such that clinical and personality disorders are conceptualized as maladaptive variants of basic personality dimensions (e.g., Kotov et al., 2017). Indeed, inasmuch as individuals are able to change their personalities, they can meaningfully improve the quality of their lives.
Second, although their study was designed to principally examine basic personality, given strong relations between personality and mental illness, their results have strong implications for the effect of psychedelic experience on clinical and mental disorders. Anecdotal reports suggest that ceremonial use of ayahuasca may hold unique efficacy for remediating certain clinical disorders relative to other serotonergic psychedelics. To be sure, the ceremonial use of ayahuasca is distinguished from the administration of serotonergic psychedelics in notable ways including the environmental setting, communal experience, and physically painful and purgative aspects of ayahuasca-ingestion, which each may interact with the psychedelic experience to produce unique psychological outcomes.
Third, as organizations like the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the Heffter Research Institute, the Beckley Foundation, and others progress in revealing the psychiatric and psychological benefits of psychedelics under controlled laboratory conditions, many in the West are beginning to formulate protocols for psychedelic-assisted psychotherapeutic treatment and are duly considering the place that psychedelic treatments will have within the biomedical model of mental healthcare. They believe there is great utility in examining elements of ancient ceremonial practice that may have evolved intelligently to potentiate healing outcomes. The ayahuasca ceremony is one that combines multiple elements which may inform future protocols: a communal/group setting, guiding elements (e.g., chanting of song over the course of the ceremony), and personal engagement with the ceremony leader (e.g., personal icaro song delivered by the healer).
The University of Georgia’s study prospectively examines ceremonial use of ayahuasca through the recruitment of a large sample of 200 participants using self- and informant-reported facet-level measures of personality across three timepoints (i.e., pre-experience, immediately post-experience, 3-month follow-up). A large sample permits an examination of moderation-based effects of individual characteristics including ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, prior use of psychedelics or ayahuasca, previous trauma, and baseline personality. For example, the University of Georgia researchers will be able to examine whether someone’s starting personality influences the type of psychedelic experiences they have and the extent of change they undergo.
Due to growing respect from the scientific community for the ceremonial use of psychedelics like ayahuasca used in ceremonial context, the University of Georgia study and Brandon Weiss have recently been honored with an award and grant from the Source Research Foundation (https://sourceresearchfoundation.org/), an organization led by numerous distinguished scholars and practitioners working within the field of psychedelic science and therapy. As such, we are grateful to the Source Research Foundation for their sponsorship of this important work.
 For example, MAPS supports research on the effectiveness of ayahuasca-assisted treatment for drug addiction and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and in recent years, organizations like Heroic Hearts (HHP) have begun connecting military veterans struggling with PTSD to ayahuasca therapy retreats.
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