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Sourcing Ayahuasca in the Amazon: A Conversation with Michael Coe

October 21, 2022
Images of a canoe, a man, and an ayahuasca plant.

As a company focused exclusively on the development of natural psychedelic drug candidates, working with the right partners to source our raw materials is crucial for Filament. We’re proud to partner with Michael Coe, PhD, of the McKenna Academy, who recently visited Peru to source ayahuasca on our behalf. Read on to learn about Michael’s unique insights into working in the Amazon basin and the power of natural psychedelic medicines.

1. To start, please tell us who you are and what you do.

I am an ethnobiologist that studies the relationships between human societies in the Amazon basin and the plants they use for medicinal purposes, subsistence strategies, rites of passage,  divination, artistic expression, etc.

2. How did you get involved in this area of study? 

Synchronicities in my life led me to the Amazon basin when I was an undergraduate. As a result of several profound experiences while studying plant medicines and their traditional uses, I was inspired to change my career path and dedicate my life to becoming an ethnobiologist  which has allowed me to serve as a bridge between worlds of contemporary science and traditional ecological knowledge of Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs).

3. You recently visited Peru to source ayahuasca for Filament. When you go to Peru, what does the trip consist of? What are you doing day to day?

I went in October to source ayahuasca, chacruna, and several other species. Daily activities consisted of collaborating with Indigenous people in the Department of Ucayali and local people in Iquitos, Peru. We made field excursions to locate plants, harvest samples sustainably, collect voucher specimens, dry specimens, dry samples, etc.

4. You’ve stated that your relationships with people in Peru are really important to you - can you explain more about that? And how you built those relationships?

Yes, relationships between friends and family are ever-important. This is something that was highlighted for me, especially during the isolation periods associated with the recent pandemic in that it is not necessarily the amount of friends one has or their following, but the quality of the relationships that one has that in many cases leads to an enriching life and fruitful collaboration.  Like any good relationship, this is built over time with consistent trust, transparency, humility, honesty and reciprocity.

5. How does your work in Peru focus on preserving local knowledge and why is this important?

IPLCs’ knowledge of their environment and how they manage culturally important plants is essential to not only the persistence of these communities but also to humanity because in many cases these knowledge systems hold the keys to a sustainable future. My work seeks to understand how and why IPLCs select certain species over others for a given use and the factors that influence sustainability. Given that over 80% of the world’s population relies on medicinal plants as a primary source of healthcare, helping to preserve IPLCs’ knowledge while understanding sustainable harvest limits, the ecology and demography of culturally important plants, and inherent value of culturally important species to IPLCs is essential to medicinal security and sustainability worldwide.  

6. You said that you’re curious about how the symbolic and shamanic can play into modern medicine. For example: what does it look like to administer a traditional medicine like ayahuasca in a modern medical setting? 

Well, we can't afford to throw the baby out with the bathwater. This means that if one solely takes traditional plant medicines such as ayahuasca in contemporary setting (eg. clinic) with only the aid of a psychiatrist or clinical doctor, there may be a lot that is missed in terms of the full therapeutic potential of the use of the medicine. In many cases, contemporary doctors prescribe drugs without ever taking them themselves. Therefore, their understanding of the subjective effects and the necessary processes of integration following the use of a given drug are likely very limited. It is important to consider that many Amerindian societies have developed a sophisticated use of ayahuasca over the long-term, perhaps millenia. In a traditional context, Amazonian shamanic medicines such as ayahuasca are taken directly by a medico, maestro, curandero, vegetalista etc. which provides the shamanic practitioner with direct experiences with the medicine.Therefore, they often have opportunities to apply ritualistic techniques that may aid in the diagnosis of a given illness, the healing and integration processes of a given patient, and the application of certain plants for follow up treatments. There is also something that may be important in terms of ritual and applications of ayahuasca in a contemporary context. For example, in traditional contexts there are often dietary prescriptions, fasting, isolation, etc. required which all may have main and interactive effects on the outcome for a given patient. If ayahuasca is going to be applied adequately in a more contemporary or clinical setting, then it seems likely to be ideal to see collaborations between a range of experts such as shamanic practitioners, MDs, psychiatrists, nutritionists, behavioral technicians, integration consultants, etc, for a more holistic approach towards the use of ayahuasca in a contemporary context.

7. What is it about Filament that made you open to partnering with us?

I admire the desire Filament has for sustainable sourcing and the movement towards reciprocity for IPLCs that are the stewards of these plants and the invaluable knowledge linked to them.

8. And finally, why do you believe that ayahuasca has the potential to help people?

There is a growing body of evidence that ayahuasca has great therapeutic potential. For example, ayahuasca consumption has been shown to enhance creativity, reduce anxiety, exhibit anti-depressant and anti-addictive effects, improve psychological well-being, quality of life, enhance cognition and more recently there is evidence to suggest that alkaloids present in ayahuasca facilitate the formation of new neurons which indicates that ayahuasca acts at multiple levels of neural complexity. All of which point to the great therapeutic potential of ayahuasca in contemporary medicine. Beyond this, from personal experience it has helped me better understand my capacity for the appreciation of nature, love, forgiveness and empathy. I am grateful for all ayahuasca has to teach.