The Ministry of Health has made the use of ayahuasca illegal in Italy

With a ministerial decree of the Ministry of Health of February 23, 2022, published in the Official Gazette on March 14, ayahuasca was included in Table I of Narcotic Substances of the Consolidated Drugs Law. The same table also includes Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis, the two plants from which the active ingredients of the preparation are extracted (harmaline, harmine and DMT). By insisting on the prohibitionist approach, the Government is thus criminalizing a preparation with centuries of history behind it, used in many contexts such as healing substance and with important anthropological and social connotations.

Ayahuasca, a decoction of psychotropic substances with a very ancient history rooted in South American traditions, has been definitively included on the list of prohibited drugs. It is a drink with centuries of history behind it, traditionally prepared by indigenous shamans by mixing the pulverized vines of Banisteriopsis caapi and the leaves of Psychotria viridis. Used for healing purposes for emotional and physical ailments, in groups or individually, it induces sensations similar to LSD but “more intense and experiential”. Some studies have also shown the effectiveness of the preparation in the treatment of depressive states, addictions to hard drugs, alcoholism and physical pathologies. It is not a narcotic because DMT, the main active ingredient along with harmine and harmaline, is the same substance produced by the pineal gland in the human brain when sleep enters REM sleep at night.

The decision of the Ministry of Health to introduce ayahuasca in the list of prohibited substances stems from the “consideration of information extracted from international literature” and following 5 reports from the National Drug Early Warning System of the presidency of the Council of Ministers “concerning declarations of seizures of extracts or dry plant materials or powders, containing the substances DMT, harmaline and harmine, made on national territory by the police” and (only) two declarations of intoxication harmina hypothesis occurred in 2011 and 2018 thereafter. For cultivation, extraction of active ingredients, transfer or possession not for personal use are planned 6 to 20 years in prison.

The long history of ayahuasca, very rich from an anthropological and healing point of view, enriches this substance with a complex set of meanings and attributes that cannot be summarized under the simplistic label of “narcotic substance”. The academic world, in fact, after the importation of the preparation in the Western world, became very interested in its properties precisely because of the therapeutic potential of this mixture of plants. However, with the decision to ban it completely, the ministry is once again proving that it not knowing half measures between liberalization and prohibition.

[di Valeria Casolaro]

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