The Medicalisation of Ayahuasca as a Depression Treatment
Cultural Reductivism and Biopiracy Concerns
This paper examines the possible consequences of medicalising the psychedelic Ayahuasca to be used as a treatment for depression. Through a science and technology studies (STS) understanding of the social construction of scientific facts, I consider how traditional indigenous uses of Ayahuasca are translated into Western medicine. Two special points of attention are: (1) the cultural reductivism entailed in the standardisation of the active substance of Ayahuasca (DMT), understood through Martin’s (2000) analysis of neuroreductivism in Western medicine, and (2) the issue of biopiracy, wherein biological resources are appropriated without fair compensation for indigenous communities. In conclusion, I suggest that the dangers of medicalising ayahuasca boil down to an unjustified hierarchy of scientific knowledge over indigenous knowledge systems, which might lead to serious consequences also for the effectiveness of the proposed treatment.
Keywords: Medicalization, Ayahuasca, Neuroreductivism, Biopiracy