Ayahuasca may help to improve self-compassion and self-criticism capacities

This questionnaire study (n=45) found that participants, right after an ayahuasca ceremony, scored significantly higher on measures of self-compassion, self-criticism, and self-reassurance. Although the study was not blinded (everyone received ayahuasca), and was taking within 24 hours after treatment, it provides promising results.


Objective: Ayahuasca is a psychedelic brew that originated in the Amazon basin. The psychological effects of this drug are becoming better understood due to the growing research interest in identifying new potential therapeutic agents for the treatment of emotion dysregulation and other disorders. Previous studies suggest that ayahuasca enhances mindfulness-related capacities (decentering, non-judging, non-reacting and acceptance) and emotion regulation. The aim of the present exploratory study was to determine the effects of ayahuasca on self-compassion in a community sample.

Methods: We administered validated questionnaires (the Self-Compassion Scale-Short Form and Forms of Self-Criticism and Self-Reassurance) to evaluate pre-post changes in self-compassion and self-criticism/self-reassurance in 45 volunteers (27 women; 60%) before and after (≤24 h) an ayahuasca ceremony. Most participants (n = 29; 67.4%) had previously used ayahuasca.

Results: Ayahuasca resulted in significant improvements, with medium to large effect sizes (η2 = 0.184-0.276), in measures of self-compassion (p < 0.05), self-criticism (p < 0.01) and self-reassurance (p < 0.01).

Conclusions: The findings of this study suggest that ayahuasca promotes well-being and self-compassion, which could have a therapeutic effect on individuals with negative affect and other psychopathological conditions. Large, controlled studies are needed to confirm these findings.”

Authors: Elisabet Domínguez-Clavé, Joaquim Soler, Matilde Elices, Alba Franquesa, Enric Álvarez & Juan C. Pascual


Ayahuasca is a psychedelic brew that originated in the Amazon basin. It is being researched as a potential therapeutic agent for the treatment of emotion dysregulation and other disorders.


Ayahuasca is made by decocting the stems of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and combining them with the leaves of the Psychotria viridis bush. It contains DMT, a psychedelic with 5HT2A agonist properties, and induces brief but intense modifications in the ordinary state of awareness.

Ayahuasca appears to increase mindfulness-related capacities, such as acceptance, non-reactivity and decentering, and has also been shown to improve emotion dysregulation. Mindfulness practice has also been shown to increase selfcompassion, which is a psychological strategy for coping with pain and suffering.

Studies have shown that interventions that focus on fostering self-acceptance can induce moderate positive changes in measures of self-acceptance and other mental health outcomes. However, other studies have suggested that self-acceptance-based therapies are not superior to other active psychological treatments in terms of improving self-acceptance.

2.1 | Participantsandprocedure

This exploratory study recruited participants through ayahuasca communities in Barcelona, Spain. The main sociodemographic and clinical data of the participants are shown in Table 1.

Ayahuasca ceremonies in our region include 20 to 25 people, and most participants take from two to four consecutive doses of the drug. The ceremony concludes with a group discussion of the experience.

Participants completed questionnaires pre and postceremony. The study was conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki.

2.2 | Outcomemeasures

We used the SelfCompassion ScaleShort Form (SCSF) to assess SC, which is composed of three facets: common humanity, mindfulness, and selfkindness. The mean value of each facet was calculated by summing the corresponding scores of the positive and negative factors that compose them.

We administered the Forms of SelfCriticism/SelfAttacking and SelfReassuring Scale (FSCSR), which measures two forms of selfcriticism: inadequate self and hated self. The scale also includes one factor to assess the ability to selfreassure.

2.3 | Statisticalanalyses

The sociodemographic data are given as means with standard deviation (SD). Changes in selfcompassion, selfcriticism/selfreassuring evaluation styles and acceptation were assessed by comparing pre and post ayahuasca intake scores within participants using repeated measures ANOVA.


Repeated measures ANOVA showed significant prepost differences for the three subscales of the SCSF, with a large size effect for mindfulness and self compassion.

Repeated measures ANOVA showed significant prepost changes for the two forms of the FSCSR scale.


Several different psychotherapeutic interventions have been shown to successfully improve selfcompassion in the longterm, including ayahuasca. The present study examined the effect of ayahuasca on selfcompassion and selfcriticism.

Studies on the effects of MT programs have shown that they improve SC. It is not clear whether SC mediates mindfulness capacities or the other way around. Ayahuasca improved self compassion more rapidly than relaxation therapy, and could potentially be combined with mindfulness therapy or a specific compassionbased therapy to further enhance these effects.

Ayahuasca users have reported that the drug has a compassionate component, which could be used to help reprocess highly emotional events.

This study has several limitations, including that it was an exploratory study in a community sample with no control group, that it did not examine the influence of longterm ayahuasca use on the study findings, and that most participants had prior experience with ayahuasca.

Ayahuasca may improve selfcompassion, and more studies are needed to confirm this. However, it seems likely that the therapeutic effect of ayahuasca on selfcompassion could be even greater if combined with mindfulness training.

Study details

Compounds studied

Topics studied

Study characteristics
Observational Open-Label Survey

45 Humans