Consumption of Ayahuasca by Children and Pregnant Women: Medical Controversies and Religious Perspectives

This review (2011) explores common themes and contradictions found between the biomedical, anthropological, and ayahuasca-users’ perspectives on the consumption of ayahuasca by children and pregnant women. It raises central issues regarding the limits of freedom of religion and the state’s right to interfere in family matters.


“In 2010, the Brazilian Government agency responsible for drug-related issues formulated official Resolutions that categorized the consumption of ayahuasca by pregnant women and children in the Santo Daime and União do Vegetal ayahuasca-based religions as an “exercise of parental rights.” Although ayahuasca groups do enjoy a relative degree of social legitimacy and formal legal recognition in Brazil, the participation of pregnant women and children nevertheless continues to provoke heated discussion. This article raises the main issues involved in the public debate over this subject. In the first part, a diverse group of biomedical and health specialists was consulted, and their opinions were briefly analyzed. In the second, a full interview with a follower of one branch of Santo Daime, mother of four children who took ayahuasca during all her pregnancies, and whose children all drink ayahuasca, is presented. Her interview reveals important cultural parameters of ayahuasca consumption. The article explores common themes and contradictions found between the biomedical, anthropological, and ayahuasca-users’ discourses. It raises central issues regarding the limits of freedom of religion and the state’s right to interfere in family matters. The following analysis also has implications regarding the role of science in influencing policy decisions on drug use.”

Author: Beatriz C. Labate


The publisher gives no warranty that the contents will be complete or accurate or up to date, and shall not be liable for any loss, actions, claims, proceedings, demand, or costs.

Consumption of Ayahuasca by Children and Pregnant Women: Medical Controversies and Religious Perspectives†

*Anthropologist Beatriz Caiuby Labate is a member of several research centers and is a researcher at the NEIP.

Ayahuasca, a psychoactive mixture made from Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis, is used in religious and shamanic rituals by Amazonian indigenous groups as well as by urban religions based in Brazil. A recent cover article in the Brazilian magazine Isto É claimed that ayahuasca consumption by pregnant women is dangerous.

Jaime Hallak and National Geographic aired a series called Taboo, in which they showed close-ups of children consuming ayahuasca. This dominated public debate, and was frequently used to question the validity of ayahuasca use in general.

Very little is known about ayahuasca use by pregnant women and children. There is one anecdote and one interview about ayahuasca use by pregnant women and children, but no further information is given.

The current article presents the main issues involved in the public debate over ayahuasca use by pregnant women and minors in Brazil, and references relevant biomedical and social science research, as well as native religious perspectives.

Only specialists directly involved in research on ayahuasca were interviewed, and several perspectives were identified. The following is an attempt to summarize these perspectives and predict possible outcomes for policy making.

A follower of one branch of Santo Daime was interviewed at length about her personal experiences with ayahuasca and her views on the use of ayahuasca by pregnant woman and children.

Regulation of the Use of Ayahuasca by Pregnant Women and Children

During the mid-1980s, negotiations between the government, scientists and ayahuasca-using groups took place in Brazil to regulate the use of ayahuasca. The right to religious freedom has trumped the law.

In 2004, the Brazilian government agency responsible for drug-related issues interpreted the right of pregnant women and children to consume ayahuasca as falling under the domain of the “exercise of parental rights”.

The CONAD 2004 Resolution cites article 14 of the Convenço Sobre os Direitos da Criança and the Estatuto da Criança e do Adolescente as well as the Parecer da Câmara de Assessoramento Técnico-Cientifico Sobre o Uso Religioso da Ayahuasca.

Ayahuasca use by minors and pregnant women is left up to the parents’ or legal guardians’ discretion, and they must protect their children’s development and personality structure.

Biomedical Studies

No biomedical research has been done on the effects of ayahuasca use on pregnant women or unborn fetuses.

A group of health professionals from UDV carried out a retrospective pilot study in the city of Fortaleza, Ceará, to evaluate the neuropsychological development of children born to mothers who used ayahuasca during pregnancy.

A study on 40 adolescents using ayahuasca in three cities in Brazil found similar results to a control group on most neuropsychological and psychiatric tests applied. The study’s lead author was quoted in a polemical Brazilian magazine piece.

No scientific studies have proven that ayahuasca is harmful during pregnancy. However, there are many cases of people who drank alcohol during pregnancy and nothing happened to their children.

Charles Grob, coauthor of this study and others, was consulted for this article. Grob is professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the medical school of the University of California, Los Angeles.

Researchers conducted biomedical-psychiatric research studies on subjects who were members of the syncretic religion Unio do Vegetal. They found that these subjects had a higher level of psychological functioning than a matched non-hoasca using adolescent control population.

Adolescents who participated in UDV religious ceremonies where hoasca is used as a psychoactive sacrament were in very good psychological health and reported lower rates of alcohol and substance use than the non-hoasca exposed control adolescents.

Researchers have studied the potential antidepressant effects of harmine, a beta-carboline alkaloid found in the ayahuasca brew, by injecting the substance into laboratory animals.

There is no evidence that ayahuasca is safe for pregnant women, but several groups are carrying out studies to evaluate its safety.

Ayahuasca is a psychoactive plant with many uses. A biologist is currently researching its effects on humans.

There is only one study on ayahuasca use by adolescents of Unio do Vegetal, and there are no published studies on Santo Daime and Barquinha. However, there is evidence that some beta-carbolines present in ayahuasca show toxic effects in some preclinical studies.

After reviewing 500 scientific publications, it can be asserted that there is not a single study that examines the teratogenic, embryotoxic or uterotonic effects of DMT or 5-MeO-DMT. However, psilocybin, a derivative of DMT, can cause some minor chromosome aberrations, which are normally considered harmless even for pregnant women.

There is no documented evidence that taking DMT/5-MeO-DMT during pregnancy causes harm to a child or pregnant woman, but we should be cautious because there are many other substances present in ayahuasca preparations that have not been well studied.

The various researchers interviewed appear to assume that their research should provide a scientific basis for public policies, but they stop short of expressing explicit political views. The news media, activists, judges, and politicians exploit both the “half empty” and the “half full” opinions for a variety of purposes.

Ayahuasca use should be prohibited in certain circumstances, or treated with extreme caution until more research can be done. The state should provide solid evidence that use is harmful before any modification to the current, permissive regulation should be made.

Religious Perspectives

Clarice Andreozzi, a 34-year-old biologist born in Brasilia, is a practicing doula who belongs to the Céu do Planalto church in Brasilia, part of the Igreja do Culto Eclético da Fluente Luz Universal Patrono Sebastio Mota de Melo (ICEFLU) tradition within Santo Daime.

CA came to Santo Daime at thirteen years old, just before my fourteenth birthday. She is a doula and peri-natal educator, and she works with pregnant women, giving courses to prepare them for birthing, and accompanying women during labor and childbirth.

My mother took me and my sisters to the church during Saint Peter’s day commemoration in 1989. I went through lots of powerful, difficult moments but never again left. Women can take Daime during pregnancy and labor, but they should take half the usual dose and participate in all the rituals as they wish. The drink and the prayers help the woman relax and maintain contractions, which are healthy and allow the woman to experience the pregnancy more profoundly. Daime is used during childbirth in Mapiá, Amazonas, and is also used to treat colic and constipation, and to clear mucus in babies with colds. Children do take Daime, but it is not obligatory. Some parents give Daime to their newborn children right after birth, as a kind of baptism, and we have a formal baptism ritual, which happens during the “hymnal” days.

Santo Daime followers baptize their children in the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary and Hail holy Queen, and give Daime to their children if they seem interested.

In the children’s session, we sing hymns about children, like “Little Yellow Bird” and “One, Two, Three”. These are easier to sing and have a positive message.

We tell Biblical stories, teach the children to sing and play the rattle, and those who show talent are taught other instruments as well. The children take Daime by the drop, and the dose increases as they grow.

CA has four children, three sons and a daughter, ages 5, 13, 14 and 16, who are excellent students, get good grades and are well behaved and sociable children. CA took Daime during childbirth.

All of my births were normal, without complications, and I felt comfortable and completely certain about what was happening. The second birth went really well, since I was in a Santo Daime session for almost the whole time.

When my daughter went into labor, it was a fast and peaceful process, and we got to the hospital in just enough time. My eldest son also takes Daime, but he is very sensitive to the effects, so he takes very little. My thirteen-year old son doesn’t like Daime and doesn’t go often to the sessions, but my five-year old son really likes to go and takes a small dose when he has bad constipation. Ayahuasca use by pregnant women is not dangerous, and children who take ayahuasca are normal, healthy and intelligent. It is part of our religion, and there is still a great deal of prejudice about our doctrine. The Brazilian government legalized ayahuasca use by children and pregnant women. For Santo Daime practitioners, it is a sacrament, and they believe in its spiritual power.

Concluding Remark

This article has explored some of the common themes and contradictions found between various discourses surrounding consumption of ayahuasca by children and pregnant women. It has also highlighted how the same factors come into play in the use of ayahuasca by children and pregnant women in the Santo Daime tradition.

The CONAD resolutions on ayahuasca use for adults and children resulted from a dialog between biomedical, social science and native perspectives. The resolutions also call for further research on the cognitive effects of ayahuasca use in children. Studies on pregnant women and children could be done using research designs similar to those used to study teenagers in the UDV and Santo Daime. These studies would have to be approved by university ethical review committees and would involve great ethical, legal, methodological and funding challenges.

Researchers should examine how biomedical research is constructed, how doctors, judges, journalists and religious leaders translate rodent physiology to human physiology and use rodent data to estimate human health risks. They should also do an “ethnography of power” to understand how different social agents mediate access to and influence public policies.

Social science research should compare the use of ayahuasca by children and pregnant woman with the use of other substances, such as alcohol and tobacco, which have been clearly documented to have harmful effects.

Ayahuasca raises important questions about the rights of religious minorities and the rights of children to not receive religious indoctrination or certain psychoactive drugs.

Ayahuasca is a plant that is used in the production of ayahuasca, which is a type of psychoactive drug. There are several studies that have been done on the effects of ayahuasca on the human body. Ayahuasca use among adolescents within a religious context is reported in a study by Doering-Silveira, Grob, C.S., Dobkin de Rios, M., Lopez, E., Alonso, L.K., Tacla, C., Shirakawa, I., Bertolucci, P.H. & Da Silveira, D.X. -Carboline harmine induces antidepressant-like effects and increases BDNF levels in the rat hippocampus, according to Fortunato et al. (2010).

Froes, V.F. 1986, Garner, B.A. 2004. Black’s Law Dictionary: Eighth Ed., Thomson West, Gomes, H. 2010, A encruzilhada do Daime. Goulart, S.L. (2004), Grob, C.S. (1996), Labate, B.C. (2009) and Grof, S. 1980. The effects of LSD on chromosomes, genetic mutation, fetal development and malignancy. Brazilian ayahuasca religions in perspective, by B.C. Labate, E. MacRae, S. Goulart, and I.S. Rose, Santa Cruz CA: MAPS. MacRae, E. (2010) and Labate, B.C. (2008) studied the development of Brazilian public policies on the religious use of ayahuasca. MacRae, E., McKenna, D.J., Callaway, J. & Grob, C.S. 1992, “Guided by the moon: Shamanism and the ritual use of ayahuasca in the Santo Daime religion in Brazil”, and Monteiro, A.N. 2004. The experimental use of psychedelic (LSD) psychotherapy is described in Pahnke, Kurland, A.A., Unger, S., Savage, C. & Grof, S. (1970).

Ayahuasca and psychosis: A review. Santos, R.G., Moraes, C.C., Holanda, A., Strassman, R.J., Landeira-Fernandez, J., Motta, V., Cruz, A.P.M., and Schaefer, S.B. 2008.

The Unio do Vegetal is a Brazilian and international religious group that practices ayahuasca. Its effects on pregnancy are described in a 2007 publication.


Authors associated with this publication with profiles on Blossom

Bia Labate
Beatriz 'Bia' Caiuby Labate is the founder and executive director of Chacruna. She is a queer Brazilian anthropologist. She fulfils several roles at MAPS and founded the Interdisciplinary Group for Psychoactive Studies (NEIP) in Brazil. She has worked on 25 books.

PDF of Consumption of Ayahuasca by Children and Pregnant Women: Medical Controversies and Religious Perspectives