Interdisciplinary Perspectives of Ayahuasca

Interdisciplinary Perspectives of Ayahuasca

General description

Ayahuasca is a traditional psychoactive South-American brew whose use is regulated in Brazil in native and religious settings. It is subject of a variety of recent human and animal studies on Pharmacology, Neuroscience and Psychiatry. Although it has not been yet regulated for therapeutic use in Brazil, ayahuasca and its components – dimethyltryptamine and the harmala alkaloids – are currently under scientific scrutiny with encouraging results. Because of its legal status in this country, Brazil has major relevance regarding ayahuasca studies and offers a unique opportunity for those interested in studying novel medicinal agents, the scientific investigation of altered states of consciousness, interdisciplinary discussions among Anthropology, Botany, Chemistry, Psychology and Medicine, and the investigation of the therapeutic potentials of psychedelic agents. This has been a new and exciting field of research whose results are constantly reaching the general media and attracting the attention of scholars and students.

The University of Campinas and its School of Medical Sciences houses a research group that is focused on ayahuasca: ICARO – the Interdisciplinary Cooperation for Ayahuasca Research and Outreach. ICARO is headed by Prof. Luís Tófoli and is composed of scholars and students from several areas from many institutes at UNICAMP and other Brazilian universities: Psychiatry, Psychology, Pharmacy, Anthropology, Agricultural Research, Biology, Chemistry and Neuroscience. The group is able to offer in English a comprehensive and thorough perspective about ayahuasca, its plant constituents and its interaction with humans. Moreover, ICARO is also structured in order to provide practical demonstrations on the management of ayahuasca plant species and the pharmaceutical management of ayahuasca and its constituents.


Course objectives

At the end of the course, students will be able to:

  1. Describe what ayahuasca is, how it is used, what are its constituents, how it causes its effects and what are its possible clinical applications in the current state of the art.

  2. Discuss the medical, psychological, neuroscientific, anthropological, pharmacological, chemical, botanical and pharmaceutical aspects of ayahuasca;

  3. Formulate a simple proposal about ayahuasca within their field of expertise.


Teaching methods

  • Lectures, discussions and active learning in classroom;

  • Visits with practical demonstrations in UNICAMP facilities related to the ICARO project (Faculty of Medical Sciences, Chemistry Institute and Chemical, Biological and Agricultural Pluridisciplinary Research Center).



  • Presence and punctuality;

  • Individual task: writing an abstract and the objectives of a research proposal on ayahuasca within the student’s study area.


Duration: 1 week

Prerequisite: Fluent English

Who should atend?

  • Undergraduate, graduate students and professionals within knowledge areas correlated to ayahuasca (Medicine, Psychiatry, Psychology, Pharmacy, Anthropology, Agricultural Research, Biology, Chemistry, Neuroscience and others)

  • Up to 10 students




  • Luís Fernando Tófoli (School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, UNICAMP)

  • Clarissa Rosalmeida Dantas (School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, UNICAMP)


Faculty members:

  • Alessandra Sussulini, PhD (Chemistry Institute, UNICAMP)

  • Ílio Montanari Jr., agronomist, PhD (Chemical, Biological and Agricultural Pluridisciplinary Research Center)

  • José Luiz da Costa, pharmacist, PhD (School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, UNICAMP)

  • Maurício Fiore, anthropologist, PhD (Brazilian Centre for Analysis and Planning)

  • Marili Rodrigues, pharmacist (Chemical, Biological and Agricultural Pluridisciplinary Research Center)

  • Paulo Moraes, psychologist, MSc (Professor at the Federal University of Rondônia; PhD candidate at the Federal University of São Paulo)

  • Rodney Rodrigues, pharmacist, PhD (Chemical, Biological and Agricultural Pluridisciplinary Research Center)

  • Bruno Ramos Gomes, psychologist, MSc (PhD candidate, School of Medical Sciences, UNICAMP)

  • Lucas de Oliveira Maia, biologist, MSc (PhD candidate, School of Medical Sciences, UNICAMP)


Course Syllabus

Historical and anthropological aspects of ayahuasca. Ayahuasca plant constituents: Banisteriopsis caapi, Psychotria viridis and other possible admixtures. Active ingredients of ayahuasca: dimethyltryptamine, harmine, harmaline, tetrahydroharmine and other betacarbolines. The Pyschopharmacology of ayahuasca. Ayahuasca and Neuroscience. The Toxicology of ayahuasca intake. The therapeutic potential of ayahuasca: depression, substance-related disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders and other illnesses. The psychometric assessment of ayahuasca effect. Set and setting in ayahuasca studies. Psychotherapeutic aspects of ayahuasca use. Agricultural management of B. caapi and P. viridis. Pharmacological preparations of ayahuasca: original form, freeze-drying, other presentations. Assessing ayahuasca alkaloids in plant material, ayahuasca samples and biological fluids. Performing a clinical trial with ayahuasca.