Amazonian medicine recognizes in Nature a conscience, a life force bearing both memory and meaning. It holds that living in harmony with and within one’s natural environment as key to man’s healthy fulfillment.
If this medicine possesses purification and body strengthening techniques comparable to modern medicine, a key factor of its practice, and the path towards recovery it offers require us to discover our deepest being and our place within the great game of life. "Viewing one’s path in order to follow it with both courage and strength", as Indians would say.
This ancestral medicine is intriguing… Much has been written about it, with opinions ranging from curiosity to denial and misunderstanding. Yet it seems to succeed in bringing hopeless drug addicts back to life, whereas modern medicine can only help them, at best, to turn their addiction to other, less risky chemicals. Today, clinical results for this ancestral medicine must be rigorously outlined according to the latest academic and scientific standards in order to move this debate forward! It is precisely what this project, which has been about 10 years in the making, intends to do.
STATEMENT OF INTENT
Indigenous tribes are the custodians of Earth’s rare virgin ecosystems. A fundamental pillar of their culture, ancestral medicine advocates for an environmentally friendly way of life. For these tribes, lasting development on their territories without this sacred guardian is inconceivable. Yet our evidence-hungry society only acknowledges science as a prerequisite to any legitimacy.
At a time when environmental issues play a key role in our global debate, we should leave the door open to the ecologically and developmentally durable possibilities which this wisdom, drawn from the forest offers. Scientifically acknowledging this millennial sacred art would widen the possibilities... With an ear and an eye focused on the Earth, Man might find his way back to a purpose for mankind aligned with life, with the Earth and to an evolution aligned with his roots
EARLY STAGES OF THIS PROJECT
Anne Denys and the scientific group to which she belongs have long been interested in this matter. Through relationships and mutual confidence between various players and institutions, we have been able to enlist the scientific partners required to set up a rigorous study. Indeed, few are those who dare risk their career for a topic such as Amazon shamans.
Anne DENYS (project manager)
Equator and public health officer, Anne Denys has been working at promoting traditional medicine for many years. She believes in practical solutions to global challenges and in a lifestyle achieved through balancing traditional world values with those of our modern world. Impressed by Amazonian medicine and its holistic approach to health and disease, she has been researching and trying to promote this topic for over 10 years. She completed a community health diagnosis with an indigenous perception of health at the request of the Shuar Indigenous Federation conjointly with the Ecuadorian Health Ministry and the French Ethno pharmacological Association. She spent three months a year for 10 years as a cultural ecotourism guide in the Peruvian forest helping traditional practitioners, which allowed to refine her refine her understanding of this type of medicine. She actually published a book on this topic with Harmattan in 2012.
Denys A. (2013) Des plantes médicinales au service d’une action thérapeutique dans la prise en charge de l’addictions, Ethnopharmacologia, Société Française d’Ethnopharmacologie, 50, 69-78. Denys A. (2012)
Destins croisés au pays des chamans, guéris par la forêt, Paris, L’Harmattan, p. 257.
Denys A, Tsamaraint N., Lacaze D. (2008) Diagnostico comunitario y marco de evaluacion para el plan integral de salud in Memorias del congreso de salud intercultural de Ecuador, Coca junio del 2008, Ecuador, Ministerio de Salud Publica Del Ecuador, 81-89.
Denys A. (2005) Importance d’une approche globale dans le traitement des addictions, iboga et Ayahuasca, des perspectives intéressantes in J. Fleurentin, R. Lioger, M. Perrin, B. Weniger, J.M. Pelt, C. Ghasarian (Eds.), Actes des VII èmes Etats Généraux de l’Ethique. Chamanisme et thérapeutique. Mythe ou réalité, Metz – Société Française d’Ethnopharmacologie, 61-72.
THE FRENCH ETHNOPHARMACOLOGY SOCIETY (Study sponsor)
The French Ethnopharmacology Society was founded in 1986 by a dozen or so university researchers from various fields who were involved in the study and understanding of medicinal plants used for medication or in understanding the practices and representations concerning health and disease. The French Ethnopharmacology Society and its medicinal plant garden, as well as the Jean-Marie Pelt European Ecological Institute are housed in the Recollet Cloister in Metz. Jean-Marie Pelt is the honorary president of the French Ethnopharmacology Society.
This unsubsidized scholarly association currently boasts more than 550 members from roughly thirty countries. Its mission statement is to: "promote ethnopharmacology by conducting and encouraging studies and research of medicinal plants and natural products used by traditional medicines, facilitating information exchange, organizing scientific conferences, and generally developing any activity aimed towards this goal". The French Ethnopharmacology Society notably tries to facilitate coordination between basic and applied research by connecting the fields of expertise of the members and by acting as a consultant.
This French organization, whose goal is to enhance the status of traditional medicines, believes that assessing the results of traditional Amazonian medicine is all the more relevant that the questions this issue raises set it as a current topic for both institutions and scientists. Anne Denys, a member of this scholarly association, will lead this project and act as officer-in-charge for the French Ethnopharmacology Society.
THE EPSaM (Metz) RESEARCH LABORATORY, led by Professor Cyril Tarquinio
The APEMAC research unit "Chronic diseases, perceived health and adaptation process" links the study of psychological processes and an epidemiological approach to identifying the health deciding factors perceived in the course of chronic diseases under a common approach. Its goal is to improve prevention and promote health. Its objective is also to reduce the psychological consequences of chronic diseases and their treatment, and even to develop new operational measurement tools for research.
Within this three-team unit, the Metz health psychology team (EPSaM) seeks to identify, within the health field, the different influencing factors and their interactions. Its goal is to increase awareness of health protecting factors and of those which help disease evolve, and to develop practical applications. Its task entails both a preventative and an application component.
THE SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH, Nancy School of Medicine
The supervision of this research project will be a joint effort between the French Ethnopharmacology Society and the EPSaM Health Psychology Team.
ESP's mission: making training for public health intervention methods and for field research available to all, whether they be health professional or not, by offering a wide array of degrees, of places for research and research training, of public health facilities, this is the mission of the Nancy School of Public Health, heir to a longstanding academic tradition of social medicine, and for which current priorities encompass various aspects of current public health: promoting health, epidemiology and clinical research, assessing interventions and health services, environmental safety.
TRADITIONAL AMAZONIAN MEDICINE
In Amazonian medicine, man is viewed as a whole where body, mind, emotions and spirit constantly interact. Therefore any action on the body reflects in the psyche, and vice versa. Physical purification methods are just as important as those allowing handling altered states of consciousness. Purging plants and dieting plants allow both physical cleansing and psychological restructuring.
These "master plants" from traditional Amazonian medicine owe their names to their ability to "teach". They let the dieter know about his deficiencies, his strengths and his potentials so as to help him work on personal problems and let him understand previously subconscious mechanisms. Beyond these physical and psychological expectations, forest retreats would enable the patient to develop his sensitivity and attention to both himself and to another dimension of spiritual life.
Handling altered states of consciousness induced for therapeutic purposes follows very strict rules. It enables the patient to access "the other world" and to bring back information to ordinary reality where he can apply what he has learned.
Everything in those South American therapies aims at rebuilding ones identity. They seek to optimize one’s ability to adapt to the environment while preserving one's identity by coaching questioning. The process entails rereading one's personal story, one's inter-personal relationship modes, and accusing and stigmatizing "with an eye for understanding and forgiveness", as the patients will state. Meanwhile, the subject’s discovering and strengthening of his personal abilities and strength seems to coincide with his empowerment, his confidence in the value of his life and of life in general, as well as with his ability to regain control, which guarantees his true freedom and the full expression of his being. These therapies mean to reestablish harmony between body and spirit, between man and nature; healing entails finding a personal and harmonious "stance towards the world", a correct balance which would allow one to deal with life’s ups and downs. Behavior and environmental interaction modification come from patients having a radically different outlook on the world. During the post-treatment integration stage, those patients are encouraged to modify their environment on their own, simply because their view of it, of life, and of others, has changed.
THE RESEARCH PROJECT
While this type of approach, which promotes a national ancestral and cultural knowledge, is readily accepted in Peru, it is met with mistrust and misunderstanding by the international community. This happens despite a growing interest by some academic circles, which often bemoan the lack of clinical data regarding this topic. Due to the complexity of the situation and the lack of suitable solutions, we should not neglect any possible alternative when dealing with addiction. Pharmacology may still be the primary response in Europe when treating addicts, but its limitations and its poor results, notably in treating cocaine withdrawal, contributed to the development of studies on relational and environmental methods. Management methods involving traditional medicine for the treatment protocol of addicts were developed in South America. With several decades of hindsight, the results from these specific practices sound interesting.
The French Pharmacological Society believes that assessing the results of traditional Amazonian medicine is all the more relevant that the questions this issue raises set it as a current topic for both institutions and scientists. We have set up a joint scientific partnership with the Public Health School and the Nancy Medical School and the Metz Health Psychology EPSaM research lab, which will give this delicate project a rigorous framework. The initial research will be conducted within the framework of an ERCE Master II (Epidemiology, Clinical Research, Assessment), and will progress as part of a Doctorate.
Psychoactive substance consumption is a significant public health issue costing 8.9 years of healthy life globally. Consumption of legal substances such as alcohol and tobacco leads to a threefold increase in cancer, cardiovascular, and digestive disease-related deaths. That risk jumps to a nine-fold increase with illegal substances such as heroin and cocaine. Roughly 50% of the time, these multiple-drug problem users are social outcasts and exhibit psychiatric comorbidities.
Addiction is a complex issue, and the global approach required to address it lies at the crossroad of many disciplines. In Europe pharmacology still offers the main answer for treatment. Though the goals of opioid substitution therapies, which are to reduce both individual and collective risks, seem adequate, weak results in managing alcohol and cocaine related problems show the need for more field research. Modifying the addiction pattern of a patient seems to be a long process, is unavailable for some and often requires prolonged medicalization.
Original approaches by treatment centers incorporating traditional medicine methods show impressive results: More than 50 % of previous patients are still clean after two years, and have not turned to other substances (medications, legal or illegal drugs with the exception of tobacco). We can view the improvement or resolution of the addiction pattern as a favorable development of the bio-psycho-social sphere.
This study’s intent, therefore, is to verify the two-year results for former patients of a Peruvian treatment center by using standardized and internationally validated tools to help compare with the best practices currently used in the field of addictions. The basic idea is to show the world how forest medicine works and for whom.