Plant Medicines and Addictions Therapy

Plant Medicines and Addictions Therapy

Addiction is a very complicated topic, involving multiple different substances such as tobacco, alcohol, opiates and cocaine. There are many therapeutic approaches and ideologies, including abstinence and variations on the 12-step program, psychotherapy and counselling, harm reduction, hypnosis, and medical rehabilitation treatments which may involve using pharmaceuticals to substitute for the addictive substance, or modify the withdrawal process. Despite these many options, relapse rates remain as high as 30-90% following addictions therapy.

Many people who struggle with addiction have become interested in using plant based medicine, either as an alternative to conventional treatment (which they may have tried and found ineffective), or as a complement to other therapies they are engaged in. Recently there has been a particular explosion of interest in the use of psychedelic plant medicines in addictions therapy, and a lot of scientific research is currently being conducted to explore this area. Using psychedelic plants to treat drug addiction is highly controversial for many reasons: Any herb with powerful effects on the mind are not to be taken lightly; some of the herbs being used are illegal, or contain controlled compounds; herbalists or therapists working with these herbs may be doing so in an underground fashion, without strict safety controls; and these herbs have been taken out of their original cultural context, and are being used in new and different ways than they have been used before. Despite the risks, they have also shown incredibly powerful benefits for many people, and are the most promising new therapeutic approach.

Goals of this workshop are to discuss the plants being used in addictions therapy from an herbalist’s perspective, exploring their phytochemistry, pharmacology, and traditional use knowledge. We will discuss current research on these herbs, their regulatory and legal status, and how clinics and alternative therapists in Canada are approaching and using these herbs. We will also discuss the impact that popularization and rising demand for these herbs has had on the indigenous populations who taught us about them, and on the plants themselves.

Our herbs fall into three main categories:

1) Trophorestorative and Adaptogen herbs which are gentle in action, and help to nourish and restore function to the body: Milky Oats (Avena sativa), Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) and Lion’s Mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus).

2) Herbs to substitute for an addictive substance, or modify withdrawal: Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa), a southeast Asian herb with atypical opiate-like activity.

3) Psychedelic herbs: These herbs have potent effects on the mind as well as the body, and are often used in combination with psychotherapy or other healing modalities to facilitate change in addictive behaviour. Psilocybin mushrooms (Psilocybe spp.), Ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi and admixture herbs) and Iboga (Tabernanthe iboga).