Jessica Nielson

Jessica Nielson

Jessica Nielson is an Assistant Professor jointly appointed in the Psychiatry Department and the Institute for Health Informatics at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (UMN). She received her PhD from University of California Irvine (UCI) in anatomy and neurobiology, and postdoctoral training in informatics and multivariate statistics from UC San Francisco (UCSF). Her research involves combining machine learning with datasets from completed and ongoing trauma research, and she’s currently gathering data through an anonymous online survey to assess user-reported risks and benefits of ayahuasca to treat trauma.

More information can be found on her lab website: http://nielsonlab.umn.edu/

“A qualitative assessment of risks and benefits of ayahuasca for trauma survivors”

The use of ayahuasca for healing trauma and resolving associated symptoms has gained increasing attention recently, along with reports of the potential for harm. The current study reports on qualitative analyses of data from an anonymous online survey of ayahuasca users (N=520) from multiple settings to treat symptoms of trauma. Respondents were asked to describe their ayahuasca experience and what they perceived as risks and/or benefits. Those with a self-reported past or current diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were 10% more likely to disclose a dangerous experience associated with taking ayahuasca. Qualitative assessments of open-ended responses found themes of risks related to not being mentally or physically prepared, not having support or supervision by an experienced shaman and/or facilitator, inadequate facilities for purging, overcrowding in ceremonies, lack of follow-up care, and insufficient screening of participants for group settings. While the consensus of respondents found ayahuasca therapy helpful and healing, people with PTSD do report unfavorable responses and further investigation is warranted if this is to be a therapy for trauma.