Brazil Is Giving Ayahuasca To Prison Inmates On Their Path To Redemption

In a quest to ease pressures on the Brazilian prison system, mental health workers have opted to give prison inmates the psychedelic brew ayahuasca, in the hopes of helping them to work through their deeply-rooted emotional traumas. 

It is no secret that the current prison system is in shambles. Over crowded holding spaces, abusive staff, unsanitary living conditions – these types of environments are rarely conducive to redemption and rehabilitation, but instead almost always seed further violence, aggression, and feelings of alienation from society.

While some prisons are now offering holistic services such as yoga, meditation, and Reiki, prisoners’ rights advocacy group Acuda is taking it one step further, offering Brazilian prisoners a real shot at a new life through the use of the traditional Amazonian brew, ayahuasca.

Ayahuasca is a psychoactive brew that combines a specific Amazonian vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) with a leaf (Psychotria viridis), creating an extremely pungent, orally-active cocktail of DMT, a powerful psychedelic known to induce mystical and life changing experiences for its user.

At first, Acuda had trouble finding a place where the inmates could drink the ayahuasca, but they were finally accepted by an offshoot of Santo Daime, a Brazilian religion founded in the 1930s which blends Catholicism, African traditions, and the trance communications with spirits popularized in the 19th century by a Frenchman known as Allan Kardec.

Many people in Brazil believe that inmates must suffer, enduring hunger and depravity,” said Euza Beloti to the NY Times, a psychologist with Acuda, “This thinking bolsters a system where prisoners return to society more violent than when they entered prison. [At Acuda] we simply see inmates as human beings with the capacity to change.”

Supervisors at Acuda, who obtain a judge’s permission to take about 15 prisoners once a month to the temple ceremony, say they are mindful of the risks of ayahuasca, commonly called Daime in Brazil or referred to as tea. At the same time, Acuda’s therapists consume the brew with the inmates, as well as with the occasional prison guard who volunteers to accompany the group.

This is how it should be,” said Virgílio Siqueira, 55, a retired police officer who works as a guard at the prison complex that includes Acuda. “It’s gratifying to know that we can sit here in the forest, drink our Daime, sing our hymns, exist in peace.”

But in a country where conservative views are ever-growing in response to continual violence and crime, not everyone is convinced this intervention is okay.

Darci Altair Santos da Silva, 43, who sexually abused a minor. Credit Lalo de Almeida for The New York Times
Darci Altair Santos da Silva, 43, who sexually abused a minor. Credit Lalo de Almeida for The New York Times

Where are the massages and the therapy for us?” asked Paulo Freitas, a 48-year-old manager at a leather factory whose 18-year-old daughter, Naiara, a college student, was kidnapped, raped, and murdered in Porto Velho in 2013 by a group of men – a crime that stunned many people in this corner of the Amazon.

Whether or not we should be providing convicts with therapies that could be considered “luxury” is a justified question no doubt. However, we cannot ignore the fact that many criminals eventually return to society after their sentence. Do we want to see these people as a product of years of violence and aggression, most likely repeating their offences, or would we rather have them come out of their sentence with new insights, a new perspective on their past choices, and a chance to do things differently?

We are considered the trash of Brazil, but this place accepts us,” said Darci Altair Santos da Silva, 43, a construction worker serving a 13-year sentence for sexual abuse of a child under 14. “I know what I did was very cruel. The tea helped me reflect on this fact, on the possibility that one day I can find redemption.”

What are your thoughts on offering prisoners psychedelic therapy? Share with us in the comment section below!


The NY Times

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  1. The USA did much the same thing with Thorazine and other psychoactive chemicals for years. The theory was that if you kept them doped up, they would be easier to handle. Now Brazil is trying the same thing with a different chemical.

    1. Actually it is incorrect to compare ayahuasca to pharms. Before thinking that you know, perhaps it would be wise to educate rather than shut down. Ayahuasca is something to allow self recognition, and to see life as life, not something defined. It is not the same as Thorazine and other psychoactive chemicals”. Brazil has been using this traditionally longer than the western world has been around. I am sure they are not trying to keep prisoners complacent.

    2. Using a metaphor. The system that outputs even worse and violent people might want to ask: if my hand hurts do I want to treat it badly to such an extent that it becomes very sick and harms me further? Or do I want to help my hand, in any way possible, to get well and cause me no harm? Just asking.

    3. This sacred plant is not to be thought of as a prescription narcotic That makes you feel “funny”. It’s psychotherapy with plants. Not control but to better the mental status of the person.

    4. Thorazine and psychotropics are different than a hallucinogenic. No one learns about the deep rooted reasons they began to engage in criminal behaviors by being doped up…. but a hallucination experience is quite different. Instead of making these inmates “easier to handle” the purpose is to make them better humans once released. different drug because different purpose

    5. Thorazine is nothing like this.. We want to open the mind not shut it down in zombie mode. Way different scenerio .. Try magic mushrooms.. You will not fail to love it.

    6. There is a huge difference between man made chemicals and indigenous ceremonial plants prepared by shamans! Psychedelics became illegal in the US when they realized psychedelic therapy decalcifies the pineal gland, the opposite of what our govt wants.

    7. If you had ever done ayahuasca, there is no way that you could make that comparison. It is very intense and is not done recreationally or to placate. Quite the opposite. I wish that this were available in the US for healing in our prison system as well. I love that this is being done in Brazil. I hope that they find healing.

    8. You obviously know little about Ayahuasca. If you did some research it is most likely you will change your view. If you tried it you certainly would. However in my experience those that critise Ayahuasca don’t have the courage to speak from experience.

    9. Ayahuasca does not keep a person doped up. It is not addictive as not easy to drink . The consumer gets very sick as they expell toxins from the system. Then experience vivid visions some life review going way back to childhood and right up to the present time. The vision may show the user what it was like to be a victim of the crimes committed and what brought them on that path. . They may become the victim of their own crimes in these visions. This is the reason it has a possible chance to turn people around. In my own experience I also had a out of body experience and would not fear death any more. Some people have reported recovering from Cancer and other serious illnesses after a couple of months treatment. Others have lost their addictions to heroin etc. James in Ireland.

        1. Yes ayahuasca definitely showed me a path other than suicide. Eye-opening experience, many childhood regressions, and the knowledge that this society I currently live in (school-university-office) is the one that will continue to induce depression if I don’t get out. Definitely not an addictive substance, still get queezy at the thought of trying to down a cup! If only every person on this earth that needed it could have access. Rhi from Australia

    10. It is not a chemical, it’s a natural drug that shamans use for aeons for healing people and get in contact with the spiritual dimensions.

        1. Water is also a chemical Shayne, H20. This method of physical, emotional and spiritual cleansing has been used by Curanderos for a longer period than the scientific definition of what constitutes a chemical. It is created naturally, so although it contains dimethyltryptamine, it also contains many other natural agents, unlike laboratory chemicals.

    11. The difference is that Ayahuasca is a natural substance and Thorazine is chemical (toxic). The former opens up the consciousness and the latter closes it down. The former can encourage change the latter prohibits it. I have taken Aya in homeopathic potency and been greatly helped by it in uncovering and healing early childhood trauma.

    12. Never a surprise to see such outrageously sophomoric comments as this one [comparing “Thorazine and other psychoactive chemicals” to Ayahuasca!] but it is very encouraging to hear from so many with enough wisdom to kindly refute this.

  2. Daime should be used in US prisons, rathey than psychotropic drugs. This tea seems to help in meditation and reflection. This was a great article!

  3. The difference between ordinary dope or medication and the Daime, is that the latter is taken as a single experience of guided reflection and each person treated individually accompanied by someone to guide through the experience that with be over a given time-frame. It is always a good idea considering that inmates would still have the potential of change for the better, but I totally agree that the same amount of extensive care and attention (not necessarily same course of treatment), if not more, should be in place for the victims who are usually neglected by human-rights groups and the state, left to cope alone with trauma, loss and all levels of difficulties.

  4. It’s nice for them to take a natural and holistic approach…plus I imagine it’s a way cheaper intervention!

  5. This is a sign we are progressing. Baby steps but whenever we take steps to be compassionate instead of vengeful and aggressive we evolve. May this compassion spread all over the world.

  6. Perhaps if we were all given a dose long before we started down those dark paths we would not have gotten there in the first place. Spiritual awakening should be part of those educational programs open to society in general so that awareness of self and others is such we would be far, far less inclined to deviate and bring hurt and harm to others.

    1. I agree that there should be a spiritual payhway for young children much like a rite of passage the tribal people employed before the Anglos and Christians stopped these ceremonies. Maybe not on the old way but an updated ceremony that incorporates Daime to explore the unconscious mind!

  7. Such a great article to read. We 100% agree with the reality that prisons do not work, and we need to offer those incarcerated tools that allow them to make different choices by expanding thinking, and therefore changing behaviour. We at SevaUnite’s Prison Freedom Project ( teach yoga and mindfulness to prisons, and the results we have seen have been astounding. Thank you for this article, it’s beautiful the increasing focus given the modalities, practices, therapies etc that focus on self awareness.

  8. Everyone comes into this existence with a purpose, which we don’t know of until we return to source. The souls who commit these crimes are young souls who have not learnt karmic lessons in previous lives.

    All of the people incarcerated for crimes are prevented from in-debting themselves to any more karmic points. So, my point is that each human in captivity should be treated as a human with a mental illness.

    We all perform specific behavioral actions because of the way we were raised. Before we are incarcerated, those in power of judgement should first look for the source of the problem.

    Spiritual healing is needed in all of these cases to let the individual meet his soul. Find out why he performed the actions he did and choose to exit the confrontation changed for the better, or, even more evil.

    In the majority if these encounters through ayahusca, the individual has a spiritual experience and comes face to face with his own spiritual being and returns a changed person for the better.

  9. Better than ayahuasca for self discovery, they should be taking IBOGA. It’s like 20 years of psychotherapy in one session, up to the points that need to be sorted.


  11. Fantastic article….perhaps it could be made more readily available for victims as well. Perhaps better still….this is what the world of humanity needs right now!!!

  12. To the author. Your information information about Allan kardec isn’t accurate. He had nothing to do with Santo Daime religion. He is the mentor of Kardecism ( or espiritismo) a religion I was raised in. Research your facs before your write about it. Thanks.

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  14. Does anyone knows where can I find this (herbal/natural) treatment. Or any contact information. Please help me out with some direction.

  15. This is so great to hear. I was just reading in a sociology book how we need to move away from our current way of viewing/treating prisoners, precisely because they largely return to society disgruntled and reenacting more crime. I believe, under the right guidance, giving the prisoners ayahuasca is a brilliant way to allow the individuals to work through the inner issues that manifest as harming society. Obviously, if one doesn’t have a total understanding of what Ayahuasca is – then please do yourself (and the rest of the world) a favor and do your research. Documentaries are a cognitively-efficient way to learn – There is also an Ayahuasca documentary or two on netflix.

  16. I’m all for the use of ayahuasca to help people in prison possibly make change for the better. After having had six journeys myself on ayahuasca, I can attest to its power for creating positive change in ones life emotionally, mentally, spiritually and even physically.

    All anger, hate, violence and such does is create more of it. The conditions in most prisons are not conducive to rehabilitation and positive change. So I think ayahuasca deserves a fair try in the prison systems to see how it does and what positive change it can bring. Of course, doing this requires some amount of time for its results to be documented. And hopefully, certain people in positions of authority, power, or who can stand to profit from the prison systems not changing…hopefully they won’t come along and falsify the results or whatever in their favor… : /

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