Teacher plants - Indigenous Peruvian-Amazonian dietary practices as a method for using psychoactives.

Berlowitz, Ilana; O'Shaughnessy, David M; Heinrich, Michael; Wolf, Ursula; Maake, Caroline; Martin-Soelch, Chantal (2022). Teacher plants - Indigenous Peruvian-Amazonian dietary practices as a method for using psychoactives. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 286, p. 114910. Elsevier 10.1016/j.jep.2021.114910

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Indigenous groups of the Amazon have developed intricate methods for the application of psychoactives, among which particularly the dieta or diet method of Peruvian-Amazonian traditional medicine stands out. It is a retreat-like intervention involving lengthy periods of social, behavioural, and alimentary restrictions, while ingesting specially prepared plant substances. The interplay of the dietary conditions and plants ingested sensitizes the dieter to receive healing, strength, guidance, and knowledge. From a clinical scientific point of view, the method has remained largely underexplored, but seems more pertinent than ever given the increasing interest in Amazonian psychoactive preparations including ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi) and the burgeoning field of psychedelic-assisted therapies in general.


This study offers a descriptive account and emic interpretation of the Peruvian-Amazonian dieta. More specifically we document in detail the procedure, its context and purpose of application, effects, modes of action, adverse effects, and risks, from the perspectives of a sample of Peruvian traditional healers. The Peruvian-Amazonian dieta is a multi-purpose method for making use of medicinal plants, many of which (but not all), are psychoactive. The current work especially focuses on its therapeutic applications in conjunction with psychoactives.


We interviewed 16 healers working in the Ucayali, San Martín, and Loreto provinces of Peru using a semi-structured interview approach. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. The extensive data derived from these interviews were analysed by means of computer-assisted manifest qualitative content analysis using a theory-advancing approach. Over 500 coded text segments were categorized, resulting in 7 main theme clusters and corresponding sub-themes.


The interviewed healers described a complex intervention with multifaceted applications (treatment, prevention, training) and effects in various domains (body, mind, spirit, energy). The process was portrayed as transformative, with benefits attributed to the effects of the so-called teacher plants in conjunction with the diet's conditions, along with the skill of the healer guiding the intervention. Further, a detailed risk assessment revealed sophisticated safety measures and tools designed to address adverse responses. The importance of adequate training of the healer that administers the diet was particularly highlighted in this context.


The dieta is a central therapeutic concept and tool in Peruvian-Amazonian traditional medicine and a unique method for using psychoactive plants. Multidisciplinary health research that includes traditional treatment methods from Indigenous cultures, Amazonian and other, should not be neglected in the current global interest in psychedelic therapies; such research may in the long-term contribute to a more inclusive psychedelic research paradigm as well as healthcare practice in countries where rich traditional healing systems exist, and perhaps beyond. It may also contribute to the recognition of the Indigenous healers as not only historical forerunners, but also current leading experts in psychedelic medicine.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


04 Faculty of Medicine > Medical Education > Institute of Complementary and Integrative Medicine (IKIM)

UniBE Contributor:

Wolf, Ursula


600 Technology > 610 Medicine & health








Maurice Gisler

Date Deposited:

18 Jan 2022 12:26

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:59

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Amazonian medicine Ayahuasca Diet Indigenous medicine Peru Psychedelic renaissance Psychoactive Teacher plants Traditional medicine dieta





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