Remembering Dr. Jordi Riba, Ayahuasca Research Pioneer (1968–2020)

On August 14, 2020, the world bid farewell to scientific pioneer, Dr. Jordi Riba. The untimely death of the Catalan ayahuasca researcher has come as a harsh blow to the close-knit ayahuasca community the world over.

Riba was undoubtedly one of the most prolific researchers in the field, having devoted well over two decades of his life to unveiling the mysteries of ayahuasca.

Born on September 12, 1968, in Barcelona, Spain, Riba acquired a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from the University of Barcelona in 1993. He went on to complete his doctorate in pharmacology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) in 2003. Riba was undoubtedly one of the most prolific researchers in the field, having devoted well over two decades of his life to unveiling the mysteries of ayahuasca. He published nearly 80 scientific articles, was an active speaker at conferences throughout Europe, the United States, and Latin America, and was considered a preeminent academic exploring the clinical uses of ayahuasca.

Among his most notable contributions was Riba’s success in conducting the world’s first controlled clinical trial with ayahuasca and the first neuroimaging studies with the brew. His pioneering understanding of the mechanistic and therapeutic potentials of ayahuasca, alongside other psychoactive substances like 5-MeO-DMT, salvinorin-A, and cannabinoids, were key in validating investigations into these previously stigmatized substances.

Driven by great foresight, Riba started researching ayahuasca at a time when there were few clinical studies on its effects and a limited willingness from academic institutions to engage in such unorthodox research.

From an early stage in his career, Riba had an interest in substances that were able to elicit modifications in perception and cognition. In a 2016 interview, Riba described how his fascination with psychoactive substances began: “I was always interested in the biochemistry of the brain; so, any substances that interacted with the central nervous system had an interest for me.”

Making acquaintance with Josep Maria Fericgla, a Spanish anthropologist who had been conducting research on the ritual use of ayahuasca among the Shuar people of the northwestern Amazon, Riba had a glimpse into the field of psychedelic research. Fericgla introduced Riba to ayahuasca-using groups in Spain, which was a factor influencing Riba’s decision to pursue research into the substance.

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