What are the key benefits, risks of Ayahuasca how it works and why people are doing it
To find oneself and create a meaningful life, you have to take the time to ask important questions. Asking existential questions is not a luxury; it’s your given human right. Questions like Where are we? Why are we here? What does it all mean? What, if anything, are we supposed to do? The answers to these questions are unique to you, they are coded into your DNA, and it takes a lifetime to answer and answer you MUST! So why not take a short cut.
In a study of 488 societies, anthropologist Erika Bourguignon found that 90 per cent of these societies had institutionalised ways of entering into an altered state of trance to solve their own mystery and to answer their existential questions. However, we in the Western world have abandoned all forms of ancient (pre religious) practises to tap into our unconscious and have become solely reliant on someone else, giving us the answer. However, there is a growing dissatisfaction with the standardised answers and mistrusts in information fed to us via Google and other social networks.
There are hundreds of thousands of people who are giving up on the current social and economic structures and are exploring other options to heal from their trauma and find their ‘Why’. Plant medicines like Ayahuasca, Mushrooms, Rapé (Shamanic Snuff), San Pedro, Cambo to name a few as well as shamanic wisdom is not a new phenomenon, it has been around for thousands of years. It has a proven record of helping people positively transform their lives and health, both mental and physical. Modern medicine still has some catching up to do in this area.
What Is Ayahuasca
Ayahuasca has been used in tribal religious and initiation (rite of passage) rituals for millennia by the indigenous groups and later by the mestizo populations of the Amazonian region, who believe Ayahuasca to be sacred and trust its wisdom as well as value it as a powerful medicine. The indigenous and mestizo communities regularly turn to Ayahuasca to treat physical ailments and mental problems. They also frequently use it to help them resolve their social issues and support them through their spiritual crises.
A Peruvian tradition called vegetalismo regards Ayahuasca as one of the key teacher plants that help humans to tap into the limitless wisdom of the cosmos. In other words, Ayahuasca is like the Google of the internet that allows you to browns the ancestral knowledge that is stored in your DNA and the very fabric of our universe.
In addition to its traditional and mestizo uses, Ayahuasca also forms a central component of the rituals of three Brazilian syncretic churches: the Santo Daime, the União do Vegetal and the Barquinha.
The name Ayahuasca is from Quechua language and is made up of two words: – aya – means soul, ancestors and – huasca (wasca) – means vine or rope. Therefore, it is very often referred to as the ‘vine of the soul’ or ‘ vine of the dead’. It is pronounced ‘eye-ah-WAH-ska’. Most people find it difficult to pronounce, and given the not so legal nature of the substance, most refer to it as Aya.
Ayahuasca is a mix of the Banisteriopsis caapi (Ayahuasca vine) and the Psychotria Viridis (Chacruna leaves), with other ingredients such as Mapacho tobacco, various tree barks and the Sanango root to name a few. The Ayahuasca brew has a wide variety of admixtures depending on the shaman’s knowledge and experience, and on the treatment needed for the person receiving the healing.
There is more than one type of Ayahuasca vine, such as red, yellow, black, or white, bright star, or thunder Ayahuasca. No studies have been done to determine if there are any chemical differences; however, given the fact that all tribes brew it differently adding various other complimentary plants, I am confident they are.
Like that’s not complicated enough, the quality of the brew is supposedly influenced by the time of day the vine is cut, the stage of the moon, and what songs are sung during the preparation. Also if it is used to heal or to performed ‘black magic’. Yep, you heard that right, it is a thing, and if you are not careful in choosing the right shaman you could fall victim to his selfish intentions. #Bogymanisreal #Doyourhomework
Working with Ayahuasca is a process, not a one-night-stand. Each encounter with the medicine is unique, unpredictable, and frankly, uncontrollable. Going on this journey requires faith in the medicine and the mysterious process that unfolds over time. Mystical experiences might or might not occur. Psychological healing happens both within and beyond ceremonies.
Why And What People Are Looking For When Using Ayahuasca
The reality, as we know, has been disrupted in the past few decades. We had major shifts in how we do business, develop technology, build our family life, eat, travel, shop and integrate artificial intelligence in our day to day life. Lifestyle pace has been turbocharged, and we all feel that everything and I mean everything has been served with an extra serving of steroids.
It’s all ‘good in the hood’ while you can run your life on just coffee and Insta Quotes. But as you get older and, more demands are added to your to-do-list at work and home you start to use your emergency energy, vitamins/ minerals and zest for life reserves. With no time to replenish all goes ‘tits up’ and we hit the dark voids of depression, develop chronic physical conditions or become extremely bitter, tired, stressed and anxious. Frankly, more than ever, we ignore the early signs of the burnout and wake up after we have crashed our car still very surprised and angry with the universe for not giving us the superpowers one needs to live and survive the current version of reality.
There is no manual for our generation telling us how to navigate and adapt to the ever so fast-changing landscape of technology that currently dictates and invades our lives. There is no safety net provided, no pause button. You are born, and off you go running. Not only that, but your running is also monitored, tracked and judged 24/7!
Where the old reality was built on a stable formula designed by the government and promoted by the Hollywood (yep, Hollywood is sooo YESTERDAY!) The new formula is dictated by tech giants and endorsed by Influencers on Instagram and YouTube.
People are not designed to live like this, and we know it. Deep down within ourselves, the right way of being is coded into our DNA. When we push too hard and into the wrong direction that something, maybe our higher self (the I, the soul), gives us subtle hints or bashes us on the head to save us from self-destruction or not, depends how stubborn you are. Either way, you will pay the price and it ain’t going to be ‘cheap as chips’.
Everyone I have ever spoken to or read about was called by the invisible inner force to do Ayahuasca. They were all searching for a way to stop, to pause, to heal the mind and the body, including me. We craved for something authentic, personal, tested by time, something that was just for us. Bigger than us, smarter than the Google algorithm and brutally honest. Something that would teach us about our true potential and show us our place and our purpose in this world.
Remember that while you don’t always get what you want from an Ayahuasca ceremony, you do get what you need. Medicine knows your true intentions. How? I don’t know, and I don’t need to know because everything in this universe does not need to be reduced to knowing. We ought to leave some room to mystery and magic!
Benefits Of Drinking Ayahuasca
Some of the reported benefits of Ayahuasca are but are not limited to:
• A better sense of self and improved interpersonal relationships. When your inner critic is less harsh, you feel more accepting and loving toward yourself and those close to you. With Ayahuasca, the messages ‘you are loved’, ‘you are love’ and ‘everything is connected’ drops down into the cellular level of your being, and all of a sudden you know it, you can feel it in your bones. Loving yourself and others, when all judgments fall away, is a piece of cake.
• Significant or total relief from depression. More positive thoughts as well as reduced anxiety and better mood.
• Wanting to follow a healthier lifestyle & diet. The reported changes in diet and exercise after drinking Ayahuasca are remarkable. The responses about dietary changes after Ayahuasca followed a strong pattern: less sugar, junk food, and red meat; more vegetables and fruit; and smaller portions. Some people became vegetarian, some vegan, and a few were trying a raw food diet.
• Significant or total relief from addictive behaviours. Like taking drugs, food-related disorders, sex and gambling addictions, to name a few.
• Healing from chronic medical conditions. Which is explainable as the lack of mindfulness, poor mental health, increased stressed levels and bad diet is the cause of all our health problems.
Playful spirit, healthy mind and body are the bedrock of personal well-being and the hallmarks of a meaningful life. We often forget that we are way more than just our bodies and that we are not separate but forever connected to all. We are weaved into the very fabric of our cosmos. In other words, you are the tree, the rock, your mother, the cloud, your cat /dog…everything and everyone at once… including God. #Crazy #Awersome #Gravitydefiningstuff
If you would like to explore this some more, I would recommend you look up Goleman’s theory of emotional intelligence which states: ‘I have a body, but I am not my body. I have an emotional life, but I am not my emotions or my feelings.’
How Ayahuasca Works From A Science Perspective
For the sake of keeping this short and straightforward, I will only touch upon the surface of the science that my dyslexic brain can understand and because it is totally irrelevant to you when you are drinking the medicine. I personally find human brain fascinating, and if your Western brain is anything like mine, always asking to understand and fact check, then this might help you make your mind up whether to embark on this journey or not.
Traditionally, Ayahuasca is not regarded as a drug. It’s a complex plant medicine and comes from the same source as most of our Western pharmaceuticals. All medications we use in our medicine come from some plant that we either use in its original organic form or have synthesised to last longer, have a stronger effect and be more cost-efficient. Big Pharma has been studying Amazon tribes and medical plants for decades now. The only reason Ayahuasca has not been synthesised, patented and applied to our Western medicine is because it simply can’t be reduced to just a chemical formula and it can’t be administered by doctors who only see the human as a physical body.
Biochemically, Ayahuasca contains both DMT (dimethyltryptamine) and harmine, both of which are psychedelic and affect the serotonin system similar to LSD and psilocybin. These types of hallucinogens bind to serotonin receptors in your brain and stimulate them mimicking the action of the actual serotonin. Some speculate that Ayahuasca also works directly on the serotonin receptors in the intestinal tract, which acts like a second brain that is neurologically independent, for the most part, of the cerebral cortex. We now know that this enteric nervous system influences mood and eating patterns, but more research is needed to clarify how Ayahuasca affects this second nervous system.
To quote the Carhart-Harris-led study: ‘Psychedelics work by dismantling reinforced patterns of negative thought and behaviour by breaking down the stable spatiotemporal patterns of brain activity upon which they rest.’ The habitual architecture of the personality is loosened, and the opportunity for rewiring and reprogramming is made possible.
When performing LSD-assisted psychotherapy, which is legal in Switzerland, Psychiatrist Peter Gasser and his colleagues reported the same depatterning that Ayahuasca users describe – ‘A breaking up of fixated psychological habits, defence mechanisms and entrenched thought patterns. *Mental note to oneself must relocate to Switzerland.
The current scientific data indicates that Ayahuasca is not an addictive drug. It does not stimulate the reward-related regions of the brain and does not lead to tolerance, physical dependency, sensitisation, craving, and relapse. It is always challenging, one can never get used to the intensity of the trip, and random turns it might take. We are creatures of control and stability. We depend on our ego structure to survive and so unless you are a monk who meditates all day, lives on a rock high above the clouds and eats a bland diet you will never be able to truly feel comfortable thought out the trip. It’s OK to be afraid. If you are scared, you are not MAD. Real courage is not when you run into a burning house to save someone, feeling no fear. Courage is when you are afraid, but you run into the fire anyway because that is the right thing to do. This is how heroes are made.
The Right Dose Of Ayahuasca
There is no set dose you should drink. The shaman decides on the strength of the brew before the ceremony. Everyone has to drink the first cup, naturally. After that, everyone decides for themselves how many cups more to drink. The dose will depend on your emotional readiness to give up control, the level of fear you feel around dying, body weight, cultural background, diet and so on. There’s something typically Western about the high-dose approach, you don’t need to go crazy and drink the whole bucket, you are not a cowboy unless you have a huge ego and the medicine calls you to drink many cups.
I did 8 cups on my second ceremony. I was driven by my ego and by fear of leaving without having fixed my problems. I was desperate. Let me tell you, it was a mind-altering experience as I sat strapped to a rocket shooting thought the cosmic void, completely dissolving my identity and ego. Then crashing to the ground and dying, and then becoming all-encompassing love. Thank God my shaman was very experienced and helped me find my way out of my own mental labyrinths without falling into panic or psychosis. The shaman should never stop you and should never force you to drink more than you want.
One of the most asked questions at the ceremony is: ‘How do I know if I should drink more?’ The answer is always the same: ‘If you fee that you need more, go and get more’ or ‘If you are not sure if you should have more, then you defiantly should have more’. Basically, if you are sitting there contemplating and negotiating with yourself whether you need more or not, it means your ego is still in charge. You need to drink more Aya to shut it up. Scientists believe that Ayahuasca bypasses/ switches of the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) and Fronto‐insular Cortex (FIC) brain region where your ego lives.
The Spiritual Process Of Ayahuasca
The process of healing thought’ plant medicine’ is not about learning and analysing the content of your visions. It’s not about what you saw and all about what you felt when you saw it and what that feeling represents.
What you will see and feel will depend on your religious views, your cultural upbringing, what entertainment you consume, on the level of control you are ready to give up and many other lifestyle elements. Neurologically, what we see depends upon how our brain filters our sensory input. Ayahuasca, like other psychedelics, opens our neurological gates so we can see more of the world that is already present – energy, love (YES, you can see love!) other celestial beings, sacred geometry, various mystical animals and so on. The range of experiences is unlimited since the unconscious is essentially encompassing everything outside your conscious awareness that is connected to you. And since everything is connected to you, everything that you have ever seen, experienced and everything that your parents and their parents had seen was coded into your DNA before you were born and can and most likely will come up. #Enjoytheshow
If you surrender and accept all that is happening, you will experience an intense, pulsating sensation of unity and love. All worries and concerns will wash away. But if you resist, if you try to run from it, you will experience your worst nightmares and sadness. So do a favour to yourself and hand over the wheel to Aya and allow yourself to feel it ALL, the good and the bad. Don’t attach to love and light, or fear and sadness. Let it flow through you. Dance with it but don’t analyse it and don’t attempt to control the dance. #Justbreathe
This whole exercise is about learning how to shift from your current state of consciousness to a more fluid way of thinking/ feeling that is more present in the moment and more observant. Imagine that you have entered thought a door that others don’t even know exists, you are in a room with books that contain answers to all your questions. Imagine how much time you would save and how profoundly your life would change if every life hack was customised to you personally and then uploaded to your brain in a flash of light. OK, maybe not that fast but over the space of 6 to 8 hours. Ayahuasca experience is so intimate and so unique to the individual that to describe it is close to impossible.
As ‘the vine of the dead’, Ayahuasca has a unique relationship to dying. It loves a bit of drama, it loves fireworks, and it loves to put up a show. All is gained as everything is given up. The truth is always there waiting for you to stop denying it. You can’t lie to yourself forever; eventually, every lie you have ever told yourself will add up, and explode into your face. It will tier trough your life like an atomic bomb leaving you exposed, sad, angry and physically ill. If you resist the medicine, there is a good chance she will ‘kick your ass’ and come after you all guns blazing. Again, let me repeat myself one more time, don’t try to control the process! Been there, done that, was not fun!
Life is physical and spiritual and to heal, you need to bring yourself to the point of perfect balance, and nothing better does it than the Ayahuasca purge. It is an essential element in the healing process, especially for people with addictions and childhood traumas. Perhaps difficult to imagine, doing this surrounded by total strangers but trust me when I tell you that the purge feels purifying and cleansing on all levels — physical, psychological, and spiritual. It will release all mental blockages, toxic emotions, and negative thoughts and attitudes you have saved up over the years. The purge can manifest in various forms: vomiting, pooping, sweating like hell and breaking out in a fever. Feeling emptied or cleaned out creates a new opportunity to start over, and it is easier to design a healthier and happier future when all the crap is out.
With or without a full mystical experience, even one Ayahuasca ceremony can result in the lifting of depression or anxiety, resolution of trauma, or the end to addictive behaviour. Please, note that the healing process of Ayahuasca is not a one night stand but an ongoing relationship. Some say that Ayahuasca is in all of us and since DMT is present in our brain perhaps the plant concoction simply activates it and merge with our own reserve of the magic substance.
75 per cent of the 81 subjects reported an ongoing relationship with the spirit of Ayahuasca, and I too feel her guidance in my day-to-day life.
Other Things Used At The Ayahuasca Ceremony
What additional plants are used at the Aya ceremony will depend on your shaman’s experience, his tribe or where he received his training. I am writing only about the things I have come across on my Ayahuasca healing journey. To keep this post short, I will write more about each plant and my experience using it in separate posts.
Mapacho (Nicotiana Rustica)
Mapacho (tobacco) – is considered a major plant teacher, and the smoke from Mapacho cigarettes is often used to clear negative energy. It is used to prepare and clean the ceremonial space as well as induce the purge and help you release negative energy and toxins. Tabacco is blown onto you to bring you back to your body and aid you to re-enter our 3D reality. I personally have a high intolerance of Tabacco and find it challenging to tolerate high doses of this stuff therefor I always tell the shaman to only use as little as he can. Don’t be shy to share your concerns with your shaman, healing you and making sure you are safe is his top priority.
Sananga Drops – for traditional Amazonian tribespeople, Sananga is a powerful eye medicine used to sharpen night vision and improve eye health. However, these powerful eye drops also have a powerful healing quality that works on the energetic level, and that can increase spiritual insight in the minds of those who are drinking Ayahuasca or receiving Cambo treatment.
Rapé – is the name of a dried and powdered tobacco snuff that comes from the Amazon and is used as a powerful tool to calm thoughts, unblock energy channels and cleanse your body of toxins. Most people are very anxious before the Ayahuasca ceremony and tend to even further tighten their already knotted energy ropes.
Rapé relaxes you, releases fear and toxins from your system and allows you to have a more fluid Ayahuasca experience.
I personally love this plant teacher and use it at least once a month or as needed to make sure that I don’t store vast amounts of stress and negative energy in my body.
Icaros – are the healing songs shamans sing throughout the night of an Ayahuasca ceremony. The song is like a bridge that links the visible and invisible worlds. It guides you and protects you from getting lost or stuck in your thought loops. Some icaros serve as music to purge by, encouraging and strengthening participants to surrender and transforming the sounds of vomiting into music. Don’t think of it as vomiting after one too many vodka shots, as it is an entirely different experience. Other icaros calm the energy (reduce your panic and fear levels) and lead you into beautiful visionary realms. Every shaman has a unique collection of songs passed down to him or learned directly from plant spirits and received in ceremonies or dreams.
Shaman Don Basilio, who explained, ‘If you know the icaro of the plant, you don’t need to use the plant.’ I personally prefer icaros to standard spiritual music that is played via a stereo.
All Ayahuasca ceremonies should have music. The traditional setting is when the shaman sings the icaros, but all shamans are different. A lot of the Western shamans can’t sing in Shipibo and Quetchua language and instead play live music combined with recorded music, that does not mean they are fake or bad at what they do. Music is a healing force, and the right type of music can either heal or break your mind. However, I would not recommend you attend any ceremonies where they play house music or have zero live music played. Music is a vibration, it is directly linked to your hearts energy field. When a musician plays or sings, he has to have an intention, he has emotions that vibrate and instantly connect to you. While you are under the influence of Aya your mind is very susceptible and super sensitive. Therefore the type of music played can either help you navigate your trip or increase your chances of having a bad trip. Always ask about the music, and what traditions the shaman follows during the ceremony, your brain will thank you later.
Everything in life has light and shadow side, so does Ayahuasca. This is not a new medicine but one that has been around for thousands of years, however, it is relatively new to the Western world. It does not help that all scientific and medical studies were postponed in the 70s when the USA government band them to ‘protect the people’. We are now back on track studying psychedelic substances and their healing properties, and I am very excited about the lifting of taboos and the opportunity to use them in my own personal physical healing and spiritual growth journey.
There have been only a few reported deaths related to an Ayahuasca ceremony. Usually, this occurs due to undiagnosed heart conditions, interactions with other drugs, or the use of substances like recreational drugs. Ayahuasca is not something you should buy online, take it alone or in a wrong setting.
Risk of developing a serotonin syndrome
Since Ayahuasca alters the concentrations of serotonin in the brain, there is a chance of serotonin syndrome. James Callaway and Charles Grob report that a person has to be off SSRIs drugs for at least five weeks to be sure they are safe from such high-risk complications. This is a particularly important issue, as the interaction of antidepressants, or SSRIs, and Ayahuasca can lead to serotonin syndrome. The initial symptoms of serotonin syndrome are similar to the typical side effects of Ayahuasca. This is why it is vital to disclose your full history of medical conditions and intentions for the trip with your retreat organisers. If you are on any medication, you should allow a full eight weeks in between stopping them. The below is a list of medicines that have been researched and proven to not mix well with the Ayahuasca brew.
- Antidepressants, including serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants
- Cough medications, such as dextromethorphan
- Lithium or other psychiatric drugs
- Medication for Parkinson’s disease
- St. John’s wort
- Weight loss pills
Risk of having a bad trip - developing a psychotic episode
Psychotic episodes associated with Ayahuasca appear to be a rare phenomenon, but recent studies show that individuals with a personal or family history of psychosis or bipolar disorder could face an increased risk. People who suffer from schizophrenia or schizophreniform disorders, psychotic depression or mania, or with ongoing manic or psychotic symptomatology, should avoid Ayahuasca.
Risk of feeling Paranoia
In 2012 Johns Hopkins psilocybin study under the direction of psychopharmacologist Roland Griffiths reported that 39 per cent of volunteers reported extreme fears of going crazy, or feeling trapped, and 44 per cent were delusional or paranoid during the psychedelic experience. Feeling like this is entirely reasonable, as we are designed to depend on our ego to protect us and talk us out from doing things that are unfamiliar and potentially risky. The most common reported thoughts/ symptoms when having a bad trip are:
- Fears of permanent damage
- The trip never-ending
- Overpowering bursts of physical energy
- Reliving old trauma
- Birth or Death experiences
Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD)
HPPD, causes a person to keep reliving the visual element of an experience created by hallucinogenic drugs which might cause anxiety. It is also more common among people with existing mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder and manic depression. I personally experienced this for 4 days after the ceremony but did not find it to cause anxiety. I knew what was causing it, and it was rather entertaining. It would happen every night. The room would fill with a bright light which would wake me up, it felt as if a car drove into my bedroom. I would encounter my wallpaper, or the carpet come to life, it moved and twirled for a few seconds, and then everything went back to normal. I would pass out and have the most fantastic sleep ever.
Increased Heart Rate and Blood Pleasure
The brew may increase heart rate and blood pressure, which could be problematic for individuals with advanced heart problems. It is normal to have your heart rate elevated as the medicine starts to work, your body and mind are in shock. However, if you take medication for blood pressure, you should stop taking it at least 4 weeks before the retreat and tell the organisers of your condition.
Before jetting off to an Ayahuasca retreat, you must ask the following questions:
Who owns the centre? And how are the shamans paid?
If you are jetting to a retreat in the Amazon, you must play a part in making sure that the shaman’s and the communities are not abused and taken advantage off. Which sadly happens a lot.
- Are the plants grown sustainably?
Due to a huge hype surrounding Ayahuasca and increased demand for the ingredients, the Amazon forest is being abused. It is your duty to make sure that you play a part in protecting the rainforest and mother Aya.
- What is my intention?
- What is the structure of the ceremony? and How experienced is the shaman?
Enquire about the traditions your shaman follow and what will happen at the retreat day by day. Food, Integration and any other support. Is it in the dark or daylight, inside or outside, what music will it play, what you need to bring? Anyone who only offers the brew and some recorded music with no integration or post-retreat support is a NO GO.
Life is a journey, you need to stop focusing on the end destination and start enjoying the ride. There is no magic pill to undo the trauma, years of self-judgments and sabotage or eating cake every day for breakfast. It took you time to break your life, your health, your relationships, it will take time to fix it.
Relax, give yourself time, be kind to yourself and watch yourself grow and bloom into a better version of yourself. All you need now is to START, to take that baby step, embrace change and commit to loving yourself. Loving yourself sad, fat, angry, with bad hair, wrong colour eyes, spots, broke bank balance… all of it because when you do magic happens, and you experience joy, love and abundance in your life.