Learn about ayahuasca's therapeutic benefits, psychological effects, and risks. Plus discover essential wisdom for traveling the ayahuasca path.

If you boil the two plants Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis long enough, you’ll end up with the powerful brew ayahuasca (pronounced: iowaska). Used for hundreds of years in the Amazon rainforest, this mystical potion is the source of many stories of profound healing and spiritual insight. As more and more people from across the globe are participating in ayahuasca retreats in South America and beyond, science is starting to unravel the brew’s potential therapeutic benefits

If you are interested in taking part in an ayahuasca retreat, please head to our full guide on how to find and choose the best and safest ayahuasca retreat center.

What Is Ayahuasca?

Ayahuasca, also known as yagé, yajé, caapi, cipó, bejuco de oro, hoasca, natem, shori, pilde, and by many other names, is a powerful beverage originating from the Amazon rainforest. It is traditionally brewed by indigenous communities living in the rainforests of Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, and Bolivia, but its use has spread throughout the world over the past few decades.

When consumed, ayahuasca can take the drinker on an extraordinary journey adorned with spectacular visions, intense emotions, and profound spiritual insight. Purging of bodily toxins and releasing of past trauma can be a common part of the experience. Drinkers also describe inner experiences of recognizing their life purpose and gaining insights that help them make difficult decisions.

Ayahuasca Tea Plant Ingredients and Chemistry

The ayahuasca tea is most commonly brewed from two plants, although over 80 different medicinal plants have been identified as admixtures in various traditional recipes. The two standard ingredients present in most preparations are:

  • Banisteriopsis caapi, also known by the names yagé or aya waska. The bark of this vine contains alkaloids which act as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI). Its Quechuan name ‘aya waska’ can be roughly translated to “vine of the soul”—waska means “vine”, “liana”, or “rope”, and aya means “soul”, “spirit”, “the dead”, or “ancestors”

and

  • Psychotria viridis (also known as chacruna – meaning “mix”) or Diplopterys cabrerana (known as chaliponga or chagropanga). The leaves of these plants contain the powerful psychedelic molecule dymethiltryptamine (DMT). Which of them is used will depend on local availability ( viridis is used more in Peru, while D. cabrerana is more typical for Ecuador and Colombia) and traditional recipes.

Along with ayahuasca, DMT on its own has also experienced a recent surge in popularity due to the outstanding hallucinations it can induce in the user when smoked or injected intravenously. Research conducted by Dr Rick Strassman and the book he wrote on this subject entitled DMT: The Spirit Molecule have brought this compound into the public eye of the Western world.

DMT has been found to exist naturally in the bodies of many mammals, including in humans. Its otherworldly effects and its natural occurrence in human bodies have led Rick Strassman and many other researchers to believe it may be responsible for inducing mystical experiences during events and states such as death, near-death, birth, psychosis, and dreams. However, insufficient scientific proof has been found to back these theories.

Although DMT is likely produced in our bodies, when it’s consumed orally (as an extract or by brewing a plant that contains it), it is swiftly metabolized by the monoamine oxidase (MAO) enzymes in our stomachs. This is why the main method of ingesting freebase N,N-DMT is smoking or vaporizing. The chemical properties of B. caapi, the ayahuasca vine, however, disable the MAO enzymes and allow the DMT to pass the blood-brain barrier and achieve its psychoactive effects.

Once this mechanism of action was understood by science, an ideology emerged explaining the role of the B. caapi vine as not much more than an enabler of the DMT plant to reach its full potential. This stance was widely popularized by the great Terence McKenna, a famous ethnobotanist, psychonaut extraordinaire, and all-around proponent of the use of entheogenic and mind-altering substances. However, as we can learn both from science and the indigenous perspective, the vine appears to hold much more power.

B. caapi – The Importance of the Ayahuasca Vine

There’s a reason why the B. caapi vine itself bears the name aya waska, just like the brew. Its importance for native Amazonians far transcends its ability to potentiate the DMT-containing plant ingredient. Indigenous people consider the DMT plants to be the admixture, and B. caapi as the main healing and insight-bearing agent. When present in the brew, according to indigenous belief, the DMT plant serves merely as a torch which illuminates the proverbial cave that is created by the ayahuasca vine.

Traditional ayahuasca brews are actually often made only using the vine. These vine-only brews are sometimes referred to as purgahuasca. They are not commonly served to vision-hungry Western guests, and so are not very well-known. However, the effects of the vine-only brew can be more healing and more desirable, as the lack of spectacular visionary material can allow one to immerse themselves more fully into the profundity of the spiritual aspect of the experience. The shamans themselves only add the DMT admixtures when powerful visions are required, according to their intention for drinking. Otherwise, only the vine is brewed.

As far as chemistry goes, B. caapi contains numerous powerful alkaloids, the most important of which are harmaline, harmine, and tetrahydroharmine (THH). These alkaloids act as MAO inhibitors (DMT enablers), but they have many other important chemical properties as well. When consumed individually, they can induce a range of experiences including pleasant emotional states, bodily tingling, dreaminess, disorientation, and even psychedelic visions (as demonstrated in harmaline studies conducted by Claudio Naranjo). Extracts of these alkaloids are commonly used in creating pharmahuasca—mixtures of compounds aimed at replicating ayahuasca on the chemical level.

Aside from the three main harmal alkaloids, the vine contains many other compounds which contribute to the experience and make the ayahuasca journey full-bodied and distinct from a pharmahuasca or freebase DMT trip.

The central role that B. caapi has in the Amazonian shamanic practice can also be gleaned in the many varieties of the vine which are used by different indigenous groups. Depending on the local availability, botanically indistinguishable strains are employed by shamans to achieve distinct desired effects.

Some of the common strains they differentiate include:

  • Yellow/sky ayahuasca (ayahuasca amarilla/cielo) – widely cultivated and utilized, this strain is known for its gentle, but powerful healing properties and visionary/insightful aspect; often served to guests without prior ayahuasca experience;
  • White ayahuasca (ayahuasca blanca) – used to facilitate magic or sorcery (brujeria), in casting spiritual darts (tsentsak) or defending against them;
  • Red ayahuasca (ayahuasca colorada) – used almost exclusively by shamans alone to enhance powers of diagnosis and healing;
  • Black ayahuasca (ayahuasca negra) – strong and not very visual – it is said that most of the visions are drowned out by a thick black fog, and that it is an intensely healing and purgative strain;
  • Thunder ayahuasca (ayahuasca trueno) – this strain is only given to experienced drinkers, as brews made from it can cause intense bodily shaking and violent purging;
  • Indian ayahuasca (ayahuasca india) – an ancient and powerful strain, only harvested from white sand rainforest grounds and not cultivated;

The names of the vine varieties are given based on their purpose, effects, the color of the plant (the flowers or the vine when the bark is scraped off), or the tint they give to the visions.

The list given is far from exhaustive—it is said that the Ingano indigenous peoples can recognize seven different strains, the Siona about 18, and the Harakmbut some 22. Certain strains are considered to invoke masculine spirit entities, others are thought to call upon feminine ones. Some can invite rainforest spirits such as the boa, the bird, the leopard or tiger; some serve to brighten up the visions or tint them to a certain shade, others aid in divination, healing, or purging… There are too many to count, and likely many more unknown to Western minds.

Aside from B. caapi, a few other species of Banisteriopsis are known to be used as substitutes for the MAOI portion of the brew. These include Banisteriopsis muricata, with known use by the Waoranis in Ecuador, and maybe highland communities throughout the Andes, where it grows in abundance, and Banisteriopsis martiniana, which is relatively common in Colombia.

In Brazil, Banisteriopsis plants are not used; instead, the root bark of Mimosa hostilis, also known as Mimosa tenuiflora or jurema, is used in brewing vinho da jurema or Daime, which produces effects similar to ayahuasca.

Ayahuasca Brewing

Making a batch of ayahuasca is straightforward, but it requires skill, care, and time.

In the rainforest environment, the ayahuasca vine is collected, cut into manageable pieces, and then hammered to separate the bark from the branch. The bark is then additionally bashed to activate the chemicals, and placed on the bottom of the pot or cauldron. Alternate layers of the DMT admixture and the bark are stacked on top of each other, in quantities depending on how many people the brew is being prepared for. The whole thing is covered in water and simmered for hours until the liquid content is reduced to a thick sludge.

In home environments, fresh ingredients from the rainforest are rarely available, so many people opt for using extracts of harmalas and freebase N,N-DMT. A homebrew concoction made this way is referred to as pharmahuasca. Ingredients in these forms don’t require prolonged boiling, just dissolution in water.

Distilled water is best for this purpose, and a tablespoon of white vinegar per liter of water or a digital water filter may be used to bring its acidity level to a pH value of 2.5-4. This should make the brew more potent.

If using shredded B. caapi or M. hostilis, a bit more effort is required. After three hours on medium heat, the resulting liquid should be strained through a piece of cotton fabric. The remaining solid material is then simmered two more times. After this, the strained liquid is combined and reduced for a few hours until the desired consistency is achieved.

It’s a smart idea to prepare and consume the MAOI and DMT portions separately and in carefully measured doses. This way, the experience can be optimized to suit individual needs and avoid becoming overwhelmed.

Ayahuasca is a very powerful brew, and therefore proper dosages are extremely important. Too much can induce intense panic, fear, and delusion, or cause dangerous health complications. This is why novices should avoid drinking alone or without proper guidance and support.

The dosages are certainly not the only variables that determine how beneficial or potentially harmful the ayahuasca experience can be. Read below to learn about the so-called “non-pharmacological” influences that can shape the ayahuasca experience.

Ayahuasca Effects

What happens under the effect of ayahuasca is difficult to put into words, as the experience is ineffable and highly individual. Still, speaking very broadly, we can summarize some common threads in a typical ayahuasca experience.

Once ingested, ayahuasca effects start coming on slowly, and their intensity increases in waves.

The first thing you notice after a few minutes of ayahuasca being in your system is a changing state of mind that you can’t quite put your finger on. The feeling of anticipation likely contributes to this all-encompassing alertness which slowly starts emerging and bringing on the understanding that something big is coming and that there is no going back.

Sensory changes soon start to make their way into your consciousness. The perception of the environment may start changing, the feeling of your body shape could start acting up, your extremities can start tingling, and you may experience alternating waves of feeling hot and cold. This is when time starts changing its register as faint visions begin appearing behind closed eyes.

Purging often arises shortly after everyone’s had their fill. While many people don’t purge, or struggle to purge, visceral retching can be very common. The sound can start filling the ceremony space, influencing visions and other sensory effects as the intense wavelengths of ayahuasca permeate your consciousness.

It is common to feel profoundly nauseous in a way that’s unfamiliar. One way to think of this process is that ayahuasca itself is not necessarily something that the body rejects, but is something that enters and flows throughout your being seeking clots of negativity and toxicity, taking hold of them, and then expelling the blocks.

Most people eventually vomit; it could take several ceremonies of beautiful visions or no visions first. Some even need to make a more dire visit the toilet during ceremony. But in some, rare cases, ayahuasca seems to induce little effect beyond the person feeling wobbly and slightly nauseated.

Ayahuasca purging is nothing to be concerned or anxious about. It is not a side effect, as is commonly thought. For indigenous people, some of who refer to the brew as ‘La Purga’, expunging trash from the system is one of the principal points of ayahuasca. According to them, only after purging can the Master Plant actually unblock the barriers to profound levels of your being and do its work properly. Finally, as daunting as it may seem, purging on ayahuasca ultimately feels good, as it alleviates the bothersome and alien feeling of nausea the brew induces.

After the purging, the effects can subside for a bit as the next wave builds up intensity waiting for its turn. With each ebb, you may think or feel like the experience is over; but the flow makes you see that it’s actually escalating to deeper levels. The visions start becoming more vivid and less responsive to outside influences. However, as the shaman sings the sacred icaros, new realities are created for you to explore. Ayahuasca visions can encompass everything from colorful fractals and symbolic representations of concepts to spiritual entities and entirely otherworldly landscapes.

As for the spiritual effects, ayahuasca takes its drinkers on a wild and complex rollercoaster ride through emotions, cognition, the conscious and the subconscious, as well as through some other form of universal omniscience. There’s no saying what it has in store for you, but, in one way or another, the experience tends to deliver insights and visions that may not always be pleasant but they do contain psychological insights that are important to the person. Sometimes these insights need decoding and can take months to understand or come to terms with. This is because the insights of ayahuasca often come as visionary riddles or metaphors woven out of the fibers of your personal history.

Some people just have mild visions of transforming patterns, lights, and colors. Some get to experience and reevaluate past memories or even past lives, confronting traumas, unresolved or repressed issues, or defunct patterns of thought and action. Some have pleasant, loving journeys full of tranquility and encouragement; others live through a dark and harrowing journey reminding them that suffering is integral to humanity and mustn’t be avoided. Some people get to feel the profound comfort of belonging to an all-pervading universality; others experience their ego dissolving into nothingness, to the point of complete spiritual detachment from the body and all concepts that define us as persons. Some see wild and vivid visions of incredible transdimensional landscapes, structures, and entities, and even get to interact and absorb wisdom from them, and some… Well, some don’t experience much at all.

As with any psychedelic, and this especially goes for ayahuasca, the most important advice that can be given is: don’t have expectations, embrace what comes without fear or judgment, be humble and true, and surrender completely to the experience. Even if nothing much happens, it happens for a reason.

The whole journey usually comes on in about thirty minutes to an hour, peaks within the second hour after drinking, and ends after four to six hours, though there are significant individual variations in this. Some people feel almost nothing for hours, and then peak during the fourth and fifth hour. There could be a biological explanation relating to this variation, given the different gut profiles of individuals.

The comedown with ayahuasca is normally quick, but gentle, leaving the drinker in a peaceful afterglow which can last for over a day. In some cases, people can feel confused in the period after an ayahuasca experience, in which they should take extra care integrating the experience to get the most benefits and insights.

Ayahuasca ceremonies usually take place at night, as per indigenous belief that the rainforest spirits are quieter then. It’s also easier to immerse oneself into the journey and see the visions in the dark. By the time the ayahuasca effects are over, the body can feel quite exhausted and it’s normally easy to fall asleep. The next day is best spent engaging in calm, mindful activities that leave space for integration of the experience.

The Use of Ayahuasca through the Ages

The brew has been used by shamans and native peoples of the Amazon rainforest in purposes of healing, magic, divination, and for social rituals for at least a few centuries, possibly much longer. Traditionally, consuming ayahuasca would be mostly the task of the shaman. These medicine men would have to go through months or years of dieting and training in order to master and deserve to wield the power of this sacred plant teacher.

One of the primary purposes of the shamanic use of ayahuasca is the diagnosis of a patient’s illness. According to indigenous Amazonian lore, we can be afflicted by negative energies (in the form of tsentsak—magic darts) sent out by powerful brujos (sorcerers) and evil entities. These attacks can cause a variety of psychophysical illnesses, some of which can be life-threatening. The shaman’s task is then to drink ayahuasca and enter the spirit world, find the origins and effects of this dark magic, and gain the understanding of how to dispel it. In this way, the healer targets social imbalances and social problems in an attempt to cure.

Sometimes, if the shaman deems it necessary, the patient is also required to drink ayahuasca. Due to its purgative effects, ayahuasca is believed to rid the drinker of toxins and malevolent energies which underlie their condition. Additionally, the spiritual effects of ayahuasca, which include visions of jungle spirits and deities, along with enhanced insight can create a positive shift in the drinker and strengthen their resilience, aiding them in the fight against the illness.

Shamans also drink the brew in order to channel otherworldly intuition into helping with various aspects of community life. Examples of these shamanic divination efforts include finding missing things and people, locating culprits of committed misdeeds, and devising agricultural and hunting strategies to ensure the prosperity of the village.

Finally, while in some indigenous communities drinking of ayahuasca would be reserved for the shaman and the occasionally heavily ill individual, in others the brew would be available to all. Various ethnic groups, such as the Awajún in Peru, would hold ayahuasca ceremonies during rite of passage rituals. Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff famously wrote of the Tukanos in Colombia, who use ayahuasca in communal ceremonies which involve dancing, singing, recitations, and playing musical instruments. Hoasca is also widely used throughout Brazil in this manner.

All these examples represent traditional instances of ayahuasca use.  In recent decades, however, ayahuasca ceremonies have been redesigned to fit the needs of foreign visitors.

Nowadays, the brew has become a popular choice of alternative healing for mostly healthy Western individuals. They travel to the Amazon rainforest or other parts of the world to attend ayahuasca retreats, which are usually composed of several ceremonies with the brew and additional activities such as flower baths and plant medicine cleansings.. The tea is also at the center of two large religious organizations (called Santo Daime and União do Vegetal) that began in the 20th century in Brazil and now exist in many parts of the world. Shamanism, spirituality, religion, and psychotherapy are all interested in ayahuasca. Its profound visionary effects have also attracted video animators and painters who seek inspiration from the spectacular visions the brew creates. Ayahuasca has expanded from the Amazon rainforest to societies throughout the globe in which similar psychoactive plants and chemicals are illegal. This hasn’t stopped it from becoming increasingly popular.

As much as we condone of soul seeking, we must be mindful of the fact that ayahuasca tourism, in the form it exists now, has not always been conducted ethically and sustainably. The commercialization of this sacred medicine has already produced numerous negative effects on the lives and livelihoods of indigenous communities in the Amazon, and especially in Peru. Some of the most concerning consequences are the fetishizing of the indigenous culture, which has bred mass corruption among locals and change in healing traditions, and the overexploitation of the ayahuasca vine, which is getting more and more difficult to find in the wild.

If you would like to learn more about the history of ayahuasca use, check out our complete ayahuasca timeline. [coming soon!]

Ayahuasca is Not a Typical Medicine

The science of ayahuasca is still young. Preliminary studies suggest that the brew can yield astounding benefits for treating common mental health problems, when it’s consumed in proper settings and with a proper approach. There are many anecdotal reports online of ayahuasca sessions helping people alleviate depression, kick addiction, and overcome trauma.

Ayahuasca is esteemed by many people across the globe as a medicinal panacea and wise spiritual teacher. The brew can be life-changing for some people and it can ennoble the spirit in ways that promote health and a meaningful life. But, first off, it’s important to be aware of the fact that it is not a cure for psychological and physical conditions. Even though scientific evidence suggests that ayahuasca can potentially help people overcome various psychological illnesses, ayahuasca certainly doesn’t fix serious problems on its own.

The brew should not be treated like ordinary mental health medicines of Western societies. Ayahuasca can point you in the right direction by showing you what’s wrong or it can give you an experience of heightened well-being, but after the experience it’s up to you to take the insight in and work with it to ensure lasting benefits.

Before discussing the many potential benefits of the brew, let’s first look more deeply into the risks.

Ayahuasca vine brain
Ayahuasca has been increasingly studied by professional neuroscientists, psychiatrists, psychologists and other health specialists.

Ayahuasca Risks and Safety

As for serious physical health problems, they probably won’t go away with the help of ayahuasca. Miracles can happen, yet such cases are rare. Ayahuasca can help the body release toxins through the act of purging, paving the way to psychological healing. However, chronic conditions typically can’t be purged, and some, such as cardiovascular difficulties, can clash with ayahuasca in a bad way. It’s well known that the brew raises blood pressure and heart rate. Combining this with an already strained heart can be dangerous, which is not something anyone would want to experience, especially under its profound effects.

People with serious mental health issues such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder should also steer clear of the brew. A recently published review of case studies of psychotic episodes that happened to people who took ayahuasca or DMT warns of the dangers that ayahuasca can pose to those personally afflicted by, or with a family history of psychosis. Latent psychosis, which is not yet detected, can be triggered under the effect of the brew.

In general, shamans or ceremony guides are often weary of giving ayahuasca to anybody who’s on any type of medication. With drug interactions still not well documented by science, it’s wiser not to drink if there is even a possibility of a chemical conflict. This especially refers to blood pressure medicines, SSRIs (common depression medication) and even aspirin, as it’s a blood thinner. It goes without saying that recreational drugs should also not be consumed before and after taking ayahuasca, especially stimulants.


Interested in ayahuasca and don’t know where to begin? Get started on: 

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If going deep into the Amazon rainforest to drink ayahuasca, be sure to check these essential travel safety tips. Whether going to the remote jungles of Peru or to the hills of California, it is very important that you do your research first to make sure you are attending a good and trustworthy retreat center or shaman. Be wise and stay safe.

Is Ayahuasca Legal?

As one of the most potent psychedelics in the world, ayahuasca is illegal in most countries. However, this doesn’t cover the complexity of a mostly grey situation with many exceptions and oversights.

The MAOI aspect of ayahuasca, or the portion that comes from the largely non-psychotropic B. caapi vine, is legal. However, due to the DMT content present in most standard brews, the possession, distribution, and, most often, the consumption of ayahuasca falls under the regulations governing Schedule 1 controlled substances under the United Nations 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances.

Still, even though DMT is an illegal substance, the UN regulations leave it up to individual countries to decide whether the same scheduling applies to ayahuasca. If a country doesn’t have explicit regulations in place (and many countries don’t), in case of a trial involving ayahuasca it is up to the court to decide whether the substance will be regarded in the same way as pure DMT. To make matters even more interesting, smaller parts of countries such as states and provinces often have their own local jurisdictions which control prohibited substances. Many countries have never had a legal case with ayahuasca, and so it just has not entered their regulatory statute. Generally speaking, ayahuasca is everywhere, but if its use doesn’t stir up trouble, it is likely to not be given too much attention.

This was, unfortunately, not the case for Tal Arnon, who got arrested for serving ayahuasca in Israel. Read her full story here.

As a religious sacrament, ayahuasca can also be officially exempted from international law. Brazilian religions Santo Daime and União do Vegetal have been granted exceptions for religious use of ayahuasca in a few countries, including the US. These permissions came after years of lobbying and legal battles.

Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Brazil, and Bolivia are countries of the Amazon basin and homes to numerous indigenous groups who have been using this medicine for generations. In these countries the possession and use of ayahuasca is legal, at times subject to minimal control. The neighboring Argentina apparently has the brew classified as illegal, but enforcement is rare and unclear, with ceremonies abound. DMT is illegal in Chile, but ayahuasca is not viewed in the same way by the courts.

In the US, ayahuasca is illegal on the federal level, with notable exceptions including the two Brazilian churches and a few local municipalities. Oakland, CA and Santa Cruz, CA recently decriminalized all entheogens, including ayahuasca. Canada has the same situation, with an exception for Santo Daime and no local legislative reforms like in the US as of yet.

In the UK and most of Europe, excluding Italy, Spain, and Portugal, which have unclear or no regulations, ayahuasca is explicitly illegal. Up until the October 2019 Supreme Court ruling, it was unregulated in the Netherlands and sold openly in headshops; despite the change in regulations, ceremonies are still very frequent.

In South Africa the status is grey and quite a community exists.

Finally, in Australia, although DMT is a Schedule 9 substance, possession of ayahuasca has not been the subject of criminal persecution. Conveniently, numerous plants high in DMT content also grow throughout the country, allowing the underground growth of an ayahuasca scene second only to South America. Same goes for New Zealand, although not much of a scene exists there.

Ayahuasca Preparation

Ayahuasca preparation refers to a variety of measures that should be taken in the days or weeks (if possible) leading up to the ceremony. This process roughly encompasses:

  • Mental, spiritual, and physical unwinding and dieting
  • Setting and reinforcing intentions
  • Ensuring that your ceremony or retreat is handled by a trustworthy facilitator
  • Preparation of personal things needed for the ceremony
  • Undertaking additional pre-ceremony cleansings if needed

Generally allowing the coming experience to settle in the mind, quietening related anxieties, preparing to surrender to the experience, and getting mentally ready for the integration aspect that ensues after the ceremony is over.

While we will cover the basics of this process in the upcoming segments, we encourage you to delve even deeper into learning what the ayahuasca experience is all about by taking the Kahpi ayahuasca online video courses. Our expert lecturers include academics and experienced researchers and practitioners who have dedicated their lives to learning about ayahuasca and sharing the knowledge.

The Importance of the Diet

The ayahuasca Dieta is well-known and highly recommended by most respected practitioners and retreat centers. Although the word ‘Dieta’ may sound like it’s just about food intake, the fully fledged version of the ayahuasca diet is actually a comprehensive regime of abstaining from everything bad for the body, mind, and soul.

Usually, Dieta suggestions include avoiding salt, red meats, sugar, alcohol, drugs and sex. Some facilitators and centers expand the dietary portion to include all unhealthy, greasy, overripe, fermented, pickled, aged, preserved, and otherwise processed foods, as well as sustenance high in gluten or yeast, chocolate high in cacao content, and coffee.

It appears that most foods are safe to ingest before drinking, but there are some that should be avoided. The compound tyramine, which is found in some commonplace foods and drinks such as sourdough bread, fermented dairy products, processed meats, certain beans, pickles, draught beer, cocoa, and wine may have a negative interaction with ayahuasca. If consumed with tyramine, the monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) in the Banisteriopsis caapi vine can potentially cause adverse reactions such as heart palpitations, nausea and headaches. This is why it may be healthy to uphold the diet for at least a few days before and after the ceremony.

Other guidelines of the Dieta refer to potentially more serious health risks. The effects of ayahuasca may clash with certain health conditions and the chemicals in the brew may interact negatively with some Western pharmaceuticals. This is why people with cardiovascular conditions or psychosis are strongly advised not to risk drinking ayahuasca, and individuals on chronic therapy required to stop medicating for days or weeks prior to the ceremony, depending on the medication’s active ingredient’s half-life in the system.

Aside from alcohol, drugs and tyramine-rich foods, additional Dieta recommendations such as avoiding stress and distractions, focusing on your intentions, and abstaining from sex and masturbation serve more for bringing you to an optimal energetic state for the ceremony than for protecting you from health risks. Honoring them will bring you piece of mind, physical freshness, mental clarity and focus, helping your spiritual pursuits lead where they ought to.

The Importance of Intention

It is important to set your intention before drinking ayahuasca. Having a clear understanding of your mental state, general life situation, and why you want to drink ayahuasca can be incredibly beneficial. Ayahuasca is often called ‘the master teacher plant‘ by native Amazonians. Going into the experience without having an idea of what you’d like to learn can often lead… well, nowhere. Likewise, going into it with improper intentions such as getting insanely high might lead to harrowingly dark places.

Your intention doesn’t need to be anything grand, it just has to come from your heart. It should be one or several simple and clear statements or questions that are meaningful and personal. By drinking ayahuasca, you are given an opportunity to commune with a deep wisdom. Bringing a pure and honest intention is a great way to introduce yourself to ayahuasca, and asking humbly and sincerely for insight can certainly improve your chances of actually receiving it.

Finally, it cannot be stressed enough that ayahuasca should be taken in comfortable and secure circumstances to avoid psychological risks. If heading to a retreat center, make sure to check its reputation and to talk to the people organizing the retreats (even getting feedback from previous participants if possible) beforehand. If joining a local ceremony, try meeting the facilitator(s) and make sure their words resonate with you.

risks and benefits of ayahuasca

The Potential Benefits of Ayahuasca

The potential benefits of drinking ayahuasca seem to far outweigh the risks, at least in the minds of tens of thousands of seekers flocking to the Amazon to embark on an inner journey of a lifetime. Aside from the plentiful anecdotal reports about the spiritual development it offers, ayahuasca is also gaining traction in the scientific community as a potential therapeutic substance. As preliminary studies into its effect on treating mental conditions such as addiction, anxiety, and depression keep rolling in, the brew’s reputation for psychological healing is becoming more recognized and empirically established.

Depression and Anxiety

Affecting about 350 million people worldwide, depression is one of the most common global mental disorders – and ayahuasca seems to be proving very effective against it. In a recent study conducted in Brazil, the researchers observed immediate “antidepressant effects the first hours after administering ayahuasca” to treatment resistant patients, and these effects of a single session lasted for several weeks. The results match the analysis of a previous academic paper, which argues that harmine, the main compound of the vine ayahuasca, could have this type of depressant effect on the central nervous system of animals and humans.

As a common associate to depression, anxiety plagues some 260 million people around the world. Yet again, ayahuasca appears to show great scientific potential in treating this condition. A study conducted on members of the Santo Daime church (a syncretic religion that uses ayahuasca legally for ritual purposes) found sustained lower scores on measures of panic-like anxiety and hopelessness an hour after ingesting the tea.

Addiction

Substance abuse is a global epidemic that has for too long been fought under the misleading guise of a “war on drugs”. The reality is that substances such as alcohol, which can cause severe addiction and great harm to individuals, families and communities, are legally consumed in most parts of the world, whereas most psychedelics, which can be powerful medicines when used in the correct settings, are put into the same basket as drugs of abuse such as heroin and crack cocaine. Many societies have double standards with regards to mind altering substances. They hold onto arbitrary rules set decades ago out of fear rather than as a result of thorough research.

Ayahuasca seems to be able to help people overcome addictive behaviors. A review of the research into ayahuasca as a potential medicine for healing addiction highlights ‘promising’ results, yet notes that more conclusive studies are needed. Although it’s not an official, peer-reviewed study, this paper chronicles the success that has been achieved with abusers of various substances who have undergone several months of ayahuasca treatments in combination with psychological therapy and communal living in a retreat center in Peru. The work done by the center claims to have changed the lives of 62% of its patients for the better. Similarly, an observational study found a decrease in self-reported levels of addiction to alcohol, tobacco and cocaine in a community of ayahuasca drinkers in Canada. The study included ayahuasca ceremonies as supplements to group counseling sessions.

The profound experience of drinking the tea often leaves people feeling at peace. Kahpi professor of neuroscience Dr. Draulio de Araujo has been researching the potential benefits of using the tea for treating depression. His team gave the brew to 80 people. The group included many clinically depressed people. He noted:

If one word comes up, it is ‘tranquillity’. A lot of our individuals, whether they are depressed or not, have a sense of peace after the experience.

Dr. Araujo

General Health & Beyond

There are also many people drinking ayahuasca that are not suffering from mental health conditions. The brew can assist spiritual paths and personal growth for healthy individuals. It can provide deep insights and perspectives on difficult to answer questions, such as life-choices and creativity blocks.

Ayahuasca probably achieves some of these effects through dissolving problematic patterns of emotional behavior that we may succumb to, that can drive one into self-destructive thoughts and actions. As a recent study outlines, the brew increases our ability to think divergently and decreases convergent thinking, which means that it makes us get out of our ‘mental box’ and consider different perspectives, ones that are unavailable when stuck in habits and conditioned reactions.

Molecules in ayahuasca have been shown to grow new brain cells in laboratory experiments. Photo: Beckley Foundation

Along with the findings that this Amazonian tea stimulates new brain cell growth and reduces judgmental processing of our experiences and inner reactivity, the mechanism of its action starts making sense: ayahuasca seems to create new associations in our brain, and even new brain matter, that changes the way we perceive and react; and some of those changes seem to stay with us after the experience. Ayahuasca can boost creativity for healthy individuals in many different ways, including for painters and animators who portray the sublime visions of the brew in such spectacular ways.

The ayahuasca experience can be very very deep. People often experience emotional catharsis and perceive inner visions or lessons that are personally meaningful and profoundly enlightening. This is only the first step. After the experiences, the depths of the inner journey require a level of personal reflection, respect and ‘integration’ in order to help truly harvest the fruits of ayahuasca.

The research into ayahuasca’s benefits is still in preliminary stages. Yet, mainstream media is reporting the research loud and clear for important reasons. Humanity is getting desperate to find real cures for the rising problems in depression, addiction, and related mental health issues.

The brew long revered by indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest is more than a medicine. For many people, ayahuasca is a spirit, a relationship, and a way of life. Ayahuasca represents what appears to be a very important paradigm change in how we understand illness, disease, well-being and the heights of human flourishing.

The Path of Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca is not a typical “medicine”. It’s more like a path which benefits greatly from a combined contemplative practice or spiritual tradition. The psychological preparation of the individual and the context or tradition in which the brew is consumed are fundamental to the positive health outcomes that many people report, as discussed in the academic book The Therapeutic Use of Ayahuasca.

People sometimes say that “ayahuasca knows if you’ve not been putting an effort into your personal development”. This idea stems from the fact that without proper “inner” or psychological preparation, the effects of the tea can be overwhelming or even without effect. People new to the brew who are interested in consuming it should begin by learning about basic harm minimization and experience maximization recommendations.

Prepare for ayahuasca
The experience can be very deep and transformative.

Drinking ayahuasca for the first time often catapults people way outside their comfort zone. This happens on several levels. Changing your diet for several days or longer can be more challenging than a lot of people may realize. Plus, the “dieta” period often includes an absence of most technology and social life for several days.

The effects of ayahuasca are certainly not always fun, easy or blissful. It can be extremely pleasurable and exhilarating, yet it can also be very challenging. Confronting the cobwebbed-closets of our past or our deep mind is not always blissful. Ayahuasca drinking is often referred to as “work” in the different traditions that have developed around it.

Not everyone drinking ayahuasca has a “tradition” or way of approaching the experience. This can be limiting to their outcomes. Wise education, contemplation, and self-inquiry are incredibly rewarding to the ayahuasca path. Put simply, the more you put in, the more you benefit.

Ayahuasca and the Importance of Integration

The period after the ceremony is called the “integration” phase. This is the time for coming to terms with the insights or changes in perception gained from the inner experiences. It’s the period for weaving the new perspectives or positive outlook into daily life. Similar to the pre-ceremony preparation phase, the more you put in to integration, the more you benefit and heal or grow spiritually.

Integration practices include:

  • simply talking about your experience and process with trusted people
  • creating art or writing in a journal
  • meditating
  • walking in nature
  • psychotherapy
  • bodywork, such as massage.

Ayahuasca can help guide you, show you incredible things about yourself and the world, but only you can take the fruits of the experiences into your daily life.

This is why we created Kahpi. It’s an education hub that offers ayahuasca video courses and articles to help you on your path of healing, learning, self-discovery and personal growth. You can learn from renowned teachers in courses about ayahuasca risks, safety, healing, shamanism, preparation, integration, neuroscience, psychology, and more.

If you want to take yourself to the next level, then we suggest you view our complimentary short course The Ayahuasca Path of Personal Transformation. It’s taught by an ayahuasca luminary with decades of experience drinking and serving the brew.

Tell us your needs and budget. Let our experts find the best ayahuasca retreat for you today.

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Xavier Francuski
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