Ayahuasca experiences can be very diverse and often pretty intense. When consumed, the Amazonian brew usually creates profound visions and strong emotions. The exact nature of the “trip” or inner journey may depend on many factors, such as the individual’s mental state and general health, level of preparedness for the journey, trust in oneself, the context and the guide, purity of the potion, and other elements.
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 certainly should not be treated like ordinary mental health medicines of the West. 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, first lets look at the risks.
THE RISKS & SAFETY OF AYAHUASCA
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 really 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 overclocked 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, that 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 (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.
If going to 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.
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 very typical foods, may have a negative interaction with ayahuasca. If consumed with tyramine, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), which are the main active ingredient of the ayahuasca vine Banisteriopsis caapi, can potentially cause adverse reactions such as heart palpitations, nausea and headaches. Tyramine can be found in fermented, cured, aged or overripe foods, as well as soy products, pickled products, certain beans, sourdough bread, draught beer and wine.
Usually, diet requirements listed by retreat centers include avoiding salt, red meats, sugar, alcohol, drugs and sex. These might be healthy to uphold for a few days before and after the ceremony. However, aside from alcohol, drugs and tyramine-rich foods, extra dietary guidelines serve more for your piece of mind, physical freshness and spiritual pursuits, than to keep you from physical harm.
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 impure intentions such as getting insanely high might lead to surprisingly 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 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 trust-inducing 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 with previous participants) beforehand. If joining a local ceremony, try meeting the guides and make sure their words resonate with you.
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.
The effects that ayahuasca can have on depression, anxiety, PTSD and coping with grief are objectives of a pending study taking place at the ayahuasca healing center by the name of “Temple of the Way of Light”, in collaboration with the research organization, ICEERS. These results will be revealing of the myriad mental health potentials of the Amazonian vine.
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 and hold onto arbitrary rules that have been 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.
General Health & Beyond
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.
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, the results are being continuously reported in mainstream media across the world 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.
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