If you boil the two plants Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis long enough, you’ll end up with the powerful brew ayahuasca. But, I don’t recommend you make it yourself, nor drink it outside a professional context. It’s not that kind of medicine. The brew has been used by many native peoples of the Amazon Rainforest for healing, magic and social welfare for at least a few centuries, possibly much longer. When consumed, it usually creates extraordinary experiences of visions and intense emotions.
In recent decades, the brew has become an increasingly popular choice of alternative healing for people in Western societies. They travel to the Amazon Rainforest for a healing retreat or attend ayahuasca retreats in other parts of the world. The tea is also at the centre of two large religious organizations 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. It’s profound visionary effects have also attracted video artists and creatives who seek inspiration from the spectacular visions it creates. It has expanded from the Amazon rainforest into societies in which similar psychoactive plants and chemicals are illegal. It is currently illegal in many parts of the world.
In recent years, an explosion of books and high-quality scientific research into ayahuasca has emerged. Academic disciplines ranging from anthropology, botany and history to psychology, neuroscience and pharmacology have published on ayahuasca. Research has examined the benefits, risks, and cultural practices of drinking ayahuasca. The brew exhibits fascinating effects upon the brain that indicate a possible therapeutic role for common mental illnesses.
There are important risks associated with the brew which should not be minimized. This includes biological risks associated with mixing the beverage with common medications and risks of psychological distress.
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. This is discussed in the academic book The Therapeutic Use of Ayahuasca.
Without proper preparation and integration, 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.
Drinking ayahuasca for the first time often catapults people way outside their comfort zone. This happens on several levels. People typically follow a very basic diet before attending a ceremony (the diet has scientific research and spiritual beliefs associated with it). Along with changing your diet for several days or longer, which can be more challenging than a lot of people may realize, the “dieta” period often includes an absence of most technology and social life for several days.
The effects of ayahuasca are certainly not necessarily fun, easy or always 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. Drinking ayahuasca 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 that will maximize the benefits. This can be a limiting. Wise education, contemplation and due diligence is incredibly rewarding to the ayahuasca path. Put simply, the more you put in, the more you benefit.
The experience itself often leaves people at peace. Kahpi professor of neuroscience Dr. Draulio de Araujo is researching the potential benefits of using ayahuasca for treating depression. His team gave the brew to 80 people. The group included many clinically depressed people. He noted:
The “after-glow effect” is full of fruits to be harvested. The period shortly after drinking ayahuasca is 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.
This is why we created Kahpi. It’s an education hub that offers open access (free) ayahuasca video courses covering everything you need to know plus more. You can learn from renowned teachers in courses about ayahuasca healing, shamanism, neuroscience, psychology, safety, preparation, integration and more. Click here to view the courses.
Or, if you prefer to read, click here to browse more introductory articles on ayahuasca healing, science or culture.