Ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic mixture used by indigenous people in the Amazon for thousands of years. Traditionally, the brew was taken either socially or as a spiritual medicine.
However, over the last decades, ayahuasca has slowly made its way into Western society. Now, it’s become more popular than ever, and you’ve likely heard of an ayahuasca ceremony or retreat.
Now you might be wondering—what is ayahuasca, what does it do, and why has it become so popular?
Continue reading below to find out everything you need to know about ayahuasca.
What Is Ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca is a psychedelic brew made from the stalks of the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and chacruna leaf (Psychotria viridis). However, the two plants on their own don’t produce a strong hallucinogenic effect.
That’s because both parts of the brew contain different compounds necessary for the psychedelic effects.
The main hallucinogenic compound, known as DMT, is found naturally in the Psychotria viridis leaves. The thing is, DMT doesn’t get processed by the body very well because of enzymes called monoamine oxidases (MAOS).
That’s where the ayahuasca vine comes in. The vine contains MAO inhibitors (MAOIs) called β-carbolines, which stop the DMT from being broken down by the MAOs.
Once ingested, it takes about 20 minutes to an hour for the effects to take hold. Once it does, the trip can last anywhere from 6 to 10 hours.
As we mentioned, ayahuasca has a long history originating from tribes in the Amazon basin and Central America. That basin is part of Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru today.
Ayahuasca was used medicinally, socially, and spiritually and given by a shaman or curandero. The curandero was responsible for making the ayahuasca brew and overseeing its use.
Sometimes the curandero would drink the ayahuasca himself and speak with the goods or diagnose an illness.
The practice has lasted until today, and about 75 tribes are still known to take ayahuasca.
How To Take Ayahuasca
Unlike other psychedelic substances, ayahuasca is normally taken during an ayahuasca ceremony. Usually, the ceremony is held at night among a group of people supervised by an experienced shaman.
The shaman gives everyone present a brew of ayahuasca which is sometimes in separate doses. The ceremony lasts until the ayahuasca has worn off from everybody. The shaman keeps an eye on the participants and also offers spiritual guidance throughout.
Some ayahuasca ceremonies will take place over four days, while others are one single dose for one night.
What Does Ayahuasca Do?
As we mentioned, ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic substance. That means that ayahuasca leads to an altered state of consciousness which can come in the form of intense visual and auditory hallucinations.
Not only that, but ayahuasca can also alter emotions and put one in a state of pure euphoria. However, people seek out ayahuasca for psychological healing, personal growth, or expanding their consciousness.
Benefits of Ayahuasca
Ayahuasca has many benefits, and the most apparent use is as a treatment for depression, anxiety, and PTSD. A study was performed that looked at 29 people who had treatment-resistant depression and took ayahuasca.
The researchers found that each participant made significant improvements to their depression after just a single dose.
In another study, 12 people with behavioral and psychological issues participated in a 4-day ayahuasca retreat with two ayahuasca ceremonies. Six months later, the researchers found that all the participants had an overall improved quality of life with more hopefulness and mindfulness.
In fact, one of the main benefits of ayahuasca is that it can make one more mindful. Studies have shown that ayahuasca can improve mindfulness, mode, and emotional processing.
Ayahuasca is also thought to be beneficial for brain health. In fact, it’s possible that ayahuasca has so many amazing benefits because it may be able to heal the brain.
Scientists have found that β-carbolines in ayahuasca may be able to protect neurons in the brain and act as an anti-inflammatory. Even more exciting is that β-carbolines may increase levels of a protein called BDNF.
BDNF not only boosts brain cell growth but also helps them survive and thrive.
What Are the Side Effects of Ayahuasca?
After taking ayahuasca, it’s common to have some unpleasant side effects, including:
The good news is that these side effects are normal and temporary. However, many people can find themselves highly distressed.
It isn’t uncommon to go from complete euphoria to panic and back again during an ayahuasca ceremony. Ayahuasca can also raise blood pressure, which is essential to know for those with a heart condition.
Is Ayahuasca Dangerous?
According to scientific research, ayahuasca is not dangerous, and it would take 20 times the normal dose to reach the lethal limit. However, that isn’t possible because vomiting stops people from consuming too much.
However, there have been several people who died while taking ayahuasca. In the vast majority of these cases, the people who died took other drugs and medications or were in an unsafe environment.
That’s why one should never take any medication while on ayahuasca, especially:
- Antidepressants (SSRIs)
- Psychiatric medicines
- Cough medicines
- Weight loss medicines
It’s also not advised for people who have a family history of psychotic or bipolar disorder to try ayahuasca.
Is Ayahuasca Legal?
Ayahuasca is illegal in most countries because the mixture contains DMT. In the United States and many other countries, DMT is considered a prohibited substance.
However, ayahuasca is legal in Peru and can be taken in other South American countries that have a legal grey area.
The legal status of ayahuasca has not stopped people from hosting ayahuasca ceremonies in the United States and other Western countries.
Taking Part In an Ayahuasca Ceremony
Perhaps you’re interested in ayahuasca for spiritual, personal, or mental health purposes. If you seek out an ayahuasca ceremony, make sure you know that the shaman is experienced and will prepare and deliver a safe dose of ayahuasca.
Remember that your safety is in their hands.
It’s also important to be aware that all the studies on ayahuasca were performed in a professional and clinical setting. In any case, you should always proceed with caution if you’re going to take part in an ayahuasca ceremony.