Ayahuasca is a strong psychoactive mixture that has been used for centuries by indigenous tribes of the Amazon rain forest. More recently, people all over the world have sought out the potent brew to spur healing from past traumas, addictions, depression, anxieties, and other mental health issues.
After performing a quick Google search, you'll find articles detailing the shockingly beneficial outcomes of an ayahuasca trip. "You may access some of the most magical and profound spiritual insights, often reserved for the most advanced and dedicated spiritual practitioners," reads one pre-ayahuasca website.
On the other side, there are just as many cautionary tales of an ayahuasca treatment: "There is no doubt that ayahuasca is powerful. Very powerful. But like a lot of powerful things, it can be equally powerful – and damaging – when used badly."
Rather than advising someone what they should or shouldn't do, we'll take a brief look at what ayahuasca does. If you are considering ayahuasca as a healing option, I can only recommend that you do some serious homework on what, where, who, and how you might experience this powerful hallucinatory drug.
Used for more than 4,000 years by indigenous tribes and administered by shamans. According to the Psychopharmacology journal, "Ayahuasca is a psychotropic plant tea from South America … Ayahuasca is prepared from the Psychotria viridis bush that contains [DMT] and the Banisteriopsis caapi liana that contains β-carboline alkaloids such as harmine, harmaline, and tetrahydroharmine."
The Psychotria Viridis bush is the hallucinogenic part of the brew, and the other plant enables the DMT chemical to reach the central nervous system. Otherwise, the intestines break down DMT before it can access the CNS.
DMT (N, N-dimethyltryptamine) is a naturally occurring chemical in many plants and animals. Often referred to as the "spirit molecule," DMT produces potent psychedelic experiences that brief but extremely intense.
It produces powerful visual and auditory hallucinations, intense euphoria, and an altered sense of time, space, and body.
Ayahuasca allows the DMT chemical to affect the user's CNS for a more extended period. One of the side effects of this potent tea is intense nausea, which often leads to purging (vomiting).
Since 2012, people from the United States have begun seeking out ayahuasca because of the stories of the mixture being able to effectively cure or substantially improve mental health conditions like depression, substance abuse, addiction, alcoholism, and anxiety.
According to research, the effects begin between 35-40 minutes after ingesting the mix, and the drug reaches its strongest intensity between 90 and 120 minutes. Typically, the effects significantly decrease after 4 hours.
Ayahuasca is illegal for both medical and recreational use in the United States. But unlike other illicit drugs, it is not viewed as addictive. It hasn't received that same kind of stigma that LSD or hallucinogenic mushrooms garner (both psychedelics that have resulted in jail and prison sentences for many individuals).
Most people travel to Central America (Costa Rica) or South America (Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Columbia) and choose to partake in ritualistic ceremonies administered by a shaman. These rituals were traditional religious experiences for the tribes that call the Andes Mountains home.
In the present day, ayahuasca has been a boom for tourists who seek to cleanse themselves of limiting beliefs, fears, and mental health issues.
One of the biggest draws to ayahuasca retreats are the anecdotes of "former addicts" who claim that their addictions were cured after such a retreat (typically one that lasts for 1-2 weeks).
And yet, because of the growing demand, many ayahuasca retreats are led by "shamans" who are unqualified. Vice has a great article that explains the danger that may come from choosing the wrong ayahuasca shaman. "Stories of sexual assault and abuse by these faux-shamans undermine the healing potential of the brew," it explains, "and can put people in a highly dangerous position, while under a vulnerable mental and physical state."
As of now, it is impossible to assess any truly healing effects of ayahuasca for PTSD, addiction, and depression because any research on its short and long-term effects are still incomplete. One thing is certain; Ayahuasca is not a 15-minute trip that fixes any problem. It has the potential to create experiences that may or may not lead to transformative thinking, behavior, and living. Whatever you choose.