The Popularization of Ayahuasca
There’s been a rising trend in the last decade of people traveling out to foreign lands, typically to remote areas of forest or desert. The journey is to imbibe a potent, psychotropic brew that bestows upon its users a life-altering experience. People claim to feel enlightened, reporting that the drug opens their mind and offers new perspectives of life and the world around them. That powerful drug is Ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is made from leaves originating from the Amazon in South America.
The reason you typically need to travel to far-reaching lands to experiment with this drug is due to its illegality. However, the plant itself is not illegal. Ayahuasca contains a strong active component known as DMT, which is illegal. In the US, DMT is a schedule 1 drug, placing it in the same category as heroin and ecstasy. Still, the illegality of drugs has not stopped people from procuring them in the past.
Why else would someone travel so far to partake in Ayahuasca? The experience. It is imperative to take this trip with the right surroundings, in terms of both people and places. You need proper guidance along this journey and that can only come from someone with experience.
ORIGINS OF USE
Ancient Amazonian tribes originally used Ayahuasca for religious and spiritual practices. A few communities in North and South America still consider it to be a sacred beverage and not something to be taken recreationally. Some early settlers from Spain considered the brew to be the work of the devil when they encountered it in Peru. Others considered it to awaken the soul. Today it is used for a myriad of psychological benefits, including but not limited to: easing depression, alleviating anxiety, processing trauma, and experiencing a new level of cosmic awareness for both religious and spiritual purposes.
Ayahuasca is part of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and concocted from two or more plants. Once extracted, the vine is typically shaved then boiled. It can be boiled alone or combined with leaves from a variety of other plants. The traditional process of ayahuasca involves a shaman and a ritualistic sequence to how it is made. Preparation of the brew can take as little as a few hours, or as long as a few days to increase potency. You can anticipate the psychotropic effects to hit around 20-60 minutes after drinking the brew and the trip to last anywhere from 2-6 hours.
5 BENEFITS & RISKS
The Initial Wave of Euphoria & Sickness: while many have described the first feelings to be that of colorful euphoria, there is also a significant downside. When ingesting Ayahuasca many people will vomit or become ill with diarrhea. This is considered to be a part of the “cleansing” experience and is only temporary.
Love or Fear: the psychological state and surroundings you are in (where you are, how comfortable and safe you feel, how you feel about the people you’re with) when you drink the brew will significantly impact your trip. If you are in a calm space you are more likely to experience love, hallucinations, connectedness, and spirituality. If you are feeling off, you risk the trip going sideways with inducing waves of anxiety, fear, paranoia, and in some cases panic. Be mindful of all that you can control before taking the trip.
Brain Health: scientists have studied the effect of Ayahuasca over the years and the findings are astonishing in the ways of health. The two main ingredients in Ayahuasca are DMT and β-carbolines. DMT has shown to protect brain cells from damage and increase the growth of new neural cells. The downside here is that with prolonged use Ayahuasca has shown to induce flashbacks, panic attacks, and psychosis in some. This risk is more commonly associated with prolonged use over many years, not first-time users.
Psychological Improvements: perhaps the most sought after benefit of Ayahuasca is it’s known ability to treat disorders such as anxiety, depression, addiction, and PTSD. It is also known to increase our capacity for mindfulness the way meditation does. A study conducted with 57 people reported symptoms of depression and stress significantly decreased “immediately after the participants consumed Ayahuasca”. According to Healthline, “these effects were still significant 4 weeks following the Ayahuasca consumption”. The benefits of Ayahuasca are not suited for all. Those with a history of psychosis or mental illness such as schizophrenia are advised to avoid this substance for it could severely worsen their symptoms .
Overall Wellbeing: In addition to improving mood disorders and the like, Ayahuasca has been proven to increase well-being through lowering stress and anxiety and increasing mindfulness. A study found that participants were more accepting of their circumstances and the world around them. Users also reported less dependence on addictive substances to feel happiness and peace.
It’s important to note there have been documented Ayahuasca-related deaths. While not common, it is a possibility and a risk as it increases your heart rate and blood pressure for the duration of the trip. It is not clear whether the deaths were from Ayahuasca itself or added ingredients, but is believed to be the latter. For these reasons, it is imperative to only take the journey with trained professionals.
More research is needed to determine short and long term side effects, but you have pluses and minuses in both columns. If you’re ready to check this experience off your bucket list, please do thorough research before-hand. Assess your personal reasons for wanting to take the journey, and note any health risks you may have. No matter what you choose, be sure you’re coming from a place of love and connection with your health in mind.