What is Ayahuasca?

By Editor on 28th Jan 2020

In recent years, there has been a growing discussion around an ancient practice called Ayahuasca. Although many cite it as the equivalent of “20 years of therapy in an hour”, there is also a darker side to this hallucinogenic experience.

According to Healthline, “Ayahuasca — also known as the tea, the vine, and la purga — is a brew made from the leaves of the Psychotria viridis shrub along with the stalks of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, though other plants and ingredients can be added as well. This drink was used for spiritual and religious purposes by ancient Amazonian tribes and is still used as a sacred beverage.”

The practice of Ayahuasca does happen within the United States. In an article in the New Yorker, journalist Ariel Levy looked at the rise in this trend. “Most people who take ayahuasca in the United States do so in small “ceremonies,” led by an individual who may call himself a shaman, an ayahuasquero, a curandero, a vegetalista, or just a healer. This person may have come from generations of Shipibo or Quechua shamans in Peru, or he may just be someone with access to ayahuasca. (Under-qualified shamans are referred to as “yogahuascas.”) Ayahuasca was used for centuries by indigenous Amazonians, who believed that it enabled their holy men to treat physical and mental ailments and to receive messages from ancestors and gods.”

In recent years, there has also been a rise of western tourists travelling to remote areas in Peru to experience an Ayahuasca ceremony, in the hopes that it will alleviate disorders or illnesses, including anxiety, panic attacks, depression and psychosis.

The ceremonies themselves involve participants drinking the brew, which typically causes you to violently vomit (or ‘purge’). Many individuals who have taken Ayahuasca report psychedelic experiences, with long-forgotten memories coming to the surface or dreamlike conversations. However, there are also reports of bad trips, with the brew evoking images of death or violent encounters. In 2015, a British man brandished a knife during an Ayahuasca ceremony, which led to a fellow participant – a Canadian man – taking it from him and stabbing him to death.

Although its supporters claim that it can alleviate mental health issues, medical professions warm of mixing this with medications. As Retreat.Guru explains, “Because the Ayahuasca tea promotes a psychedelic experience (DMT, is considered a hallucinogenic drug), it can also be contraindicated for those under treatment for schizophrenia or other mental health disorders. It has proven difficult for researchers to demonstrate whether Ayahuasca’s benefits or side effects are permanent since so much of the healing is dependent on the “set and setting” within a traditional ceremony, but all agree that the effects of Ayahuasca can be risky when complicated by preexisting conditions.”

As a recent BBC report outlined, there have also been isolated cases of individuals being victims of sexual assault at the hands of Shamans, which is detailed in an upcoming documentary “Ayahuasca: Fear and Healing in the Amazon.”

When researching Ayahuasca, many articles discuss its positive impact on people’s lives. However, any individual who wishes to experience this is advised to approach any ceremony or experience with an air of caution. The high potency (and unregulated nature) of the drugs in an Ayahuasca brew mean that reaction’s to the experience are unknown.

Sources and further reading:


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