Ayahuasca is psychoactive herbal brew, popularly associated with certain religious rituals. It contains hallucinogenic chemicals that have strong effects on the brain. The traditional drug is native to certain parts of the South America region and made of Psychotria Viridis shrub, Banisteriopsis caapi vine, and other ingredients. While many people are aware of its spiritual and medicinal purposes, only a few know about its associated downsides, which range from mild to severe complications. In many instances, various side effects have been reported about the brew. This makes it very unsafe for some people and in some circumstances. Before taking any drug, it is best to first know if it is an ideal option for you. So, in this article, you will get to learn about the downsides of ayahuasca and why you should be cautious in participating in ayahuasca ceremonies.
Are There Dangers and Risks in Taking Ayahuasca?
Yes, just like any other medicine, ayahuasca has its own fair share of risks and dangers. With the rate at which this traditional drink is getting increasingly famous in the western world, you can easily get carried away with a series of anecdotal reports on its healing effects. What many people won’t tell you is that ayahuasca may significantly impact both your physical and psychological wellbeing.
What are the Side Effects of Ayahuasca?
The side effects of ayahuasca can range from mild, serious, and deadly. While some are immediate, some are long-term and could leave long-lasting effects on you. In some cases, the effects will require urgent medical intervention. And in the worst-case scenario, it can lead to death. The unpalatable experiences can be categorized into either psychological effects or physical effects.
Psychological Effects of Ayahuasca
Due to its ability to impact your brain functions, ayahuasca intake can cause several psychological side effects, which include:
– Out of body experiences
– Confusion or disorientation
– Altered sense of space and time
– Depersonalization or feeling of being detached from your feelings and thoughts
– Perception of bright, intensified color
– Feelings of euphoria
– Reliving unpleasant memories or traumas
– Perceived feelings of epiphanies, often thought to have divine or otherworldly sources
– Fear of dying or going insane
– Feelings of fear, grief, agitation, or anxiety
Physical Effects of Ayahuasca
Ayahuasca trip is associated with several immediate physical side effects that are considered to be the signs of the medicine cleansing the body and mind of toxins. However, these effects can be terrifying and unpleasant. Nausea and intense vomiting are some of the most common immediate side effects you will experience after ayahuasca intake. These may be followed by or co-occur with other short-term physical effects, such as:
– Increased heart rate
– Increased body temperature
– Dilated pupils
– Respiratory arrest
– Lack of coordination
– The involuntary rapid movement of the eye
What are the Long Term Effects of Ayahuasca?
Beyond its immediate side effects that are easy to excuse as being part of the psychedelic trip, ayahuasca can also leave you with long term effects. Over time, the medicine can lead to the following:
Ayahuasca intake t can lead to the risk of psychosis, hallucinations, and frequent flashbacks. These can come with symptoms that can sometimes make you lose touch with reality. Each episode of psychosis is characterized by cases of disruption to your perception, thoughts, and decision-making ability. Others include mood disorders, persistent paranoia, and visual disturbances. You may find it difficult to differentiate between what is real and what is not.
While psychosis is caused by various underlying health challenges, substance use disorder is one of the major culprits – and ayahuasca is one of such culpable medicine. It will, therefore, be a risk factor if you have a history of any psychological disorders and also using ayahuasca. This is not to say that having none of these psychological conditions will make you immune to symptoms of psychosis. It can happen to anyone, regardless of their medical history, even after a single exposure to ayahuasca and other hallucinogenic medicine.
Hallucinogenic Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD)
Have you ever imagined what it means to have an “endless trip” of psychedelic experience? Well, this is one of the long-term risks of ayahuasca drink. It is medically called hallucinogenic persisting perception disorder (HPPD). It is an experience that is characterized by having reoccurring or prolonged perceptual symptoms after taking a psychoactive drug. HPPD can be a potential permanent syndrome that comes with the following co-occurring effects:
– Having the symptoms of major distress or cognitive impairment in your occupational, social, and other crucial areas of functioning.
– Having the re-experience of one or more of the perceptual symptoms that you had while being intoxicated with the brew. This may include flashes of color, trial images of moving objects, haloes around objects, intensified colors, false perception of movement in the indirect vision or peripheral visual fields, and other kinds of hallucinations. Just like psychosis, HPPD is more common among people with a history of mental health conditions, coupled with the continued use of psychoactive medicine like ayahuasca.
Ayahuasca and Serotonin Syndrome
Serotonin syndrome happens when you consume drugs that cause high levels of serotonin to accumulate in your body. Serotonin is one of the most important chemicals your body produces. It helps your nerve cells and brain function. Your mood, appetite, social behavior, sleep, digestion, memory, as well as sexual desire and performance, are helped regulated by serotonin. As good as serotonin chemical is, however, having too much in your system can cause a deadly outcome, and ayahuasca is one of the medications capable of causing this.
Ayahuasca contains some alkaloids that function as monoamine oxidase-inhibitors. These alkaloids can interact with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), which are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants. This can lead to serotonin syndrome, with the possibility of a grave outcome. Serotonin syndrome comes with several symptoms, which can be mild or severe. They include confusion, restlessness or agitation, dilated pupils, loss of muscle coordination or twitching muscles, heavy sweating, and headache. Other possible symptoms include headache, shivering, diarrhea, goosebumps, confusion, muscle rigidity, shivering, rapid heart rate and high blood pressure. Its severe symptoms can be life-threatening. They include high fever, irregular heartbeat, seizures, and unconsciousness.
Can You Die from Ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca intake can lead to many very dangerous outcomes, including death. There have been several cases of deaths associated with this traditional brew. The death can be directly caused by the ayahuasca or other events associated with the ceremony. Some of the suspected causes of ayahuasca deaths are as follows:
Preparation of the Brew
People may die from ayahuasca due to poor preparation of the tea. Because it is a brew prepared with a combination of different ingredients, which include the Psychotria Viridis shrub, Banisteriopsis caapi vine, or a substitute, and possibly other ingredients. During the retreat, each shaman adds different kinds of recipes to what makes up their ayahuasca ingredients. While some shamans stop at adding only the ayahuasca vine, the chacruna plant, and water, others go beyond these and include other ingredients. This can lead to complication for some users. If you are allergic to any of the ingredients, chances are you will experience severe feelings after taking the brew. And for some people, it may result in food poisoning and can lead to death. Check out here for the correct way to prepare the tea.
Tobacco cleansing usually performed before the intake of the brew is another possible cause of ayahuasca-related death. Tobacco cleansing is one of the events leading to the brew intake during ayahuasca ceremonies. Tobacco is served to help prepare your body and mind for the experience you are about to have with ayahuasca. It is worth knowing that this is not your regular kind of tobacco. Tobaccos served during ayahuasca ceremonies are sacred, strong jungle tobaccos. It will be brewed just like tobacco tea and served in a bowl. In some cases, it is also served at the peak of the ceremony. In short, tobacco intake is an integral part of the sacred ceremony.
However, in some cases, the tobacco intake can be deadly for some people and may lead to their death. This is the case of a 24-year-old man from New Zealand who died at an Ayahuasca retreat in 2015. After taking the tobacco cleansing, eye witness account revealed that Mathew Dawson started feeling unwell and suspected he could have been poisoned. Unfortunately, the shaman initially thought it was part of the feelings from the cleansing. And by the time Dawson was later rushed to the hospital, it was too late for the New Zealander to make it.
Another possible cause is taking ayahuasca brew when also having an ongoing pharmaceutical medication, which can interact with the brew and lead to deadly results. Even if you have stopped the medications, you would still need to consult your medical practitioner to be sure if it is safe to participate in an ayahuasca ceremony. This is because some of those prescription drugs are so strong that they can stay in your system for weeks, even after stopping them.
Unprofessionalism of Practitioners
Another cause of ayahuasca death can be linked to improper handling of some shamans or practitioners. It is therefore very important to be sure that the shaman you are patronizing for your ayahuasca retreat is an experienced professional with excellent track records.
Who Should Not Take Ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca, just like any other traditional medicine, is not for everybody. As a matter of fact, this should be the first question to ask before participating in the ceremony. You shouldn’t take the brew just because everyone else in your circle of friends is taking it. You must be very certain as to whether or not the brew is a good idea for you. Ayahuasca intake may not be a good idea for the following people or in the following scenarios:
One of the most heated debates in the ayahuasca world is whether the brew is safe for pregnant women or not. Opinions on this topic differ, as expected. While there is still limited scientific evidence on this specific area, it is advised that pregnant women err on this side of caution and stay away from the brew. Although it is not confirmed by scientific research, there is fear that the brew can provoke neurological alterations in the fetus. This is why many ayahuasca providers don’t allow pregnant women to participate in their retreats.
When Taking Other Medications
As earlier mentioned, some drugs are capable of interacting with ayahuasca in the body, which can lead to deadly complications. The question is what kind of drug exactly? To be on the safe side, it is recommended that you stay away from any kind of pills or drugs, regardless of how common, harmless, or simple it might be.
Contraceptives, supplements, vitamins, and any other kind of drugs should be avoided at least three days before the ayahuasca ceremony. The same applies to herbal medicines or recreational drugs, such as marijuana, St. John’s wort, etc. If you are on prescription, you need to discuss with your doctor first on the possibility of interrupting the prescription for the ayahuasca participation. This is particularly most important for those who are dependent on those drugs. In short, participating in the ayahuasca ceremony without first seeking the consent of your doctor is a big risk.
If You Have Certain Health Conditions and Risks
If you suffer from certain pre-existing health conditions, ayahuasca will not be a good idea for you. The most critical of such cases is heart-related problems. Ailments like tachycardia, peacemaker, murmur, surgery, or any other cardiovascular issue can lead to severe complications if you drink ayahuasca brew. In addition, if you are a cocaine user, you will need to avoid taking it at least three days before the ceremony. This is because cocaine has serious effects on your heart and can trigger cardiac arrest if you drink ayahuasca while still having the strain of cocaine in your system.
Low or high blood pressure is another health condition capable of triggering deadly complication after ayahuasca intake. You should stay away from the brew if you have any conditions that could trigger high blood pressure. Diabetes, schizophrenia, shortness of breath, and sleep apnea are some examples of this. Also, if you are using anti-psychotics, nervous system inhibitors, have epilepsy, embolism, or serious cancer case, ayahuasca is not for you.
If You Have History of Mental Health Problems
Ayahuasca has the ability to impact your brain. This is why it is important to be in perfect mental health before taking the brew or any other psychedelic substance. If you have any mental health illness, taking ayahuasca may compound your situation, as the brew can trigger some psychological and emotional problems. Of course, the psychological side effects of ayahuasca may happen to any user, But the risk will be much greater if there is an underlying pre-existing mental health issue.
If Your Are Sensitive to Tobacco
Are you sensitive or allergic to tobacco? Then you may want to think twice before participating in the ayahuasca ceremony. Tobacco intake is an integral part of the ayahuasca ceremony. Most shamans take their participant through tobacco cleansing before they take ayahuasca brew. This is why some ayahuasca retreat organizers arrange private services for those who have issues with tobacco smells or taste.
Is Ayahuasca Addictive?
Ayahuasca is not known to have a potential for addiction or dependence, but there may be more to it that can cause craving. People use iowaska to treat addiction. It may interest you to know that DMT is the main hallucinogenic ingredient in ayahuasca. And so far, DMT cannot be said to be addictive. However, just like in other psychedelics, there is a possibility of a psychological craving after your first ayahuasca experience. You may always want to take DMT, ayahuasca, or other related drugs to recreate the experiences and feelings you once had during the ceremony. This can lead to using it or other similar drugs continuously at every given opportunity.
Preventing Ayahuasca Risks and Dangers
Prevention, as they say, is better than cure. This is why the intake of ayahuasca or drug should be approached with every sense of caution and thoroughness. To start with, to date, there has been quite limited medical research on the subject of ayahuasca effects. Apart from the limited knowledge, the use of the drug is largely unregulated, which explains its many associated risks. So, the onus is on you, the user, to do your due diligence. Before participating at ayahuasca ceremony, always have the following at the back of your mind:
– The effects and strength of ayahuasca are largely unpredictable. It is possible to have different feelings and experiences taking the same drug on different occasions
– Due to its unregulated market, there is a possibility of other drugs being sold as ayahuasca
– History of mental illness and ayahuasca intake are two things that don’t mix well. This cannot be overemphasized!
– Environment matters a lot. Any psychedelic, including ayahuasca, is best taken in a place where you feel safe and if you around people you trust and comfortable being with
– Don’t take ayahuasca with alcohol.
– Don’t attempt driving or operating heaving machine after ayahuasca intake.
– Some food, if taken with ayahuasca, can cause many severe complications, including death. It may be best to go on a diet or seek an expert’s opinion on what not to eat in days preceding your ayahuasca ceremony.
– Supervision is key! It is best to be guided by an experienced practitioner or shaman.
– Ayahuasca is made of Psychotria Viridis shrub, Banisteriopsis caapi vine, and other ingredients. So, allergy is a possibility.