What’s the Relationship Between Ayahuasca and Schizophrenia?

If you or someone you know is living with a mental illness as debilitating as schizophrenia, you might be tempted to try psychedelic therapy.

Ayahuasca, LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, and ketamine are the most common mentions. But today, we’re looking at the relationship between ayahuasca and schizophrenia.

The sacred medicine has this great-for-all thing going on. Enthusiasts swear by it, claiming it cures their addiction, depression, anxiety, and a host of other issues.

However, science prohibits the use of ayahuasca for some users, including people living with schizophrenia.

Let’s get into why and explore what you can do instead.

Contents

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is extremely difficult to pinpoint, but Google puts it this way:

“A disorder that affects a person’s ability to think, feel and behave clearly.”

Sounds fairly simple, right?

Wrong!

Schizophrenia is a spectrum disorder(1)https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4568-schizophrenia, and some of the symptoms can be interpreted as eccentric behavior.

In fact, you might know someone living with some mild form of schizophrenia and find their abnormal behavior ‘quirky,’ ‘unique,’ or even ‘cute.’

Fun fact: Some of the most celebrated figures of our time(2)https://www.webmd.com/schizophrenia/ss/slideshow-schizophrenia-famous-names had schizophrenia, including Vincent van Gogh, Peter Green (of Fleetwood Mac), and Lionel Aldridge. Also, this psychiatric illness differs from multiple personality disorders, but many people get them mixed up.

Individuals living with schizophrenia experience multiple symptoms, including:

  • An abnormal interpretation of reality
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Unclear and irrational thinking
  • Disordered behavior
  • Inability to manage emotions
  • Difficulty relating to other people

To reiterate, the intensity of these symptoms varies from individual to individual. Some people’s abnormality can be so mild that you wouldn’t notice.

But to be officially diagnosed with schizophrenia, the patient must show specific signs for at least 6 months:

  • Disorganized speech
  • Hallucinations
  • Disordered/catatonic behavior
  • Delusions
  • Negative symptoms(3)https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/negative-symptoms-of-schizophrenia

It impairs the daily lives of diagnosed patients, and schizophrenia is one of the most disabling disorders(4)https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/schizophrenia known to man. Plus, it’s incurable and lifelong (starting as early as late teens in many patients, especially males).

One good news is that it is manageable with the proper techniques. Psychotherapy, antipsychotics, education, and self-management strategies are the go-tos.

And this brings us to the main plank of today’s guide.

The ayahuasca community is full of people living with psychological, emotional, and spiritual problems. Schizophrenic patients easily fit into this psychographics, so ayahuasca therapy is highly attractive to them.

As a side note, schizophrenia can be easily misconstrued as another mental disorder with overlapping symptoms:

  1. Brief psychotic disorder
  2. Schizophreniform disorder
  3. Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  4. Schizoaffective disorder
  5. Schizotypal personality disorder
  6. Post-traumatic stress disorder
  7. Delusional disorder
  8. Shared psychotic disorder
  9. Major depressive disorder
  10. Substance-induced psychotic disorder
  11. Substance use disorders
  12. Psychotic disorder from a general medical condition

It’s best to check with your doctor or mental health professional to be 100% sure whether you have this or that.

But whichever one you might have, if you exhibit negative symptoms (e.g., hallucinations or delusions) and cognitive symptoms (e.g., memory impairment), please stay away from ayahuasca.

I’ll explain why below:

Why Ayahuasca Is Bad For People Living With Schizophrenia

The short answer is that people living with a psychiatric illness like schizophrenia can get worse (or completely broken) while tripping on a hallucinogen like ayahuasca.

The long answer is that ayahuasca works by binding dimethyltryptamine (DMT) with serotonin receptors(5)https://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/423111 to create those incredible hallucinations people rave about.

Serotonin is an essential neurotransmitter the body produces autonomously, allowing your brain and nerve cells to function. But, like with anything in the human body, balance is key.

An imbalanced level of serotonin means serious trouble. It affects how one senses and reacts to reality – including attention, mood, memory, perception, appetite, sleep, motor skills, and even sexual drive.

Neurologically, an increased level of serotonin and dopamine is one of the leading causes of schizophrenia.

Ayahuasca further increases these abnormal levels of serotonin, leading to a worse case of negative/psychotic, positive, and cognitive symptoms. This can lead to a complete psychotic break.

It can even be life-threatening due to serotonin syndrome(6)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9924842/. A condition that occurs when there’s too much serotonin in the body.

Serotonin syndrome ranges from mild cases (which can go away after a few days) to severe cases (i.e., death). This is one of the reasons ayahuasca users are advised to stay away from antidepressants, like SSRIs, for at least a week before drinking the psychoactive brew.

Anyone can die from serotonin syndrome, but schizophrenic people are at a higher risk.

So, to recap, ayahuasca is bad for treating schizophrenia because it can lead to unbridled psychosis and even death.

Plan On Drinking Ayahuasca?
Whether you're new or have drank before. There are lessons here you don't know. 3 Ayahuasca Documentaries. 7 Ayahuasca lessons. We will send you over email, one for each day
We will never sell, rent, or share your email. Opt-out anytime

What to Do Instead If You Have Schizophrenia

If you’ve been diagnosed with schizophrenia, you should seek out professional help instead of self-medicating with hallucinogens. It is that simple.

You might question this idea since ayahuasca is commonly used in ritualistic settings—with shamans, assistants, and other participants. That doesn’t sound like ‘self-medication.’

But the argument here is that ayahuasca hasn’t been scientifically studied enough for safe use.

Shamans may be experienced in concocting and administering the brew, but they’re not doctors. They only understand the plant on a spiritual level, so medicating with a group of shamans, trip sitters, or some other guide doesn’t make a difference.

What Does Professional Help For Schizophrenia Look Like?

As stated earlier, schizophrenic people have to deal with this ailment for life.

But with the right methods (e.g., psychoeducation, self-management strategies, psychotherapy, and medication), professionals can manage the negative, positive, and cognitive symptoms.

  • Psychoeducation can help with cognitive symptoms. For example, understanding how a schizophrenic brain works. Eating memory-enhancing food, playing brain games, reading books and internalizing their main points, etc.
  • Specialists can give social skills training, vocational rehabilitation, and supported employment. These specialized trainings help schizophrenic people function in public and hold a job.
  • Psychotherapy and medication are probably the most critical parts of managing schizophrenia. This combination is the default treatment method.
  • Talking therapies (like cognitive behavioral therapy) are great for understanding these abnormal behaviors, finding their root causes, and walking backward to correct or manage them.
  • For medicine, we have antidepressants and mood stabilizers as additions to a typical or atypical antipsychotic(7)https://www.webmd.com/schizophrenia/medicines-to-treat-schizophrenia. The options are numerous, such as olanzapine, clozapine, haloperidol, fluphenazine decanoate, and risperidone—each with respective strengths and side effects.

Again, all these decisions should be made with the help of a healthcare professional. The National Health Service has a comprehensive guide on treating schizophrenia(8)https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/schizophrenia/treatment/, so you can start your psychoeducation there.

Support from family and friends is vital here because it’s so hard to treat any mental illness when feeling lonely, isolated, or outcast. Bring them into the picture so they know how to support you.

And if you have nobody to offer support, don’t worry – you’re not alone. You can join a local support group (or choose one of the top 5 online communities for people living with schizophrenia)(9)https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/schizophrenia-support-group.

In some rare cases, the condition can be managed to the extent that the patient starts living a (kind of) normal life. But even then, the symptoms wax and wane with your state of mind, social reality, medication, and other factors.

Pro-tip: Cases of ayahuasca drinkers having schizophrenia (or some other form of psychosis) after one or multiple sessions are rare but existent. 

The idea here is that some people might be unaware of their schizophrenic potential until they start tripping on hallucinogens. This makes psychedelic therapy dangerous despite the possible medicinal effects for treatment-resistant mental health issues. 

The best advice here is to talk with your doctor before using any psychedelics. Whether you have a personal or familial history or not, be 100% certain ayahuasca is for you before taking a sip.

Final Thoughts: The Relationship Between Ayahuasca and Schizophrenia

My journey into the world of ayahuasca started with a dream – a hope that I could cure my mental health issues (or at least navigate them with more clarity).

But while exploring various ayahuasca communities to gauge my expectations, I found that my issues are quite mild compared to others. People with chronic psychological problems.

One recurring theme is that this plant medicine isn’t for people with a personal or familial history of schizophrenia, especially if diagnosed.

I’ve tripped on ayahuasca multiple times, and it’s helped suppress my depression, anxiety, and addiction. I was curious why this miraculous medicine would be terrible for anyone, so I dug deeper.

What I found is quite interesting: Since ayahuasca works by altering your neural pathways, thanks to DMT, some neurodivergence can worsen with a single dose.

So, using ayahuasca to treat schizophrenia is like pouring gasoline on a burning fire.

I understand why schizophrenic people might be looking to ayahuasca therapy for a fix. But as we’ve examined, the two don’t mix well.

Not just schizophrenia but anybody living with a severe psychiatric illness should steer clear of ayahuasca.

Well, unless your therapist or mental health professional recommends it, then you should educate yourself on the pros, cons, preparation, integration and etc…

Usually, this will be in a controlled setting where the dosage and reactions are recorded and examined, to see how the psychedelic is affecting the patient in real-time and over a period.

Community mental health teams (CMHTs) are essential to most schizophrenia treatment plans, providing daily assistance while encouraging independence.

So, to close, seek professional help instead of drinking ayahuasca. Schizophrenia is highly disabling, but professionals can manage it with psychotherapy, medication, and other strategies.

Wishing you good luck on your journey!

References

References
1 https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4568-schizophrenia
2 https://www.webmd.com/schizophrenia/ss/slideshow-schizophrenia-famous-names
3 https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/negative-symptoms-of-schizophrenia
4 https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/schizophrenia
5 https://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/423111
6 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9924842/
7 https://www.webmd.com/schizophrenia/medicines-to-treat-schizophrenia
8 https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/schizophrenia/treatment/
9 https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/schizophrenia-support-group