Is Ayahuasca safe? Does it result in negative mental health outcomes?
When I was still new to ayahuasca, the first question that came to my mind was just like the thoughts in your mind right now — “is ayahuasca safe?” There are various healing stories from ritual ayahuasca users after ayahuasca ingestion, but it took me time to really try it because I had some hesitations. Is it for everyone? Will it work on me the way it did to them?
This traditional Amazonian medicine is made from two plants — the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and Psychotria Viridis leaves. These plants contain Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a powerful hallucinogen with strong psychedelic effects. You can consider it as plant-derived psychoactive drugs.
It is also known as yage among some indigenous groups in South America, who believe that drinking ayahuasca can heal physical ailments and bring spiritual enlightenment by showing their true nature during hallucinations. That is why it is usually served for religious purposes.
When ayahuasca users consume ayahuasca orally, they usually vomit and experience auditory and virtual disturbances. Some even mix it with an emetic like tobacco or chicha to make people puke before consuming the hallucinogenic drug.
Many of those with ayahuasca experience have attested to its effectiveness in helping them ease various illnesses, including addiction, substance abuse, and trauma. Others claimed that it has positive physical effects. Unfortunately, ayahuasca use is not recommended for all. Continue reading to know if ayahuasca consumption is safe for you!
- 1 Effects of Ayahuasca
- 2 Who Should Not Do Ayahuasca?
- 3 Can Ayahuasca Change Your Life?
- 4 Can You Lose Your Mind On Ayahuasca?
- 5 Is Ayahuasca Safe?
- 6 Is Ayahuasca Legal?
- 7 Wrap Up
Effects of Ayahuasca
Drinking ayahuasca tea, a hallucinogenic drug has both psychological and physical effects.
Its effectiveness usually wears off after four hours and ayahuasca users have different reactions after taking it with some experiencing enlightenment and others nightmares.
It may last for only a few minutes or more.
• Perception disorder (auditory and visual disturbance)
• Fears (of dying or going insane)
• Fast heart rate
• High blood pressure
• Visual disturbances
Who Should Not Do Ayahuasca?
Most people turn to ayahuasca for a psychedelic experience to rewire their brain and heal from trauma, substance abuse, anxiety or depression because it works like psychoactive drugs.
Shamans serve the brew during ayahuasca ceremonies to its members and usually accompany it with songs and chants as they drift into a trance. Spiritual leaders use it to determine what causes someone’s illness at a spiritual level, while others use it in religious ceremonies.
Many are interested in experiencing ayahuasca’s magical healing power to address mental health issues and neurological disorders. However, it is not for everyone because there is also a dark side that is too intense and probably too much for one to bear.
Here’s a list of who should not take psychedelic ayahuasca to avoid adverse effects.
1. Individuals With Mental Health Issues
Ayahuasca could worsen mental health problems or psychiatric disorders. Thus, people with a history of psychotic, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder should not take it because it could worsen psychiatric symptoms and result in mania.
If you are advised against taking hallucinogenic drugs, it’s best to avoid ayahuasca because it has psychoactive effects.
2. Pregnant Or Breastfeeding Moms
If you are pregnant and breastfeeding, you should avoid it too because it can be toxic to the baby.
One study(1)https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/bdrb.20244 administers ayahuasca to pregnant rats in three different doses during the gestational period. Those with the highest ayahuasca dose showed maternal toxicity with a decrease in weight gain and food intake.
Visceral fetal findings were observed in all groups, and skeletal findings were observed in the intermediate- and high-dose groups. Meanwhile, the fetuses from the highest dose group also presented a decrease in body weight.
“From these results, it is possible to conclude that there is a risk of maternal and developmental toxicity following ayahuasca exposure and that the level of toxicity appears to be dose-dependent,” the researchers concluded.
3. Individuals With Heart Conditions Or Not Physically Well
If you are suffering from a heart condition, it’s best to skip ayahuasca brew. Ayahuasca can increase your heart rate and blood pressure resulting in dangerous side effects.
Ayahuasca is also not recommended to those with glaucoma, retinal detachment, severe hypertension, fractures, recent surgeries, acute infectious diseases, tuberculosis, epilepsy, convulsions or had cerebrovascular accidents.
Those with severe liver, gallbladder, kidney, or pancreas diseases, gastroduodenal ulcer or gastritis, and digestive hemorrhage should also stir clear from ayahuasca. If you have difficulty vomiting, it’s best if you avoid the use of ayahuasca.
4. Those taking anti-depressants, certain medications
If you are taking medications like Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAO) anti-depressants, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) anti-depressants, painkillers or any drug that affect the serotonin system, ayahuasca is not for you.
Taking ayahuasca while also taking SSRIs could produce an enormous amount of serotonin which may lead to serotonin overdose or serotonin syndrome.
Mild symptoms include shivering and diarrhea. In severe cases, one may experience muscle rigidity, fever and seizures. Serotonin syndrome can be fatal if left untreated.
5. Those taking psychoactive substances
If you take alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, marijuana, or other illegal drugs like heroin, LSD, cocaine and amphetamine or MDMA it’s best to skip ayahuasca as they may have negative interactions. A combination of any can result in a hypertensive crisis.
The same can be said when you combine ayahuasca with bufotenin and or 5-MeO-DMT, which is present in other substances of natural origin such as Bufo alvarius, vilca or yopo.
Ayahuasca is risky because it is an intense psychedelic experience that can have negative consequences for people who are not mentally and emotionally prepared for it.
It can also be dangerous if taken with certain medications or in combination with alcohol or other drugs. The worst that can happen is that someone could have an adverse reaction to the ayahuasca and experience psychosis, panic attacks, or seizures.
Ayahuasca should not be used as a substitute for psychotherapy or medical care. It’s best to consult a specialist if you have any type of illness or take daily medication, including herbal medicine, to ensure the safety of your ayahuasca experience.
There is also a risk of death if someone takes ayahuasca with other drugs, due to interaction with other ingredients or dosing issues. But death has never been reported in clinical trials on ayahuasca.
Can Ayahuasca Change Your Life?
The short answer to this answer is “Yes.” Ayahuasca is a powerful psychedelic drug capable of changing your life because of its effects on neurotransmitter levels in the brain.
Yes, some said that it could rewire your brain to let go of the trauma, pain and anxiety. Also, ayahuasca-assisted therapy has been used as coping strategy in addiction and substance abuse.
Many seek ayahuasca because of the positive transformation it offers and those who find it experiences peace as it gives them a clean slate to start with.
In fact, many travel to South America to experience the wonder that this miracle plant offers, leading to a boom in ayahuasca tourism.
The brewing concoction that indigenous people from Colombia and Peru use during an ayahuasca ceremony or religious ceremony for healing and spiritual purposes has grown so popular.
Many turn to it to get over a trauma, heal internal wounds, find comfort in their grief, reconnect with nature, experience enlightenment and encounter the divine.
Several celebrities have already tried ayahuasca and they also experience huge changes in their lives following their encounter with the “vine of the soul.”
Lindsay Lohan called her experience “really intense.” According to her, she saw herself die and being born. It encouraged her to let go of “the wreckage of my past,” Today reported(2)https://www.today.com/health/what-ayahuasca-lindsay-lohans-cleanse-probably-illegal-causes-vomiting-1D79574411.
“I worked with a shaman. I did a cleanse — a really eye-opening experience of ayahuasca. It was really intense and I saw my whole life in front of me and I had to let go of the past things that I was trying to hold on to that were dark in my life and physically, I felt it when I had this experience,” Lohan said(3)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbmCegvIzuM.
“I guess I always have died it was insane. I saw myself being born and that I feel different ever since that. Just being okay with you know, the wreckage of my past letting that go and starting fresh and it’s just, I’m in a good place and I don’t want to mess with that because it feels good. I’m happy.”
American comedian Chelsea Handler also tried ayahuasca and her experience was “pretty intense” and “personal.” She flew to Peru with the idea that ayahuasca would transform her. In an interview with New York Post(4)https://nypost.com/2016/01/19/chelsea-handler-on-being-a-wild-animal-and-getting-high-with-willie-nelson/, she said, she didn’t feel anything at the first night. However, on her second night with a shaman, there was a lot of chanting and vomiting. Her encounter with Mother Aya brought changes in her perspective about marriage.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the concept and conceit of marriage, which to me just screams commercialism. Everything about marriage always kind of sickened me, other than the commitment itself,” she told The Post. “I didn’t expect this one to be that personal, but it ended up becoming very personal. I interviewed my first adult boyfriend, which was so weird. We talked about our relationship which, in a way, was very illuminating for me. I had no idea how much of a nightmare I was and how similar I was to how I am today. I’ve always been a wild animal, so that was comforting to me.”
Ayahuasca is different from other psychedelic drugs because you don’t need an ‘accidental’ overdose as you might need with other substances. There are no illogical thoughts produced by the drug, typically there is only introspection into oneself during heightened states of consciousness. Thus, creating a heightened sense of awareness afterward.
Can You Lose Your Mind On Ayahuasca?
Among the many concerns about ayahuasca aside from its effectiveness is safety. Is ayahuasca safe? Won’t it make you crazy?
Despite the many positive stories about this indigenous brew, there are also scary stories with some dreading to use the spiritual plant because it’s like a curse to them.
Scott Silverston said in a blog that he doesn’t use ayahuasca in his shamanic practice experience because he felt that it puts one at the mercy of the plant for the duration and quality of the experience. For him, it’s a constraint that does not reconcile with his modern lifestyle.
Also, he acknowledged the challenge of returning to one’s self for stability. As mentioned, ayahuasca offers an extreme experience that could result in extreme distress or longing to escape back to the dream plant spirit.
“An Ayahuasca ceremony poses risks to the participant who suddenly finds him/herself back in a modern world that is devoid of others who can relate to their experience in any substantive or meaningful way,” he wrote.
“Too much too fast is cathartic and damaging, not healing. Many traumatic life events are extremely intense and leave lasting negative imprints on the survivor. Matching the intensity of the trauma is not required in order to heal; the release of the trauma itself is intense enough and learning how to moderate the process to create a safe container in which a person can heal is essential.”
There are concerns that one might struggle to get back into reality and lose their mind.
Meanwhile, Konrad Ryushin Marchaj, a psychiatrist and former abbot of the Zen Mountain Monastery, who is now studying shamanism and the healing power of ayahuasca, said that the whole point of joining an ayahuasca ceremony is “to lose your mind” and he explained why.
” Not to be clever, but the whole point is to lose your mind,” he told novelist Reif Larsen. “The concern is about finding your way back and keeping some continuity with the experienced enlargement or revelation.”
He likened it to moving from point A and point B which are connected through thousands of pathways. The powerful plant works rapidly to release other pathways. He admitted that the experience could be scary, but it would be worth it because once you reconcile the gap, you will return to your old self far better and more appreciative.
“Yes, this can be scary, but it shows us how we censor and restrict the richness of reality. If you accept the cascading down rapids, all is cool. If you try to drop more and more anchors, that action itself is fear-generating,” he continued.
“We come back after the ride, clear the system, and the status quo returns all too effectively. The challenge is here, in that gap where there is some closeness, some ripeness, some novelty. We actually have the open potential to shift our appreciation, our actions, our caring.”
Does ayahuasca have long-term effects? Among the long-term side effects of a hallucinogenic substance which you will also experience when taking ayahuasca is hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD) or frequent flashbacks, persistent psychosis, and hallucinations. But it also shows long-term improvement in cognitive thinking style in non-pathological ayahuasca users.
Although the long-term effects of ayahuasca are still relatively unknown, some potential long-term effects could include changes in personality, altered states of consciousness, and flashbacks. It is important to remember that these are just potential effects, and not everyone who takes ayahuasca will experience them.
So, in a way, yes, there are risks of not coming back to yourself, but most made it smoothly. To help you integrate your experience into your daily life, here are some ayahuasca integration activities that you should do after a post-ayahuasca ceremony.
Is Ayahuasca Safe?
At this point, I understand that you are still wondering — is ayahuasca safe? As mentioned above, there are potential side effects, including panic, paranoia, vomiting, and diarrhea. The good thing is that while they can be distressing, they eventually pass.
For the most part, ayahuasca is safe. The benefits of Ayahuasca still outweigh the risks. In fact, there has never been a death during a clinical trial. And several studies showed that it could help.
A study published in the journal Psychopharmacology found that ayahuasca may be helpful in the treatment of recurrent depression and some said it worked in treatment resistant depression. The study participants who received ayahuasca showed significant improvements in mood and anxiety symptoms.
Another study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found that participants who took Ayahuasca showed significant improvements in their moods after six months of treatment. The study’s authors suggest that further research is needed to confirm these findings, but they prove that Ayahuasca could be a promising new treatment for mood disorders.
Although there are reports about serious illnesses and death, those cases were due to incorrect doses by untrained shamans. So, you should know how to find a good shaman that is knowledgeable in what they do because your safety depends on them during the ayahuasca ceremony.
However, it still needs more studies to conclude that it is a safe solution for suicide prevention, depression, grief, and other mental health conditions.
Is Ayahuasca Legal?
It won’t be complete if I don’t discuss the legality issues. So, I will subtly touch it in this section.
Ayahuasca is traditionally used by indigenous tribes in Amazonian Basin — Peru, Ecuador, Columbia and Brazil. Previous ayahuasca use is for ceremonial traditions and medical purposes. However, in modern times, it has been sought for its spiritual and therapeutic effect which helped the tourism industry in South America. Some medical practitioners even recommend it.
In the United States, ayahuasca tea itself is not illegal. However, the brew is a combination of Banisteriopsis caapi vine and Psychotria Viridis. The latter contains N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a psychedelic substance that occurs naturally in the plant. In the U.S. DMT is a Schedule I controlled substance making it illegal.
However, thanks to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, drinking ayahuasca for religious purposes is not illegal. The United States federal law “ensures that the interest in religious freedom are protected” that’s why drinking ayahuasca is okay when it’s one in a religious setting.
The use of ayahuasca drug has become very popular because it offers a life-changing experience that’s why many seek it.
Several have shared positive transformations after their encounter with ayahuasca. However, it is not safe for everyone to take. It has an ugly side too with some sharing dark and horrible stories after trying it.
According to some, those with the not-so-pleasant experience did not prepare for their encounter with Mother Aya. However, others said the adverse results could be due to combining ayahuasca vine with other medications or psychoactive drugs.
To have a positive experience, it’s best if your body and mind are ready to take ayahuasca. Check this la dieta for ayahuasca preparation before you join your first ayahuasca ceremony to help you prepare for the life-changing encounter you hope to accomplish.