Why Am I Depressed After An Ayahuasca Ceremony?

Under the influence of ayahuasca, many users have purged their bad habits and benefited their mental well-being.

Stories of chronic smokers never touching a stick again have circulated on social media (or you can read the study by D Daldegan-Bueno et al., 2022)(1)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35179623/. In addition, we’ve seen lifelong depressed and anxious individuals getting better after numerous treatments have failed (J Sarris et al., 2021)(2)https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666915321000251.

The irony, however, is that, in the process of cleansing your psychology, the psychedelic brew can result in some nasty side effects. A common one is depression, often a week or two after an ayahuasca retreat.

“How is it I’m drowning though I know how to swim?”

If this is your reality, keep calm knowing you are not alone. The hallucinogenic drink directly affects your innermost emotions, so this is likely more of a blessing in disguise.

Before we uncover why this happens and how to deal with it, let’s first look at how ayahuasca affects your mind, mood, and overall mental health:

How Does Ayahuasca Affect the Brain?

Psychotria viridis(3)https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/psychotria-viridis and Banisteriopsis caapi(4)https://www.ntbg.org/database/plants/detail/banisteriopsis-caapi are the two common components of this entheogenic brew. These ingredients contain mind-expanding elements that alter your level of consciousness—causing euphoria, visual hallucinations, and spiritual experiences, among others.

Ayahuasca not only affects the brain but the entire central nervous system. It often alters the user’s perspective long-term, plus it protects and restores their neural mechanism.

Β-carbolines(5)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6121956/ in Banisteriopsis caapi act as the monoamine oxidases (MAOs) inhibitor for the N, N-dimethyltryptamine(6)https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnins.2018.00536/full (DMT) in Psychotria viridis. These substances are individually psychoactive but combining them leads to one of the most intense experiences any human can witness.

DMT, for one, activates Sig-1R (the sigma-1 receptor). This protein has antioxidant effects on brain cells, leading to less neurodegeneration. The other chemicals boost memory and have anti-inflammatory properties to keep your psyche healthy.

Now, thanks to its Amazonian origin(7)https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/article/ancient-hallucinogens-oldest-ayahuasca-found-shaman-pouch, the shaman (or curandero) that often administers ayahuasca will guide you through the process so you can take a trip safely and come back with valuable insights into who you are as a person.

All these results in better moods, mindfulness, and overall mental health. However, what about your depressive phase after taking these seemingly miraculous plants?

Well, it may just be that – a phase.


Why You’re Depressed After Ayahuasca

1. A Spiritual Experience That Reveals Your True Self

If there is one thing we know this psychoactive drink for, it is its use for spiritual and religious purposes. Yes, it all started with ancient Amazonian tribes trying to master spiritual cleansing. That is why it casts light upon the ways you are living in dissonance.

Ayahuasca doesn’t lie; it is a spiritual journey that reveals your true self. This realization may weigh you down and disrupt your psychological well-being, manifesting as anxiety, paranoia, depression, or PSTD.

Depending on the ceremony you attended, the shaman may have instructed you to stay away from a certain drug, food, or activity after your trip. It is important to follow these instructions, as a surefire way to complete your spiritual development.

2. Resurfacing Repressed Memories And Emotions

On the note of PTSD, your experience can unearth childhood memories and repressed emotions. All those pent-up anger, frustration, and inner conflict can resurface a few days after a euphoric trip because the beverage helps you feel your deepest, truest emotions.

You thought they were gone but no, your brain has been sending you a message. Ayahuasca just happens to be a more pronounced messenger. Now, these memories and emotions may be depressive in nature, which explains why you’re currently in this state of mind.

3. Extrospection And Ego Death

Everyone has an ego; you have been consciously and unconsciously building it since you were a child. What some psychedelics specialize in, is showing you just how little you matter in the universe (apologies if that sounds harsh, but you need to hear it from time to time).

DMT, the main ingredient of ayahuasca, knows how to turn off your introspection and ego(8)https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2016.00269/full and show you why you should care more about humanity or the planet than yourself.

This transition is bound to be uncomfortable; it breaks your very being and shows you that every human is, in fact, connected to a universal source of energy.

4. Ayahuasca Challenges Your Purpose In Life

Similar to ego death, a single trip can challenge your purpose in life: who you are, what you want, and why you are here. Questions like these are tough to answer and worse yet, no one can answer them for you.

No matter how hard-headed or mentally tough you think you are, ayahuasca makes you rethink your existence so you can lead a more purposeful and selfless life.

Depression creeps in when you fail to recognize or accept this identity crisis. You are only betraying yourself.

5. Personality Changes And Increased Self-Awareness

I’m guilty of this one. I used to be oblivious to how I came across to the world. That was until a shaman guided me through an ayahuasca ceremony; it was an enlightenment. And with this increased self-awareness, my personality had to change.

However, I didn’t want to put in the work to change my personality, which resulted in depression. My psyche could not go back to what it was, but I was not making any effort to change.

Needless to say, this led to misery; an inner conflict between my past and future, and my present was suffering for it.

You may also feel lost and unfit among others, mostly because the retreat gave you a new lens to observe, process, and understand yourself and others. This can make you unstable for a while.

6. You’re Searching For Another Euphoric Experience

Ayahuasca can proffer one of the most euphoric escapades a human mind can be exposed to. After such a distinguishable 6 hours, you may later get depressed searching for a refill.

This can be unconscious or otherwise; either way, this is a valid reason many users fall into despair a few days or weeks after their last mind-blowing trip. Once the effects wear off and you are back to your old life, the euphoria might seem so ungraspable that you slip into situational depression.

7. You Can’t Go Back To Your Old Life – You Need To Heal

If you have been paying attention, you would notice that most of the reasons you may be depressed tie directly to your unwillingness to change. And this psychotropic brew wants you to change – period!

The more you fight or ignore it, the harder it becomes to change. Your brain wants to heal, so let it! Failing to do so will feel like being stuck, resulting in greater misery than before.

And without this compulsory change, the whole experience was meaningless. What’s the point of being enlightened if it does not alter your behavior, mood, perception, cognition, or consciousness?

8. Ayahuasca Has Limited Research

Despite the recent popularity of ayahuasca, DMT, and other potent psychedelics, research into their benefits and side effects are still underway.

Until we have some concrete study of how it precisely affects the brain short- and long-term, we may never know why you are battling depression after your ayahuasca ceremony.

What we do know is that this psychoactive drink can be unpredictable. Some have had overly pleasant reactions while others battle intense feelings that need to be reconciled.

The best you can do is prepare for whatever comes. Love yourself enough to know that you will come out brighter and better no matter how distressing or exciting the experience was.


How To Deal With The Depression Side Effects Of Ayahuasca

1. Don’t Fight Or Ignore The Insights

Whether enlightening or distressing, an ayahuasca trip is meant to unveil some valuable insights that you would not realize otherwise. The trick is to stop fighting or ignoring whatever the psychedelic is showing you.

A word of advice: don’t be hard on yourself. Everyone has both negative and positive qualities. If the trip unveils more of your negative side as a person, you should pay attention. Listen and work toward becoming a better you.

Go with the flow; do not fight it. Mind you, acceptance doesn’t translate to healing. Even after you stop fighting and accept it, you still need to restore harmony.

The first step is treating yourself like a patient who just got discharged from a health facility. Eat healthily; get some sunlight; lay off drugs; socialize with supportive people.

2. It Might Just Be A Necessary Phase To Heal

As stated earlier, post-ayahuasca depression might be a necessary phase to cleanse your system of toxicity – especially if you have been depressed for a while or you have been diagnosed with treatment-resistant depression.

Whether you have or not, a few depressive days or weeks may be all you need to recognize what steps to take in becoming who you have always wanted to be. What usually happens is you feel better after the ceremony, then the bad habits and negative thoughts come back slowly but stronger.

Ayahuasca not only increases our self-awareness but also alters our perception, providing us a window to put in the work to become happier, self-satisfied, and more fulfilled. Your perspective and approach shaped most of your earlier sufferings; the brew will give specific insight into this, but it is not a ‘magic pill.’

To finish the job, you have to make a conscious effort to shatter the pattern of depression and anxiety, after this initial phase of intense despair. In other words, ayahuasca can only show you what’s buried underneath your dissonance; it’s up to you to heal.

Trust the process and do not overthink this phase. Like the Persians said, “this too shall pass.”

3. Don’t Go Back To Your Old Life

Going back to your old life is impossible now that you have new insights and old memories. The idea is to process all emotions and insights and use them to forge your path forward.

You need to take actions that shape a new life, so go ahead and be consistent with them. The conclusions, conversations, and confrontations may be uncomfortable but you need them to heal.

Instead of expressing the change with words, you need to actually live it. So, stop thinking about what you got wrong and what you have to get right; start taking real steps to change.

It is advisable to keep a journal to track these changes and focus on being persistent. Please, do not relapse into your old habits.

4. Listen To Yourself – What’s Causing Your Depression?

Depression can spring from different places. Find the precise cause of your depression and try to fix that. Loneliness, incompetence, low energy, and low self-esteem; all can cause depression and also manifest as its symptoms.

5. Let Your Ego Die

Your ego is your self-identity; how you see and value yourself. Ego destabilization or death is a transformation we all need, to live a more well-rounded life.

Many people experience sheer nothingness during their ayahuasca trip, which is your brain telling you that you do not exist or that everything is pointless.

We all need to understand the world does not care about our ego; plus, it is fabricated and inflated 99.999% of the time. So, if the brew wants your ego dead, just let it die! Your ego isn’t worthy of your happiness.

Now, this is easier said than done. It is one of the strangest phases you will go through in life, so do it now, not later. Granted, it is hard to reconcile with this nothingness; the idea is to be strong and unafraid.

Wait it out until you get better clarity into your unique situation.

6. Ayahuasca May Not Be For You

You might not want to hear this buta I will say it anyway. If this depressive stage looks less like a stage but your new norm, it might be best to stay off ayahuasca or psychedelics altogether.

We said it earlier: these plants and chemicals are not properly researched, so we cannot say for sure if they are a right fit for you.

Moreover, people with mental disorders like psychosis, schizophrenia, and major depressive disorder are better off without these potentially psychotomimetic compounds.

Many such users have complained about being ‘broken beyond repair.’ Psychoactive compounds can literally mess up your psyche; better know who you are and stop taking these plants before it is too late.

7. Get Professional Help

While shamans administer ayahuasca retreats, if the after-effect is severe or bearing toward suicidal thoughts, it’s best to get some professional help.

A psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist; just make sure you let off whatever your despondency is calling your attention to. Are you lonely, regretful, ashamed, or hopeless? Maybe a repressed memory is causing some resentment toward your spouse, friend, or family member.

Talk openly with a professional to receive much-needed help. You do not want a psychedelic trip to overwhelm you beyond a point of no return. Further isolation will only do more harm, so reach out to a candid support system today.


Final Takeaway

Ayahuasca is a strong drink with enough word-of-mouth to want to try it for yourself. What most people leave out are the all-power psychotropic properties that can induce both positive and negative effects on your health.

Now that you’re experiencing despair after your intake, we hope we have informed you enough to know how to go about it. It might be a needed phase or your system is begging for change.

And to reiterate, getting professional help is the best solution to make sure the effects of Ayahuasca doesn’t get out of hand. We’ve looked at why this is happening and even more ways to go about healing your mental space.
Good luck!

References

References
1 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35179623/
2 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666915321000251
3 https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/psychotria-viridis
4 https://www.ntbg.org/database/plants/detail/banisteriopsis-caapi
5 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6121956/
6 https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnins.2018.00536/full
7 https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/article/ancient-hallucinogens-oldest-ayahuasca-found-shaman-pouch
8 https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2016.00269/full

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