Some Benefits and Risks
There’s been a rising trend in the last decade of people traveling out to foregin lands, typically in remote areas of forest or desert, and partaking in a powerful drug that bestows upon it’s users life-altering experiences. People claim to feel enlightened, that the drug opens their mind and offers new perspectives of life and the world around them. That powerful drug is Ayahuasca, which is a psychoactive brew made from leaves originating from the Amazon in South America.
The reason you need to travel to far reaching lands to experiment with this drug is because it’s illegal in most places but not for the reasons you think. The plant itself is not illegal. Ayahuasca contains a strong active ingredient known as DMT, which is the illegal component. This is the ingredient responsible for the trip. DMT is a schedule 1 drug in the US, placing it in the same category as heroin and ecstasy. It’s also important to take this trip with the right surroundings, both people and place. You need proper guidance along this journey and that can only come from someone with experience.
Picture from Ayahuasca Foundation Blog
ORIGINS OF USE
Ancient Amazonian tribes originally used Ayahuasca for religious and spiritual practices. A few communities in North and South America still consider this a sacred beverage. Some early settlers from Spain considered the brew to be the work of the devil when they encountered it in Peru. Others considered it to awaken the soul. Today it is used for a myriad of psychological benefits including but not limited to: easing depression, alleviating anxiety, processing trauma and experiencing a new level of cosmic awareness for both religious and spiritual purposes.
Ayahuasca is part of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and concocted from two or more plants. Once extracted, the vine is typically shaved then boiled. It can be boiled alone or combined with leaves from a variety of other plants. The traditional process of ayahuasca involves a shaman and a ritualistic sequence to how it is made. The total preparation of the brew takes a few hours, sometimes a day or more to increase potency. You can anticipate the psychotropic effects to hit around 20-60 minutes after drinking the brew and the trip to last anywhere from 2-6 hours.
BENEFITS & RISKS
The Initial Wave of Euphoria & Sickness: while many have described the first feelings to be that of colorful euphoria, there is also a significant downside. When ingesting Ayahuasca many people will vomit or become ill with diarrhea. This is considered to be a part of the “cleansing” experience and is only temporary.
Love or Fear: the psychological state and surroundings you are in (where you are, how comfortable and safe you feel, how you feel about the people you’re with) when you drink the brew will significantly impact your trip. If you are in a calm space you are more likely to experience love, hallucinations, connectedness and spirituality. If you are feeling off, you risk the trip going bad and inducing waves of anxiety, fear, paranoia and panic. Be mindful of all that you can control before taking the trip.
Brain Health: scientists have studied the effect of Ayahuasca over the years and the findings are astonishing in the ways of health. The two main ingredients in Ayahuasca are DMT and β-carbolines. According to a study referenced on Healthline, these substances “exhibit neuroprotective and neurorestorative qualities”. In short, DMT has shown to protect brain cells from damage and increase the growth of new neural cells in the brain. The downside here is that with prolonged use Ayahuasca has shown to induce flashbacks, panic attacks and psychosis in some. However this is only common with prolonged use over many years.
Psychological Improvements: perhaps the most sought after benefit of Ayahuasca are it’s known abilities to treat disorders such as: anxiety, depression, addiction and PTSD. It is also known to increase our capacity for mindfulness the way meditation does. A study conducted with 57 people reported findings of depression and stress being significantly decreased “immediately after the participants consumed Ayahuasca” according to Healthline; “these effects were still significant 4 weeks following the Ayahuasca consumption”. The benefits of Ayahuasca are not suited for all. Those with a history of psychosis or mental illness such as schizophrenia are advised to avoid this substance for it could severely worsen their symptoms.
Overall Wellbeing: In addition to improving mood disorders and the like, Ayahuasca has been proven to increase well being through lowering stress and anxiety and increasing mindfulness. A study found that participants were more accepting of their circumstance and the world around them and reported less dependence on substances or addictive habits to feel happiness and peace. The risk is that taking Ayahuasca can increase your heart rate, blood pressure and be a potential for unpleasant trips. If you have these side effects keep in mind they are all temporary.
It’s important to note there have been documented Ayahuasca-related deaths. While not common, it is a possibility and a risk. It is not clear whether the deaths were from Ayahuasca itself or added ingredients, but is believed to be the latter. For these reasons it is imperative to only take on the journey of consumption and tripping with trained professionals.
More research is needed to determine short and long term side effects, but you have pluses and minuses in both columns. If you’re ready to check this experience off your bucket list, please do thorough research before-hand, assess your personal reasons for wanting to take the journey and note any health risks you may have. No matter what you choose, be sure you’re coming from a place of love and connection with your health in mind.