What Is Ayahuasca? Experience, Benefits, and Side Effects

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Ayahuasca is a medicinal plant that is usually used to create a psychedelic brew that combines ingredients that have hallucinogenic qualities. Although some say the drug may benefit mental wellbeing, there are risks associated. Some of the stories you heard about travel to another destination to get the effects of the ayahuasca, psychoactive drink. Generally, this anecdote is focused on the immediate effects during an ayahuasca trip which can be informative or disturbing. Ayahuasca has been found to be beneficial in many ways. This review covers the negative and beneficial effects of ayahuasca on health.

What is Ayahuasca?

So, what is Ayahuasca exactly? Many individuals are curious and it’s a question we often hear.

Ayahuasca, a powerful traditional brew steeped in spiritual and cultural significance, is commonly referred to as “the tea,” “the vine,” and “la purga.” Made from the leaves of the Psychotria viridis shrub and the stalks of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, this mystical brew is a blend of ancient knowledge and powerful natural ingredients.

Additionally, other plants and ingredients may also be added to the brew, which is considered sacred by many indigenous communities and religious groups, including the Santo Daime in Brazil and North America.

For centuries, ayahuasca has been used for spiritual and religious purposes by ancient Amazonian tribes, and continues to be a central part of their spiritual practices to this day. This traditional indigenous entheogenic practice has been very popular among many countries that have not outlawed it’s usage.

The preparation of ayahuasca tea is typically led by a shaman or curandero, an experienced healer who is trained in the art of preparing the brew.

The process begins by cleaning and smashing the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, which is then boiled to increase the extraction of its medicinal compounds. The leaves of the Psychotria viridis shrub are also torn and boiled in water.

Once the ayahuasca tea has been reduced to the desired consistency, the water is removed and reserved, leaving behind the plant material. This process is repeated until a highly concentrated liquid is produced. After the ayahuasca tea has cooled, it is strained to remove any impurities.


How Is Ayahuasca Used?

Ayahuasca is traditionally used for religious and spiritual purposes by certain indigenous communities and some religious groups in Brazil and North America.

It is consumed in the form of ayahuasca tea that is prepared by boiling the leaves of the Psychotria viridis shrub and stalks of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine along with other plants and ingredients. The brew is typically consumed under the guidance of a skilled and experienced shaman, who leads Ayahuasca ceremonies.

In recent years, Ayahuasca has also gained popularity among people who seek self-discovery, healing from past traumas, or a unique experience.

Many individuals travel to countries such as Peru, Costa Rica, and Brazil to participate in multi-day Ayahuasca retreats led by experienced shamans as it is still considered one of many Schedule I psychedelic drugs in the United States.

It is believed that ayahuasca tea can help open one’s mind, and help people to heal from past traumas. This has led to what is known as ayahuasca tourism in many areas of the world where it is legal.

How Does Ayahuasca Work?

The ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) contains a group of beta-carboline alkaloids, including harmine, harmaline, and tetrahydroharmine, which are known as MAO inhibitors. These alkaloids prevent the breakdown of certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, by inhibiting the activity of monoamine oxidase enzymes in the gut and brain. The chacruna plant (Psychotria viridis) contains a naturally occurring psychedelic compound called dimethyltryptamine (DMT).

DMT is not orally active by itself because it is broken down by an enzyme called MAO in the gut, which is why it is mixed with the ayahuasca vine. The MAO inhibitors in the ayahuasca vine allow DMT to be orally active, so when it is consumed, it can cross the blood-brain barrier and interact with the brain’s serotonin receptors, leading to changes in perception, emotions, and thought.

Ayahuasca is known for inducing intense, vivid hallucinations that are often described as “otherworldly” or “transcendental” experiences, which can last for several hours. Some people report having spiritual or mystical experiences, seeing vivid colors and geometric patterns, and communicating with entities or spirits. It also can lead to a sense of euphoria, and a feeling of being more connected to the environment, as well as with oneself.

Ayahuasca has been used in traditional medicine for centuries, and in recent years, researchers have also begun to investigate its potential therapeutic benefits. Studies have shown that ayahuasca may have antidepressant effects, and may be useful in treating addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety. However, more research is needed to understand the full effects of Ayahuasca.

What is DMT?

DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) is a powerful psychedelic substance that is found in certain plants and animals. It is structurally similar to serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the human brain. DMT is usually consumed by drinking a brew called ayahuasca tea, or by smoking the pure powder.

It is known for its intense and vivid hallucinations, and is sometimes described as inducing a “breakthrough” to a parallel universe. Ayahuasca and DMT are Schedule I controlled substances in the United States and many other countries, which means it is illegal to manufacture, possess, or distribute it.

What is an Ayahuasca Retreat?

Ayahuasca retreats are an opportunity for personal growth, healing, and spiritual development that takes place in a secluded, nature-rich setting.

The retreats are typically led by experienced ayahuasca practitioners or shamans who guide participants through ceremonies or sessions where they consume the brew.

The effects of drinking ayahuasca tea can be powerful and varied, and can include hallucinations, introspection, and emotional release.

The retreats provide a safe and supportive environment for participants to experience these effects and to explore their own inner worlds.

The retreats often include other activities such as yoga, meditation, and group therapy to help participants integrate their experiences and gain deeper insights.

It’s important to note that ayahuasca is a powerful psychedelic substance and should be approached with caution, and should be only consumed under the guidance of trained professionals.

Furthermore, not everyone should consume Ayahuasca, and it’s not recommended for people with certain mental or physical conditions.

Overall, an ayahuasca retreat is a unique and potentially transformative experience that can help individuals gain a deeper understanding of themselves and their place in the world.

Explaining the Ayahuasca Ceremony and Experience

Ayahuasca ceremonies, also known as Ayahuasca experiences, are typically held at night and last for several hours until the effects of the brew have worn off.

The ceremony begins with the shaman preparing and blessing the space, and then offering Ayahuasca to participants, which may be split into multiple doses.

Once consumed, the effects of Ayahuasca can be felt within 20-60 minutes. The experience varies depending on the dose consumed, and can last anywhere from 2-6 hours.

The effects of Ayahuasca can be intense, and can include symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, euphoria, strong visual and auditory hallucinations, psychedelic effects, fear, and paranoia.

It is worth mentioning that certain side effects, such as nausea and diarrhea, are considered to be a normal part of the cleansing process and are seen as an integral aspect of the overall experience.

The experience of Ayahuasca can be different for everyone, and it’s not uncommon for people to have both positive and negative experiences. Some people report feeling euphoria and enlightenment, while others may experience severe anxiety or panic.

Experience the spiritual guidance and support of skilled shamans and other experienced facilitators during an Ayahuasca ceremony. These spiritual leaders not only provide guidance and support, but also closely monitor the safety of all participants throughout the experience. Many retreats also have medical staff on hand to ensure the well-being of all attendees.

Embark on a journey of self-discovery and spiritual growth by participating in consecutive Ayahuasca ceremonies. Each night, as you consume the brew, be prepared for a unique and transformative experience.

The effects of Ayahuasca can vary each time it is consumed, making every ceremony a unique and personal journey.

ayahuasca ceremony

What Are Potential Benefits of Ayahuasca?

When you drink Ayahuasca tea it has the potential to be life-altering and bring about positive, long-term changes, according to many who have taken the brew. One possible reason for these benefits is the way Ayahuasca impacts the neurological system.

Recent scientific studies have also revealed that Ayahuasca may have a range of health benefits, particularly in regards to brain health.

Ayahuasca May Benefit Brain Health

Ayahuasca, the mystical brew steeped in spiritual and cultural significance, is a powerful blend of natural ingredients that has been found to have therapeutic benefits. The active ingredients in Ayahuasca, DMT and β-carbolines, have been found to have neuroprotective and neurorestorative properties in some studies. DMT, one of the active ingredients in Ayahuasca, activates the sigma-1 receptor (Sig-1R), a protein that helps to prevent neurodegeneration and regulates the production of antioxidant compounds which in turn protect brain cells.

Studies have shown that DMT has the ability to protect human brain cells from damage caused by lack of oxygen and increased cell survival.

The main β-carboline found in Ayahuasca, harimine, has been found to have anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and memory-enhancing effects in test-tube and animal studies. Studies also have observed that harimine increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that plays a vital role in nerve cell growth and promotes nerve cell survival.

Moreover, a test-tube study showed that exposure to harmine increased the growth of human neural progenitor cells by over 70% in 4 days, which in turn generates growth of new neural cells in the brain.

This holds the potential for Ayahuasca to be used as a therapeutic tool for neurodegenerative diseases, mental health issues and more.

Ayahuasca May Improve Psychological Well-Being

Ayahuasca has been shown to have potential benefits for psychological well-being by increasing the capacity of mindfulness in the brain.

A recent study involving 20 individuals found that consuming Ayahuasca on a weekly basis for four weeks resulted in the same level of increased acceptance as an 8-week mindfulness program (source). Acceptance is a key component of mindfulness and plays a crucial role in maintaining good psychological health.

This groundbreaking research highlights the potential of Ayahuasca as a powerful tool for personal growth and self-discovery. It also indicates that this traditional brew may be an effective alternative to traditional mindfulness practices, offering a new path towards achieving inner peace and well-being.

Other studies have also yielded similar results, indicating that Ayahuasca may improve mindfulness, mood, and emotional regulation.

A study involving 57 people showed that depression and stress ratings were significantly reduced immediately after consuming Ayahuasca and the effect were still significant 4 weeks later (source). These effects are believed to be mainly due to the presence of DMT and β-carbolines in Ayahuasca.

Ayahuasca May help treat substance abuse, treatment-resistant depression, anxiety, and PTSD

Ayahuasca may offer potential benefits for those struggling with addiction, anxiety, treatment-resistant depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Research suggests that Ayahuasca may be beneficial for treating these conditions.

Explore the potential of Ayahuasca in treating mental health disorders and addiction. A study involving 29 individuals with treatment-resistant depression found that a single dose of Ayahuasca led to significant improvements in depression severity compared to a placebo (source). This is not an isolated finding, as other studies have also reported rapid antidepressant effects of Ayahuasca.

A review of six studies concluded that Ayahuasca has beneficial effects in treating depression, anxiety, mood disorders and drug and alcohol dependence. The results of these studies highlight the potential of Ayahuasca as a powerful tool for treating mental health disorders, offering new hope for individuals struggling with these conditions.

Additionally, previous studies have also focused on the effects of Ayahuasca on addiction disorders, such as addictions to crack cocaine, alcohol, and nicotine, showing promising results. In a 2013 study, 12 individuals with severe psychological and behavioral issues related to substance abuse participated in a 4-day treatment program that included two Ayahuasca ceremonies. At a 6-month follow-up, they demonstrated significant improvements in mindfulness, hopefulness, empowerment, and overall quality of life, and self-reported use of tobacco, cocaine, and alcohol significantly declined.

This highlights the potential of Ayahuasca as a powerful tool for treating addiction and promoting healing.

Although more research is needed, researchers hypothesize that Ayahuasca may also be effective in treating PTSD.

ayahuasca plant medicine

Increased Self-awareness and Introspection

One of the most commonly reported effects of ayahuasca is an increased sense of self-awareness and introspection. This can be experienced as a heightened ability to examine one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and to understand them in a deeper and more meaningful way.

During an ayahuasca experience, individuals often report a sense of being able to see themselves from a different perspective, and to gain a better understanding of the underlying motivations and patterns that drive their actions. This increased self-awareness can lead to a greater sense of personal insight and understanding, and can help individuals to identify and overcome limiting beliefs and negative patterns of behavior.

In addition to increased self-awareness, ayahuasca is also thought to improve introspection, which is the ability to reflect on one’s inner experiences. This can be experienced as a greater ability to focus inward, and to examine one’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions in a more nuanced and detailed way.

This improved introspection can lead to a greater understanding of the self, and can help individuals to develop greater emotional intelligence and resilience.

Increased Empathy and Connection to Others

Some people report that Ayahuasca can increase empathy and connection to others. This is thought to be related to the way that Ayahuasca affects the brain and alters consciousness.

During an Ayahuasca experience, individuals may report feeling a heightened sense of interconnectedness with other people and with the world around them. This can be experienced as a greater sense of compassion and understanding for others, and an increased ability to see things from other people’s perspectives.

This increased empathy can lead to a greater sense of connection and understanding in relationships, and can help to promote greater social cohesion and cooperation.

Additionally, individuals may report a greater sense of unity and oneness with the world, which can lead to an increased sense of compassion and understanding for all living things. This can include feelings of love, compassion and connectedness towards people, animals, plants, and even inanimate objects.

Ayahuasca Can Lead to a Greater Sense of Spiritual Connection and Understanding

Some people report that ayahuasca can lead to a greater sense of spiritual connection and understanding.

During an ayahuasca experience, individuals may report a sense of transcendence and a connection to something greater than themselves. This can be experienced as a feeling of unity with the universe, or a sense of oneness with all things.

Many people describe ayahuasca as a spiritual or transcendental experience, and report feeling a sense of peace, awe, and wonder.

Additionally, ayahuasca can provide a sense of direct, personal experience of the spiritual realm, which can lead to a deeper understanding and appreciation of one’s beliefs and values. This can be experienced as a sense of clarity and insight into one’s spiritual path, and a greater understanding of one’s place in the world.

ayahuasca benefits

Conclusion – What is Ayahuasca?

In conclusion, Ayahuasca is a traditional brew made from the leaves of the Psychotria viridis shrub and the stalks of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, known for its powerful hallucinogenic properties. It has the potential to bring about both positive and negative effects on one’s health.

However, more research is needed to fully understand the safety and efficacy of using Ayahuasca and other psychoactive drugs and psychoactive substances as an alternative treatment for certain health conditions.

If you are considering participating in an Ayahuasca experience, it is important to conduct thorough research and be aware that safety cannot be guaranteed, even if the brew is prepared and administered by an experienced shaman.

The plant medicine path logo
Follow Us Online

The Plant Medicine Path is a guide, community and resource for psychedelic healing. We offer support and information for every step of the psychedelic journey, from pre-ceremony research and education, through choosing qualified providers, to post-ceremony integration.
The Plant Medicine Path and Root to Recovery Geo Directory provides one place for education, information, connection and integration.

Sharing is Caring:

More From The Plant Medicine Path