Sacred shamanic plant medicine
Ayahuasca is the name for a sacred shamanic plant medicine from the South American Amazon. Because of its strong cleansing, healing & visionary effect, it has a long history of ritual usage by numerous indigenous tribes. Traditional ayahuasca healing rituals facilitate physical, mental and spiritual healing.
Ayahuasca is known to provide deep revelations about who we really are. Perhaps it is best described as a very large, reflective mirror, because it has the power and capacity to show us our negative thought and behavioral patterns, traumas and deeply rooted anxieties in our innermost being.
Ayahuasca Tea: the brew
The Ayahuasca tea is brewed from two plants – the Ayahuasca vine (Banasteriopsis Caapi) and the leaves of the Chacruna plant (Psychotria Viridis) – that are boiled over a fire for many hours to create a medicinal tea, which is consumed in a ceremonial setting.
The combination of the DMT from the tryptamine carrying leaves and the Monoamine Oxidase (MAO) inhibiting vine, makes it possible for the tryptamines (such as N-N DMT and 5-MEO DMT) to reach receptor sites in the brain, unlocking the potential to produce powerful visions.
Altered states of consciousness
Using ayahuasca changes your state of consciousness, making your inner perception very strong. You gain access to deeper layers of your consciousness, making it possible to reflect intensively on yourself and on your life. This goes deeper than the average therapy, because the vine can reach deeper subconscious levels and reveal what you were not consciously aware of yet.
You might experience that what you have assumed to be the truth for a long time, is actually completely different. Ayahuasca makes you aware of who you really are.
Face-to-face with your own shadow
The process of ayahuasca can confront us with our “shadow-self” – the darker part within us that we do not see or accept – and which is buried deep in our subconscious. This can include emotional barriers and energy blocks. We often try to numb these blockages in our everyday life with all sorts of addictions like alcohol, drugs, medication, (unhealthy) food or by searching for happiness in outward appearances and materialism, which often leads us to even more problems.
Ayahuasca shows us that the true path of healing lies in gently confronting our shadow, not by avoiding our inner conflicts. This is the only way that we can ultimately release the negative energy that has been trapped inside us for a long time, freeing us from pain and suffering. Which creates space for new experiences full of love and acceptance.
Addressing the root cause
Western medicine habitually tries to solve our health problems by treating symptoms with medication, which is sometimes ineffective or is accompanied by harmful side effects. Merely trying to fix the effect, will often only remove us further from working on the root cause.
Ayahuasca is getting increasingly popular
Over the last decades, ayahuasca has gained enormous interest and awareness worldwide. The brew is increasingly used by therapists and shamans with remarkable results, which is backed by scientific research. On one hand, it is an exciting and welcomed development that ayahuasca is influencing the lives of an ever-growing number of people worldwide. On the other hand, however, this comes with a price and all that glitters isn’t gold…
The increasing attention and popularity have also triggered a rise in unqualified, self-appointed “shamans” that abuse the image and practices of the indigenous tribes to exercise power over people in a vulnerable state or to simply exploit vulnerable Westerners searching for spiritual awakening or healing.
The internet is increasingly brimming with dreadful stories of highly dangerous situations, sexual assault and abuse by “shamans”, who pretend to be experienced practitioners of the culture and practice of indigenous South American tribes. These scammers only cause harm and simultaneously undermine the healing potential of the brew.
People frequently wonder if drinking ayahuasca is safe. Drinking ayahuasca is not harmful, yet nothing in life is without risks. There can be risks involved in using ayahuasca (or psychedelics in general) but when you put these into perspective, “the risk can be compared to activities that are considered relatively safe, such as skiing or playing soccer” (emmasofia.org). If you do not use any medicines or drugs and have no physical complaints, drinking ayahuasca is quite safe and nothing can happen to you.
However, it is highly important to follow the strict guidelines and diet, to reduce possible risks. Also, the usage of certain drugs/medication or certain physical abnormalities can strongly conflict with the MAO inhibitors that are present in the brew. Therefore, it is important that you carefully answer the questions on our questionnaire and provide us insights into your medical situation before attending any of our retreats.
If you want to read more about the dangers and safety of ayahuasca, you can read our blog.
Ayahuasca changes your state of consciousness. It enables you to understand things about yourself on a deeper level. When you drink the sacred ayahuasca brew, you drink both DMT and MAO inhibiters, each coming from different (parts of) plants. DMT is a substance that occurs in human bodies naturally (just like in many other plants, grasses, etc.) High amounts of DMT, however, create short but immediate psychedelic and hallucinogenic effects and can, for example, produce the feeling that the user is communicating with other life forms. Many users also experience moving images similar to kaleidoscopes or geometric patterns.
If you were to take only DMT, you would have a high or journey that would probably last 20 minutes at most. Because in the ayahuasca brew the DMT is combined with MAO inhibitors, the enzymes in your body that would normally neutralize the DMT molecule are temporarily “switched off”. This so-called “sacred marriage” between the plants enables the ayahuasca journey to last much longer. However, the MAO inhibitor (the ayahuasca vine) also has an effect of its own. Together they create a synergy: 1 + 1 = 3.
Basically, this medicine takes you on a journey to your own subconscious mind. What you will encounter can therefore not be predicted: it is a very personal experience. The effects of ayahuasca depend on many factors. These factors consist of:
- personal factors (past conditionings, experience, expectation, physical condition, etc.)
- the environment in which it is used (busy, calm, familiar, unsafe, etc.)
- the strength of the brew and the dose taken (the origin of the plants and brewing process).
The mental effects of the medicine often predominate. Many users report receiving insights into one’s own (way of) life, or healing through the reliving of past (traumatic) experiences and seeing them in a different light. Some users talk about magical or religious experiences. The various effects of the ayahuasca brew mainly center around purification of the soul and the release of repressed emotions, having spiritual progress as the end goal. This is only possible if it is used in the right setting, where there is support and knowledge about the sacred plant medicine.
During the journey there will be a change of your perception, you will experience the world around you differently. People sometimes describe an HD-vision, which makes things more colorful and intensive. But your auditory perception can change as well. Often, users speak of a completely different experience of time and space. Besides the mental and psychological effects, there can also be physical effects: nausea, purging and/or intestinal cramps.
One of the most well-known physical side-effects of ayahuasca are nausea and vomiting. Although it happens quite frequently in ayahuasca ceremonies, it doesn’t happen with everyone, and not in every ceremony. You can feel very sick during the ayahuasca ceremony, but you can also not feel sick at all. Again, the experience is very personal and differs from one person to the other as well as from ceremony to ceremony.
People often describe the process of vomiting afterwards as expelling the vileness within themselves. The purge seems a psycho-somatic way of one’s mind and body working together with the medicine to flush out the negativity. Some even literally see visions of snakes, dragons or demons being vomited out into the bucket. Often it takes a whole process/journey of nausea to get to the point of actually being able to vomit. Therefore, many participants experience it as a relief and as very cleansing when it does happen. It is something that happens very naturally when it happens, and it should not be feared. It is a normal and healthy part of the experience and may be a huge contribution to the goal of the work—to let go of past trauma or parts of yourself that no longer serve you.
As described in the previous question, attending an ayahuasca ceremony can help you to receive insights into your own (way of) life and enable you to release repressed emotions. For some people this is experienced as a “life-changing” process. However, there are also people that do not experience it like this. Although it is very important to set a clear intention before the ayahuasca ceremony, we would always advise you to try not to set (too many) expectations. We always say: “you will get what you need, not what you want”. So, it is definitely not a good idea to expect ayahuasca to change your life, even though this might happen. It is important to be open to the experience and to trust that it will always give you something that will help you on your life’s path.
If you want to read more about other people’s experiences, you can also look at our blog.
It is very difficult to describe exactly what ayahuasca feels like. This is because an ayahuasca journey is very personal and your experience depends on many personal factors. We can only give you some descriptions of what users often mention.
Between 15-30 minutes after you drink the ayahuasca brew, you can start to experience the first symptoms. What these are and what it feels like exactly, differs from person to person. Most people start to experience hallucinations, which usually peak at the first hour, and last for three to six hours. During this journey most people experience a change of perception, they experience the world around them differently than they normally do. People can see things more colorfully or hear sounds much more intensively. Furthermore, often users speak of a completely different experience of time and space.
Furthermore, there seems to be quite a consensus amongst users of ayahuasca that during the journey, they are – in varying degrees – rather aware of what is going around them. Even though in phases of the journey they describe themselves as travelling in (an)other dimension(s), they usually are quite self-aware and can still perform ordinary tasks such as going to the toilet.
Though ayahuasca is generally classified as a hallucinogen, many people experience the effects it has on the brain as being very different from other hallucinogens, like LSD and mushrooms. The ayahuasca brew is made from the Ayahuasca vine (Banasteriopsis Caapi) and the leaves of the Chacruna plant (Psychotria Viridis), and neither of these plants are hallucinogens. The leaves from the Psychotria Viridis contain DMT, a structure similar to serotonin. If you would take something that contains DMT, your body’s naturally occurring enzymes would normally neutralize it before it goes to your bloodstream. The vine component of ayahuasca changes that (by deactivating these enzymes temporarily) and lets the DMT cross your brain barrier. The DMT molecule in ayahuasca interacts with your serotonin receptors, which has an impact on things like emotion and vision.
Brain scans of people that drank the ayahuasca brew, show that neural activity increases both the visual cortex as well as the activity in the limbic system. The latter is the system responsible for how you process your emotions and memories. Sometimes scans show a more meditative-like state in the brain. This means that ‘the brain in overdrive’ is calmed down, decreasing the chance to develop anxiety and depression.
It is impossible to describe or predict what visuals you will see on your ayahuasca journey. Some people don’t see any visuals. They describe their journeys more as experiencing emotions and feelings, but not as something very visual. However, the people that do refer to visions, often describe very colorful kaleidoscopic or geometric patterns, (sur)real animals, (descended) loved ones or other extraterrestrial or spiritual beings.
There are many artists and animators that have been attracted to the vividness, beauty and complexity of ayahuasca visions. You can simply google “visuals ayahuasca” to get an impression of visions that others have had and portrayed. However, we would always advise you to try not to set (too many) expectations. We always say: “you will get what you need, not what you want”. You might get to see (similar) visions, but you also may see nothing even close.
It is very difficult to know exactly who first started using ayahuasca and when this was. It is something researchers have puzzled over for decades. Especially over the question of how the synergy between the two components of the brew has been discovered (there’s different myths and theories about that, if you are interested). If you want to read more about the ayahuasca origins, you can also read this article.
The first records of people from Europe – mainly missionaries from Spain and Portugal – encountering ayahuasca in South America stem from the 16th century. These missionaries described it as the work of the devil, as it went completely against what they knew and believed in (religion and culture).
Throughout the following centuries, not much literature has been created about the vine. It was only after the book “The Yage Letters” – a collection of correspondence and other writings by author William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg – was published in 1963, that ayahuasca was more widely known and talked about. Then, the McKenna brothers contributed to spreading the knowledge about ayahuasca with their book True Hallucinations. More recently, ayahuasca has been written about by writers like Martin Goodman and Wade Davis.
No. Although one of the plants used for the ayahuasca brew contains the DMT molecule, it is a basic misconception that ayahuasca is DMT. Especially McKenna spread the idea that Banisteriopsis caapi had no other role in the ayahuasca brew than to make the DMT orally active. And so, ayahuasca became known as “orally active DMT”. However, there is a synergetic effect between the other component of the ayahuasca brew (the vine) and the DMT. These beta-carbolines have an effect of their own and together they create a synergy: 1 + 1 = 3.
Therefore, ayahuasca is different from what people refer to as DMT, which is usually smoked. When DMT is smoked, there is a short – but very intense – effect, that some users describe as being launched by a cannon. The effects of smoked DMT are many times more intense than those of drinking the ayahuasca brew, but last much shorter.
All hallucinogenic substances impact neural activity and optimize brain function. Scientists believe that this is why they make people experience their emotions differently, feel a higher level of consciousness and be more introspective. Though the effects on the brain seem to be somewhat similar, people that have experienced both ayahuasca and other hallucinogens do report differences in the effects.
When ayahuasca is compared with LSD, for example, people describe that with ayahuasca they are still aware that they are hallucinating. And instead of imagining voices or different sounds that aren’t there when on LSD, people on ayahuasca become more sensitive to sounds, experiencing them as much more intense.