Everything You Need to Know About Ayahuasca

If you’ve been following drug news such as marijuana legalization in several states, CBD hitting your local supermarket and mushrooms becoming decriminalized in Denver—you might be curious about ayahuasca tea, more commonly just called ayahuasca. This hallucinogenic brew was first popularized by indigenous cultures in South America. But what exactly does it do?


Here’s What’s in Ayahuasca

The active ingredient in ayahuasca tea is DMT. The hallucinogenic properties of this drug are activated by the alkaloids naturally present in ayahuasca. The ayahuasca plant is legal in the United States, but DMT is not. It’s a Schedule I drug, just like heroin and cocaine.

However, it is legal in other places. South America has become a popular spot for ayahuasca tourism. Chelsea Handler, for example, traveled to Peru to try ayahuasca on her Netflix show “Chelsea Does.” The Rythmia resort in Costa Rica is one of the most popular and renowned destinations for this kind of thing. The hosts of Almost 30, Krista Williams and Lindsey Simcik, went there and subsequently recorded three podcasts about it.

Potential Benefits Of Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca is said to help heal trauma, make life decisions and cure addiction. If you’re at a crossroads in your life, want to learn more about yourself or just have a really deep spiritual experience, this may be something you want to explore. 

According to Dr. Nikola Djordjevic MD ayahuasca interacts directly with your brain’s mode network primarily through DMT that is slowly absorbed by the body. “The gradual release of the substance enables the experience to last several hours. This happens because the vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) when combined with the Psychotria ciridis plant containing DMT, slows the absorption of DMT that would otherwise be quickly digested.”

What Happens During An Ayahuasca Ceremony

Using ayahuasca isn’t like using mushrooms or another hallucinogen. It’s not a recreational drug so much as a spiritual one. People even liken using ayahuasca to putting therapy on fast-forward.

“The brain goes into a meditative state, slowing down the parts that are responsible for anxiety, depression and phobias to name a few,” says Dr. Djordjevic.

“The brain becomes a tabula rasa of sorts, becoming more self-reflective and open to changes in behavioral patterns. The experience is comparable to similar mind states that can be achieved through meditation.”

While this sounds like an amazing recipe for enlightenment, as with any drugs, there are side effects that can be less than pleasant, including vomiting and diarrhea. This can also lead to dehydration, which can be incredibly dangerous. Most facilities recommend a specific cleanse and give you a “dos and don’ts” list before your ceremony to prevent these issues.

It’s also important to understand that ceremonies are a group activity. Dr. Djordjevic highly suggests having a shaman or guide. “The reason being people may feel a bit lost during the experience or even freaked out, so it’s good to have someone that is able to guide them.”

An Eye-Opening Experience?

When it comes to ayahuasca, no two trips are alike. Reddit user Psychonaut1984 describes his experience to be dreamy and life-changing. 

“The feeling was a very blissful one and I have never felt so relaxed and content ever. I felt love coarse [sic] through me, it was nice. I learnt some valuable lessons from it too, I had worked myself up beforehand and was a nervous wreck going into it. I asked Ayahuasca to be gentle with me and I believe that’s exactly what she did. I don’t think I’m done with Mother Ayahuasca, I feel I have so much more to learn, I think I could go deeper and now the fear of the unknown won’t be as intense going into a second ceremony. It was a beautiful experience and since I got back I feel refreshed and have some direction in my life, there’s a lot of work to be done and I look forward with great respect to meeting with Ayahuasca again.”

Lasting Side Effects

But not everyone comes out feeling positive about their experience. Reddit user Reneequetzali, was anything but relaxed.

“I had such an intense otherworldly fear that I completely fractured during my second ceremony. The next day I was disoriented but happy to be alive… until day 3 when My body went into shock. I developed tremoring, loud ear ringing, nightmares, exaggerated startle response, intense fear and anxiety and was admitted to emergency psychological services with diagnosis acute stress response and inability to cope.”

It appears the experience changed him, but not for the better. His post continues:

“Since then, I have suffered immensely with insomnia, body tremoring, head vibrations and strange face and forehead burning sensations. The worst is the anxiety that feels like my whole being is going to be ripped apart. I have even contemplated suicide as I have tried practically everything to get out of this state…It has been agreed upon many therapists, psychiatrists, and shaman that I developed a PTSD-like sequence from the ayahuasca ceremony itself.”

While we don’t know where this person’s ceremony took place, what state of mind they were in, etc, it shows the importance of seriously understanding what you’re getting into and who you’ll be entrusting your health with before considering any sort of drug experience.

The Consensus

Your mileage may vary. Even if ayahuasca is a spiritual drug, it’s still a drug and must be used responsibly. It’s best to follow directions beforehand and during the ceremony. And if you can’t go on a retreat (or you’re afraid to) but you want a profound change through spirituality—perhaps it’s time to try some yoga and meditation. 

aSweatLife in no way encourages illegal activity or harmful behavior. 


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About Amanda Lauren

Originally from New York City, Amanda Lauren currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two dogs Milo and Lulu. Rarely seen in an actual gym, she is a group fitness enthusiast who enjoys Pilates (both East Coast and West Coast styles), spin, barre, power plates, yoga and her newest obsession, versa climbing. She will try any group fitness class at least once. When Amanda isn’t working out or trying to find the perfect pair of pink sneakers, she blogs about her adventures in fitness as well as fashion, lifestyle and beauty on ItsAmandaLauren.com.