** Updated, March 2023 **
The most powerful effects of Ayahuasca last between four and six hours on average and will often stop when the ceremony stops as the ceremonial procedure is a large part of the effects you feel while drinking Ayahuasca.
That being said, the insights you receive in an Ayahuasca Experience can last weeks, months or years after you drank Ayahuasca.
Table of Contents:
- Common Ayahuasca effects
- Is Ayahuasca safe?
- Ceremonial setting while drinking Ayahuasca
- What happens in an Ayahuasca Ceremony?
- How does Ayahuasca change you?
- Further reading
Common Ayahuasca effects:
The Ayahuasca Vine (banisteriopsis caapi) itself contains a Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitor (MAOI) while the Chacruna plant (often but not always) provides the DMT or Dimethyltriptamine.
These two plants are specifically chosen for the brew. The MAOI from the Ayahuasca vine neutralizes an enzyme in your stomach (an MAO) which under normal circumstances would inhibit or neutralize the effect of the psychoactive DMT in the Chacruna Plant.
In this way the effects of the Ayahuasca Tea are to allow the DMT to pass from your stomach, to your blood stream, and then to the brain where it attaches to your ‘Serotonin Receptors’ in the brain. It is at this point that a psychedelic experience ensues.
How long does it take for an Ayahuasca Experience to take effect?
When taking Ayahuasca the brew starts to take effect within as little as 15 minutes in some cases. It can take longer to take effect in my experience, even up to a few hours.
What are the positive effects of Ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca users report many positive effects of a therapeutic style Ayahuasca session including,
- Ego dissolution – feelings of one-ness with the world and others. Feelings of humility and love for others and yourself.
- Receiving insights into your life via hallucinations.
- Hallucinations are very nature based where you will often see animals and forests.
- Physically it is common to need to ‘purge’: Purging in Ayahuasca ceremonies is usually throwing up or ‘going number 2’. This can be uncomfortable at times however, it also feels good as what you are purging is energetically bad for you. You are essentially cleansing your body of the organic results of bad energy and as such you often feel great directly afterward.
- Spiritual experiences: Many people find ‘something more’ in life from Ayahuasca Ceremonies. In my experience, this can be explained simply by describing a significant amount of ego dissolution. Once you’ve been through several Ayahuasca trips its possible to understand that once your ego (aka mind) is temporarily reduced in activity (as it is under Ayahuasca) then what is left (some say consciousness or soul) is allowed to be in control. This is what leads to feelings of one-ness and understanding that there is some kind of common energy to us, the world and all that’s in it. These can be very profound and provide an amazing amount of perspective and hope to your life.
- Reduction or removal of issues of addiction for example addition to alcohol and addiction more generally.
Is Ayahuasca safe?
Assuming you take several precautions drinking Ayahuasca can be very safe but there are some basic precautions to take to avoid any permanent damage. Ayahuasca can be made very safe if you take into consideration the below factors.
Psychological history (mental health)
Avoid drinking Ayahuasca if you have a history of psychosis (personality disorders, hallucinations or extreme paranoia etc.) personally or in your close family. If you have anxiety or depression that is fine as these mental health issues are usually helped by Ayahuasca.
What medications to avoid with Ayahuasca?
Avoid taking any kind of pharmaceutical drugs during the time with which you expect to drink Ayahuasca but if that is not an option for you then there are some medications that are considered ok to take while drinking Ayahuasca but results can vary from person to person so you definitely speak to your doctor about any medications you are concerned about.
In Peru, commonly travelers will want to take altitude meds and or meds for malaria. Some of these can react poorly with Ayahuasca.
Other common meds would be SSRI’s for depression which can also make you very sick if combined with Ayahuasca.
It’s even possible to ibuprofen can make you sick during Ayahuasca.
The best way to avoid any negative effects is to not have any meds in your system at all while preparing for Ayahuasca. This means figuring out what you’re taking and how long it stays in your system. Speak to a doctor if you are unsure about this.
The potential negative effects from combining Ayahuasca and medications vary from nausea to stroke depending on the severity. Note: that these can be quite easily avoided by removing any meds from your system prior to drinking Ayahuasca.
You can read more about the potential negative effects of Ayahuasca where give a partial list of pharmaceutical drugs to avoid in preparation for Ayahuasca. I say partial list because you should really consult your doctor for a full list and how these may apply to you.
Adhering to a preparation Dieta which excludes negative influences and certain foods from your life for at least 3 days (but preferably 2-4 weeks) before drinking Ayahuasca.
Health wise the Dieta does a few things,
- It reduces the amount of processed foods in your diet which is generally better for your health.
- It balances PH levels as many processed foods are acidic (lots of sugar for example). Acidic diet can lead to inflammation and inflammation is a common started for many kinds of health issues.
- It also reduces Tyramine which can cause high blood pressure and heart issues if combined with Ayahuasca. Ayahuasca as a brewed Tea contains MAOI’s which also raise blood pressure. High blood pressure can cause health concerns also so the dieta reduces the chance of these becoming an issue.
The Dieta is not just about physical foods but also other interests like recreational drugs, sex and other aspects. You can read more about what exactly you need to remove from your diet here and view examples of Ayahuasca recipes.
What are the side effects of Ayahuasca?
The negative effects of Ayahuasca can be avoided with some proper research and preparation but these are,
- Serotonin Syndrome: If you combine Ayahuasca and most anti-depressant medications the effects can be an overloading of your Serotonin Receptors which will basically make you incapacitated for days or weeks and in extreme cases can lead to death.
- You should remove any anti-depressants and some other medications completely from your system in preparation for drinking Ayahuasca.
- Psychological break: If you or your immediate family have a history of psychosis (bi-polar, schizophrenia) then drinking Ayahuasca can exacerbate these and cause them to be worse or even create a psychological break. The effects of which are a general lack of being able to motivate yourself and ‘get stuff done’. If you have this kind of mental health history it is beast you avoid psychedelics and instead try less intense but similar things like meditation and yoga.
- Anxiety and Depression: The effects of drinking Ayahuasca for some people, although it seems to be the minority, report feeling more anxious and depressed. In my experience this is either because they had a history of psychosis and have taken too much psychedelics or have learned in ceremonies that cause them to worry about their lifestyle choices. In the former case see the above bullet point and for the later this is a normal part of many peoples ceremonies and you need to learn to integrate your insights from ceremonies in order to properly deal with them. Often this means lifestyle changes.
Is Ayahuasca a drug?
Sometimes Ayahuasca is relegated to the same category as other drugs but from my experience the term drugs refers to pharmaceutical drugs which have a negative impact on health or perhaps a negative addictive side effects. Ayahuasca as a substance is not usually associated with abuse and drug addiction and is often more a support mechanism for your physical and mental health.
This is because Ayahuasca can improve brain health through neurogenesis and also does so with insights and reflection upon your own behavioral patterns with the result of often us improving our lifestyle choices.
While Ayahuasca can be seen as a drug and lumped in with other drugs, properly applied Ayahuasca is more aptly described as a medicine.
Ayahuasca vs DMT
Ayahuasca Tea contains DMT (Dimethyltriptamine) which is a psychoactive chemical compound found naturally in many plants around the world. The DMT is provided by the Chacruna Plant usually.
It is also possible to get a lab produced version of DMT which is known as N,N-Dimethyltriptamine which is a very pure and more potent psychedelic than the natural version. I can’t stress how much more potent DMT is than even a strong Ayahuasca brew.
When people are referring to DMT they are often referring to to the lab produced chemical compound which is much more potent, and has effects which are much shorter but much more intense. You can read more about the kinds of effects that DMT can have vs Ayahuasca by reading this article I wrote comparing the two.
Ceremonial setting while drinking Ayahuasca:
Ayahuasca usually takes place in an Ayahuasca Ceremonial setting at an Ayahuasca Retreat. This involves you, one or more Shaman(a) who lead the ceremonies and other participants like yourself.
What happens in an Ayahuasca Ceremony?
Ceremonies usually begin in the evening around 8pm and will generally go through til about midnight.
You will arrive in a dark Maloca (building where the ceremonies takes place) and it will be dimly lit with candles. You will take your place on a mattress and sit upright as you wait for the ceremony to begin.
Once everyone has arrived the Shaman(a) will begin the ceremony by asking participants to come up to him and drink a cup of Ayahuasca. It can taste horrible at first but you get used to it by ceremony number two.
Once you have drunk you will return to the mattress and wait for everyone else to drink. Once everyone has drunk then the Shaman(a) will start to build the energy in the room by smoking Mapacho Cigarettes (wild tobacco from the jungle) and making loud blowing noises as they push energy around the room with their breath.
At this point, you should start to focus on your ‘intentions’ for the ceremony. These are the topics or questions or behaviors that you’d like help with from Mother Ayahuasca. This is a very important part of the process as in this way you can guide your Ayahuasca Experience and make it much much more useful. You can read about how to create your own intentions here.
Soon after, they will begin to sing. These songs are called ‘Icaros’. This helps dramatically to build the energy in the room and is a key component to Ayahuasca being able to work its magic. The Icaros are a little like a tool the Shaman(a) use to work with Ayahuasca. These are very important to a ceremony and its ability to help you. Ceremonies without Icaros will not be very effective at all.
Below are some Icaros from a ceremony which I like. It is also really good for meditating at any time as well. They are very calming and soothing.
By this time perhaps 30 minutes to 1 hour has passed and you will quite possibly be having hallucinations. It is also possible that you haven’t experienced hallucinations yet and at this point you may decide its time for another cup. I know that was the case in my first ceremony. In the following 2 ceremonies I needed only one cup to hallucinate and have a great experience.
If you are interesting in learning about what kind of hallucinations I personally had then feel free to read through some of my Ayahuasca experiences here. I saw spirits, experienced ego dissolution and made a lot of great insights into my life both past and future. Yours will be different but they might help you understand the types of things which are possible.
So, at this point you are hallucinating and you should still be focussing on your intentions. The hallucinations you experience will be very dependent on you. They are different for everyone but you should be getting answers or having quite strong feelings in relation to these intentions.
At some point during the ceremony, whenever is appropriate to your Ayahuasca Experience, you may feel the need to purge. This is when you need to throw up (bowl provided) or ‘go number 2’ as necessary. If it’s the later obviously you should try to get to the bathroom.
Note: Not everyone purges but most at least throw up – don’t worry it actually feels like a relief when this happens.
The psychedelic state of the trip could last perhaps 1-2 hours. After this time the Shaman(a) will call you up again for what is known as a ‘limpiasis’ or cleansing. This is when the Shaman(a) gives you a personal blessing by singing a particular Icaros just for you and blowing smoke over you.
The limpiasis will last approximately 5 minutes or sometimes less. At this point you will return to your mattress and wait for the others to get theirs. You may go back into a trip state or you may just lye there quietly contemplating the experience you just had. Either is fine but in general the ceremony is starting to wind down.
Soon after, the Shaman(a) will start to come round to you on your mattress and bring you your very own Mapacho Cigarette. You don’t have to smoke it but if you don’t then keep it as it has been blessed especially for you.
You may purge again while smoking the Mapacho. At this point it’s close to midnight and you’ve been in an Ayahuasca Trip for about four hours. The ceremony will stop and the Shaman(a) will call an end to the ceremony and you can get up and leave the Maloca.
How long does it take for Ayahuasca to wear off?
In my experience the effects of the Ayahuasca experience itself can stop as soon as you open your eyes even when you are in ceremony. I suspect this can vary between individuals and how strong of an experience you are having. If you are having difficulty coming out of an experience you could try to add some light to the occasion as this will add sensory and light information to your brain and you can use this as a distraction from the internal mental experience.
Certainly by the time you stop the ceremony the hallucinatory effects should have worn off but the Ayahuasca is still in your system. By the time you sleep you should feel fine. Technically speaking the DMT from the Ayahuasca is still in your system for perhaps weeks depending on its half life. This is why it’s recommended to keep the Dieta even after you drink Ayahuasca as it is still working upon you.
How does Ayahuasca change you?
How do you feel the day after Ayahuasca?
Directly after the ceremony you may feel a little weak from purging or you may feel amazing due to the love and energy you felt from Mother Ayahuasca. In any case you can basically do what you want. Go lye down, speak with your other ceremony goers and drink some tea, play some music or sing some more. You may feel hungry so you could eat a small meal or a fruit snack. Make sure you drink a decent amount of water as well.
This will tee you up for a better day tomorrow if you are feeling a little drained. The next day you may feel very good and a ‘load of your shoulders’ or you may have had a difficult experience and you are feeling a little shaken. Either way the next day after a ceremony is a time to relax, do some journaling, some light exercise perhaps like walking or yoga. Spend time in nature if you can. Don’t do that much that is strenuous like working or intense physical exercise of discuss politics or other similar inflammatory topics.
What are the lasting effects of Ayahuasca?
In the medium to long term Ayahuasca experiences can change you in that they provide an ego dissolving experience and change your world view of various things, could cure or help reduce problems of addiction (alcohol for example) and reduce anxiety.
I do find that these effects slowly wane after time but personally the ego dissolution has stayed with me even years after drinking Ayahuasca. I would describe it these days as a mental shift that I can perform which allows me to ‘step outside’ of my mental state and not identify or be consumed overly with a passing mood of anger or sadness. In this way Ayahuasca can be good for anxiety as this is also a feeling that you can ‘step out of’.
I hope you have been able to understand the question ‘how long does Ayahuasca last?’. I have tried to give you some experience from my own Ayahuasca ceremonies but in reality the individual and also the shaman running the ceremonies can mean that the actual length of time can differ.
If you would like to read more about Ayahuasca then check out these categories or other articles I’ve written on this site:
- Ayahuasca Deaths: how they happen and how to avoid it: The drink itself is not dangerous but there can be circumstantial events which can and have caused a small amount of Ayahuasca deaths.
- Integrating Post Ayahuasca: Learn about how to interpret your hallucinations and generally understand the various ebbs and flows of integrating these powerful and spiritual experiences once you are back in your ‘real world’.