** Updated March 2023 **
Yes Ayahuasca is good for anxiety in that it can change your ‘mental perspective’ and you can ‘step out’ of you the part of your ‘mind’ which is experiencing the anxiety.
NOTE: This article contains medical information but this is based on my own personal research and is not a replacement for seeing your own doctor or medical experts. I am not medically trained or qualified to offer medical advice.
Table of Contents:
- Background to drinking Ayahuasca
- Why I wanted to drink Ayahuasca
- What were the experiences like?
- Can Ayahuasca help with anxiety and depression?
- What if you have anxiety during, before or just after a ceremony?
- How to avoid the ‘bad trip’ or panic level anxiety during a ceremony?
- Can Ayahuasca do permanent damage?
- Should you do Ayahuasca if you have anxiety?
Background to drinking Ayahuasca
In late 2018 I drank Ayahuasca at Santuario retreat near Pucallpa, Peru for the first time. I drank 3 times in 5 days. Why did I travel thousands of kilometers and spend thousands of dollars on airfares to drink Ayahuasca? Because I wanted to change anxious negative thought patterns I had and I was somehow or another drawn to the idea of Ayahuasca. I had never drunk before and I had never experimented with other psychedelics previously either.
After listening to several Joe Rogan podcasts with his psychedelic buddies (Duncan Trussel, Aubrey Marcus and Kyle Kingsbury) and managing to get away from work for a few months (ie quit salary job and go freelancing) I was able to find a friend of a friend who recommended Santuario to me and I was off.
Why I wanted to drink Ayahuasca:
Mainly I saw Ayahuasca as a ‘self-help’ tool. I had always been interested in this topic ever since being a teenager. In hindsight, this was probably because I felt broken in some way – I was trying to fix myself.
More specifically the reason I wanted to drink was that I understood from these podcasts that it was related to neuro-genesis and I felt that this would help me to overcome some negative and intensely anxious thought patterns which I had had for a long time. I felt that these were holding me back from achieving what I wanted to with my life.
Turns out I was right on that front as well. The first and second time I drank Ayahuasca my intentions, among other things, were to work on these anxious and negative thought patterns. During these trips my anxiety was largely cured. I’ll explain how I integrated it and exactly how Ayahuasca was good for my anxiety. Keep reading!
What were the Ayahuasca experiences like?
I wrote several trip reports detailing the intentions I mention above and the psychedelic experiences themselves. Specifically here are the reports from my first Ayahuasca experience and second Ayahuasca experience at Santuario.
Can Ayahuasca help with anxiety and depression?
Anecdotally, I think Ayahuasca can help with anxiety and depression. My experience with Ayahuasca did several things for me to help and even how Ayahuasca cured my anxiety. Let’s discuss more why I think this is.
What Ayahuasca does to the brain?
Ayahuasca has a significant affect on the brain. Once it has been digested and passed through the blood brain barrier, the DMT** (DMT being the chemical compound N,N-Dimethyltryptamine) contained within the Ayahuasca Tea attaches to the Serotonin Receptors in your brain.
Once this has occurred several things happen. From a neurological point of view it is thought that your Default Mode Network is decreased in it’s activity and normally inactive parts of the brain start to ‘talk’ to one another or rather form new connections. The work of neuroscientist Robin Carhart-Harris has shown this.
From an experiential point of view it feels as if you are undergoing some sort of ego dissolving experience and people report having visual and auditory hallucinations for potentially 4+ hours. These experiences are often very rewarding spiritually and psychologically although some people do struggle in them from time to time describing a ‘bad trip’.
**DMT is the hallucinogenic ingredient in Ayahuasca. It is chemically very similar to Serotonin. An important chemical in terms of a humans’ neurological functions.
Of note also, is that while DMT is contained within the Ayahuasca brew via it’s plant ingredients (that plant being Chacruna usually) it is also naturally produced within the human body. Notably the lungs and liver. It is hypothesized to also be produced int he brain but as I understand it this hasn’t been confirmed yet scientifically. Your body is quite used to and knows what to do with DMT. I don’t mean that your body is used to hallucinating on a person by person basis but, biologically your body is familiar with it.
Hallucinations during Ayahuasca ceremonies constitute ‘memories’ in which to base a new perspective of yourself:
Drinking Ayahuasca makes you hallucinate. These hallucinations are usually very personal and based upon your own issues and experiences. They are tailored to you.
With your intention you can ‘control’ or rather direct the general direction of a ceremony. Not always but, I’ve definitely done it before. In my first few ceremonies I focussed my intention upon my desire to understand and fix my negative and anxious thought patterns.
It’s my suggestion that hallucinations are so vivid, memorable and positive that they can act as a ‘memory’ which you can recall and use later to base a new view of yourself on.
In the months and years to come after your Ayahuasca ceremonies you must recall these hallucinations and how they related to and what they taught you about your anxiety. You must use this as a ‘foothold’ to go forth and re-write your thought patterns.
Here is how it played out for me in particular,
- I hallucinated about certain encounters when I was a child which led me to feel anxiety and think negatively of myself.
- Via the hallucination I understood why this situation occurred and I understood why the person who caused it did so.
- This gave me perspective such that when I next found myself thinking negatively and anxiously I had a perspective of that thought as being ‘false’ or ‘of me’ but not ‘defining me’. This will make more sense in the next section where I’ll expand upon it more with the concept of ‘being the observer’.
- This ‘re-framing’ of the thought pattern was the foothold I needed to change it. I was able to have this foothold because of the significant and astoundingly memorable experience of hallucinating on Ayahuasca.
Is this way, psychedelics serve as a creator of new neural pathways.
Ayahuasca is an ego dissolver:
Ayahuasca, and other psychedelics, act to dissolve the ego.
During my research writing this site, I have understood that the ego acts as an intermediary between an inner part of you and the outer world in which we live. It helps you navigate your way socially and practically. In this way Ayahuasca can help with social anxiety as well as anxiety more generally.
You can read more about how I came to this conclusion in another article where I describe in more detail this notion using the ideas of Sigmund Freud on ego.
Why is ego dissolution important in relation to relieving my anxiety? Well, the thought pattens happen in your ego. They are pathways or patterns created in your brain by your experiences through life. My anxiety was written into my ego by my experiences as a child.
If the ego is a navigator of sorts then it needs a map. The map of how you should navigate the landscape of your world is written by your experiences. Scare a child too strongly, consistently and un-necessarily and you will program a map into him/her which forces them to create a map of the world as a place to be weary of. This produces an anxious person, as it did me.
Ego dissolution or ‘becoming the observer’ allows you to have an arms length from this pre-programed map. I am not the map but, the reader of the map. Before psychedelics I thought I was the map. After psychedelics I understood that I am actually the reader of the map.
On top of that my map was written in a particular way which I now see much more clearly. As such, I know that it sometimes leads me down anxiety ridden pathways. Being aware of this allows me to choose another path by using my hallucinations as a ‘foothold’ as I described previously.
When I recognize a negative or anxious thought arising I can recall my hallucinogenic experiences and use them as a foothold with which to re-write my map.
What if you have anxiety during, before or just after a ceremony?
I hope I have made it clear (it’s difficult to masterfully and articulately describe) that anxiety is your ego alerting you to a potential danger. In my childhood I got anxious whenever around my Dad. He was the source of my anxiety and my ego was alerting me to be aware around him because he was a threat.
My point here is to suggest that your ego acts as an alarm for things in which it sees as dangerous either to you or indeed even to itself being in power as the navigator.
It’s my suggestion that if you are having deep anxiety in a ceremony then it is entirely possible that your ego has identified a danger to itself being in control. If psychedelics are a dissolver of ego then that means that it isn’t in the power seat anymore or at least will be undermined in the future..
Believe it or not, in my experience, the ego will act to secure its power over you also. I’m suggesting that anxiety attacks are sometimes pah for the course on psychedelics.
NOTE: I don’t want you to get the wrong idea here. I am not against having an ego but I suppose it’s easy for it to have the balance of power evenly split between your ego and the rest of you.
How to avoid the ‘bad trip’ or panic level anxiety during a ceremony?
To a degree, I think this is part of the process of using psychedelics however, that being said there is a time and a place for it. Ideally, after you’re experienced and ready for it.
I suggest that the best way to avoid having very anxious periods during or in proximity to a ceremony is to control the dosage. Too much Ayahuasca (or other psychedelic) too soon could lead you to a level of ego dissolution for which you are not prepared yet.
Go slow with half a glass first and build up to it. In many Ayahuasca ceremonies you can drink more than one time and so could perhaps drink 1/2 a cup and then an hour or so later drink another.
NOTE: Talk to your facilitator or shaman in order to arrange this.
Can Ayahuasca do permanent damage?
Ayahuasca can do permanent damage under some circumstances but if you know how to prepare for Ayahuasca the chances are very very small. I’ve covered this in several other articles but I’ll try to summarize it here.
- Ideally you should not be on any medications while you prepare for, during ceremony and afterwards as well. Specifically, you should avoid medication for depression as the DMT in Ayahuasca and the depression medications act on the same serotonin receptors in the brain leading to overdose or Serotonin aka ‘Serotonin Sickness’.
- You should not have a direct family or personal history of bi-polar, schizophrenia or daytime hallucinations. Ayahuasca and other psychedelics can exacerbate these and lead to a mental break.
- If you have a history of high blood pressure you should consult your doctor before drinking Ayahuasca as it can raise your blood pressure even further which can be a problem.
- There may be other medical issues which preclude you from drinking Ayahuasca. The above are just some I have understood from my research into it. Please consult your doctor.
- You can read more about Ayahuasca and its dangers and also about Ayahuasca deaths in South America.
Should you do Ayahuasca if you have anxiety?
Assuming you don’t have any medical or psychological reason to avoid psychedelics I think you should consider it as one possible tool to help.
I would stress that Ayahuasca is not a magical pill and while you may benefit from it you will still have to ‘work’ at it post Ayahuasca. This is what is known as integration and often it ends up in picking up life long habit like meditation, removal of certain people or activities/habits which supported your anxiety in the past.
I think that the main benefit for Anxiety is that Ayahuasca could provide a way to ‘step out’ of your anxiety and view it from a ‘place’ where you are not ‘in’ your anxiety and identify with it but are adjacent to it. This change in perspective can give you some distance from it and you can start to deal with it logically. I liken this to how sometimes a close friend can see something about yourself which you can’t and can help you to navigate a path of action given you are ‘too close’ to the issue.