The negative effects of Ayahuasca are potentially, purging, risk of stroke, in some rare cases psychosis and in extreme situations death. Note, the more severe side effects are able to be quite easily mitigated with some research and basic precautions for the majority of people. Read on for more info on all of these and some of the benefits as well.
TIP: Read the full Ayahuasca preparation guide to see how to drink safely and effectively.
Table of Contents:
- Physical Side Effects (adverse effects)
- Physical health benefits
- What are the psychological effects of Ayahuasca?
- Is Ayahuasca a drug or a treatment?
- What drugs to avoid after Ayahuasca?
- What drugs can you continue to take in preparation or post for Ayahuasca?
Physical Side Effects (adverse effects):
During the Ayahuasca Ceremony it’s common for people to ‘purge’ – i.e. they need to ‘go no. 2’ or experience nausea and vomiting. Vomiting is often seen as a negative of Ayahuasca and while, it doesn’t sound great, in my experience is both necessary and strangely releasing.
Why you ask? Well, Ayahuasca should be thought of as a medicine for people more so than a drug because it displays a lot of potential for healing (famously psychological like being able to cure depression and anxiety clinically speaking). It is unclear, from a scientific point of view, exactly how Ayahuasca style healing comes from vomiting and nausea themselves but, it is my opinion that you could relate purging and healing as follows.
We are organic beings and life’s stresses and traumas, both physical and psychological, can leave their mark physically. As Ayahuasca is healing you, in its mysterious ways, the result could be that these physical remnants of previous issues are dispelled by the body via purging. At least that is my opinion after 9 Ayahuasca ceremonies.
I should note that purging also has a more obvious cause. That being toxins in your body. If you have been treating yourself badly in terms of food and drink then it makes sense that you may have toxins in your body which you would be better off without. That would be one of the reasons why it is recommended to go on a diet(a) for 3 days or more before drinking Ayahuasca – so you can clear out as much toxins from your normal diet as possible in order to get to the healing I mentioned above. A more deep healing let’s say.
Risk of stroke (Serotonin Syndrome):
There is a risk of stroke from drinking Ayahuasca while taking Ayahuasca in combination with certain drugs or medications.
This is because Ayahuasca (specifically the DMT within Ayahuasca) works on the same receptors as some other common drugs and medications, like those used as anti-depressants, and hence if you are taking both at the same time it can be very dangerous and in some cases deadly.
TIP: It’s also useful to avoid the same drugs after Ayahuasca because it is still in your system and can still contraindicate.
Health adverse events related to increased blood pressure:
Ayahuasca necessarily contains something called MAOI’s which stands for Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors. These raise the blood pressure in Ayahuasca Users and can cause health adverse events related to high blood pressure in some scenarios which I will go over now.
- If you eat foods and drinks which also raise blood pressure then the MAOI’s in Ayahuasca in combination with these can lead to dangerous blood pressure levels.
- Examples of foods and drinks would be those which contain Tyramine like over ripe fruit.
- As such the Ayahuasca preparation Dieta reduces the potentially dangerous health effects of high blood pressure by removing these kinds of foods from your diet for 2-4 weeks before you drink Ayahuasca.
- If you already have a condition which means you have high blood pressure then the addition of the MAOI’s in Ayahuasca Tea may also produce dangerous levels of of blood pressure for you.
- I put together a partial list of drugs and medications to avoid and to promote when preparing to take Ayahuasca which you can consult.
- If you have any questions on these it’s best to consult your doctor.
Risk of death:
In some circumstances people have died while drinking Ayahuasca. I wrote more about the risk of dying while drinking Ayahuasca in this article but in short I came to the conclusion that,
- It’s accepted that people don’t die from the Ayahuasca Vine all by itself.
- As far as I can tell around 18 tourists have died in South America from Ayahuasca or Ayahuasca related incidents since 2001.
- Many more tourists died from car related accidents in South America over a similar period.
- If you follow an Ayahuasca Diet, remove pharmaceuticals from your system, find a trusted shaman(a) and take a few other precautions then you are most likely to be safe.
Physical health benefits:
There are physical benefits of Ayahuasca also. Personally, I have experienced a reduction in back tension (an ongoing issue for me) directly from taking Ayahuasca but anecdotally people (including Enrique, the head shaman at Santuario Ayahuasca Retreat) have said that they have been cured of diseases as serious as cancer.
I realize to a western brain this sounds far fetched if not down right manipulative to say that diseases like cancer can be cured by a ‘magical psychedelic brew’ called Ayahuasca from the Amazon but it becomes less preposterous when you consider, as many do, that physical ailments and illnesses can have a basis in stress.
If you’d like to read more about how that can work you could start reading about the work of Dr. J Sarno. He is a western trained medical doctor who came up with a way to conceptualize and deal with certain physical issues (like back problems) by disrupting certain patterns with which your brain can ‘fall into’ due to mental stress.
What are the psychological effects of Ayahuasca?
Depression and anxiety effects after Ayahuasca?
Some people do report increased anxiety post drinking Ayahuasca. Generally speaking people report less anxiety after drinking Ayahuasca, including myself, but that some people do report increased levels of anxiety.
From the two Reddit results I found which reported such an increase I found that,
- one person may have had an un-diagnosed vulnerability to psychosis and later drank too much Ayahuasca which perhaps could have triggered a psychological break. People who have a history of psychosis in their immediate family or personally are not recommended to drink Ayahuasca. Learn more about how to prepare safely for Ayahuasca.
- Another person described that the anxiety was because the insights in her Ayahuasca Ceremonies were that she had treated her body poorly in the past and after Ayahuasca Ceremony her realization presented itself as anxiety over this topic. I suppose that this anxiety would remain until she made a change.
Risk of psychosis:
If you have had a history of psychosis or you have a history in your family then it is not recommended that you take Ayahuasca or, in my understanding, any psychedelics. This is because it is possible that it triggers the psychosis to either come back or induce.
Change of world view:
You don’t hear this too much but I thought I would add it in. For me, Ayahuasca changed my world view. It was a spiritual experience (I know it sounds airy fairy but to be honest I think it’s just what happens when you experience ego dissolution) and this was a change in world view for me because up until that point I didn’t think I had any spiritual aspects to myself.
This caused me to write a lot on this blog as a way to understand Ayahuasca but, also was the cause of a significant amount of adjustment in order to amalgamate these Ayahuasca experiences and views I had. I think I’ve managed to do this well and it’s not an issue anymore but it was the source of quite some thinking for a time.
I include this as a risk because if your whole idea of the world has been turned upside down in the space of a few weeks then it may be a ‘slight’ distraction to you. This is part of the Ayahuasca Integration process and can be overcome by reading spiritual texts like The Vedas as they share similar view points and can allow you to understand the physical and non-physical world without feeling too strange.
TIP: You will still encounter people who have no idea what you are talking about though when it comes to different world views, The Vedas and even what the non-physical world is.
Psychological health benefits of Ayahuasca Ceremonies:
I think the main psychological benefit of Ayahuasca is ego dissolution. This is quite a complex topic with which I have written several articles on (see below) but, think about it quite simply as ‘becoming the observer’ as they say in psychedelic and meditation circles.
Becoming the observer allows you to be conscious of real time of your ego. This could help us in many day to day situations but also more significant ones like addiction. here are some quick examples,
- When having a conversation with a friend on a controversial (to you) topic you find yourself getting annoyed and not being able to articulate yourself well. A certain level of ego dissolution allows you to recognize this in real time and react accordingly. Maybe you need to think about why you are becoming annoyed and place that into context. Is it worth getting annoyed about or not. Often it isn’t and you can dial yourself down as appropriate.
- You have a drinking problem. You find yourself gravitating towards it on the weekends and look forward to those times a lot. You feel better when you ‘get a few drinks in ya’ and feel a great sense of relief from your ‘problems’ or stresses in your life. A certain level of ego dissolution in this scenario is a little like hiking up a mountain. You get a great perspective from this vantage point and can even see the path which lead you to the top. With the ability to observe your own mind you realize that you have fallen into some bad patterns. You use alcohol to deal with psychological and environmental stress instead of dealing with the causes of the stress (in other words the path which lead you to the situation as per our analogy). With your ability to see the mental pathway which brought you to this place you understand that the better response is to perhaps talk about your issues as a way to release them and make certain environmental changes (people in your life etc) to help the situation. Alcohol soon loses its attraction as a substance as your ‘scratch’ is itched by these new methods of dealing with stress.
Is Ayahuasca safe for depression and mental health?
Yes Ayahuasca has a great reputation for actually curing depression and anxiety for some people. In the studies I read curing mean in a clinical sense being a large or 100% reduction in symptoms for 3+ months.
What effect does Ayahuasca have on anxiety?
Anxiety was one of my own issues and it was massively reduced by my time with Ayahuasca. For several weeks and months post Ayahuasca I would say it was completely gone but slowly it comes back over time however, at this point you’ve experienced so much Ego Dissolution that you can mentally ‘step out’ of your anxiety.
Is Ayahuasca a drug or a treatment?
Sometimes Ayahuasca is considered like common street drugs and obviously in a negative sense. When the word drugs is raised people start to think of substance abuse and addiction or bad life choices. But I aim to make an argument that Ayahuasca is more suitably thought of as a treatment or medicine more similar to anti-bacterial or anti-viral drugs are thought of. That is, useful.
The short version of my argument is that Ayahuasca is not addictive like common street drugs where your tolerance increases and you need more and more. It also doesn’t lead to worse life choices like addictive and more common streets drugs.
- It should be noted that Ayahuasca does not contain any lab made ingredients and is simply two plants combined together with water and brewed for 8 hours to make a psychedelic tea.
- Actually with Ayahuasca, at least in my experience, you need less over time and you are more sensitive to psychedelics afterward.
What is Ayahuasca made of?
Ayahuasca Tea is primarily made of two plants those being The Ayahuasca Vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and the Chacruna Plant (Psychotria viridis) although the later is sometimes replaced with an alternative for example, Mimosa Hostilis, in some Ayahuasca brews.
So, how is Ayahuasca Tea psychoactive exactly?
The psychoactive ingredient of Ayahuasca is DMT or Dimethyltryptamine and is provided by or contained within the Chacruna plant (or its alternatives). We will get to the role of DMT in the psychedelic process soon but first it’s necessary to explain the role of The Ayahuasca Vine itself.
TIP: Actually DMT is found in many plants naturally but the people of the Amazon Basin often use Chacruna in their Ayahuasca brews. In the Middle East the Acacia Plant contains DMT and is the tree thought to be ‘the burning bush’ in the Moses receiving the 10 commandments. Were ancient Jewish religions using ‘burning’ the Acacia to put themselves into a psychedelic state.
The Ayahuasca Vine has the special property of containing Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors or MAOI’s. The MOAI’s are key to the psychedelic experience with Ayahuasca. This is because your body has an enzyme, known generally as an Monoamine Oxidase, in your stomach which neutralizes the psychoactive effects of DMT contained in the things that you eat.
TIP: This stops you from tripping in everyday scenarios where it might not be productive to trip when on your lunch break for example but, if you know how to manipulate this natural mechanism you can illicit a visionary experience as and when you see fit.
In this way the Ayahuasca brew is special because it contains the psychoactive ingredient DMT but also the MAOI to allow it to be psychoactive even though your body has a mechanism to stop you from tripping in normal circumstances. I consider this like an Easter Egg in a movie or a cheat code in a video game. It’s a special aspect to be understood at a particular part of your journey through life and used intentionally not with reckless abandon.
You can use this cheat code to heal trauma or perhaps to progress spiritually. I have come to understand that psychological trauma is cured as a by product of spiritual progression. As your spiritual progression increases trauma decreases naturally.
This is actually similar to the approach taken in Alcoholics Anonymous which is also very much a spiritual progression with the side effects of helping with addiction.
Buddhist spiritual progression says something similar that during Vipassana meditation our psyches become more clear and free from many psychological and physical ailments.
What is DMT vs Ayahuasca?
DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) is a naturally occurring chemical compound found in nature however, there is a synthetic version which is referred to as N,N Dimethyltryptamine which is also used by people to induce a psychedelic experience. N,N Dimethyltryptamine or the synthetic version of DMT is not contained within Ayahuasca.
TIP: I want to talk here about Synthetic DMT because it’s a lot stronger than Ayahuasca Tea and as such you have less margin for error if you have psychoses or are on anti-depressant drugs which contraindicate with Ayahuasca.
There are some differences to note,
- There is no vomiting experienced on synthetic DMT whereas there is Ayahuasca.
- Synthetic DMT is MUCH stronger than Ayahuasca.
- The experience of synthetic DMT itself lasts a shorter amount of time, often 10-20 minutes whereas Ayahuasca lasts between 4 and 6 hours generally speaking.
- Experientially Ayahuasca gives you more time in the psychedelic state to work through things at a more slow but still very useful pace. The visionary experience itself can also be very significant.
- Synthetic DMT is much stronger and it is almost standard to feel nobody, have very little memory of the experiences and also to have direct conversations with ‘DMT Entities’ as they are known.
- You can compare synthetic DMT vs Ayahuasca experiential differences where I note more specific differences.
Is Ayahuasca addictive?
The short answer is no or very rarely but I’ll elaborate on that. American Addiction Centers says that,
The use of Ayahuasca does not appear to be associated with the development of significant tolerance. Tolerance occurs when an individual requires a significant increase in the amount of the drug to get the same effects that were once achieved at lower amounts. Because it appears that there is no significant development of tolerance for Ayahuasca, the potential for anyone to develop physical dependence on the drug is extremely rare.American Addiction Centers
In spite of this I have heard of people drinking Ayahuasca year after year only to come back to the same lifestyle and hence fall back into their negative behavioral patterns. These behavioral patterns, and the changing of them post Ayahuasca, would often have been the focus on the Ayahuasca intention in preparation for drinking Ayahuasca but for one reason or another they have not been able to overcome these and hence come back again and again to Ayahuasca in order to ‘start again’ so to speak.
American Addiction Centers also recognizes this phenomena. I would suggest that the kind of person that this may happen to has not understood the integration process or perhaps doesn’t understand the concept of set and setting. There are ways to prepare and focus on particular outcomes of your Ayahuasca that also need to be backed up once you return from Ayahuasca in your lifestyle choices. Ayahuasca is not magic. It’s a known process which can be followed well or not very well.
How is Ayahuasca a treatment or medicine?
Ayahuasca I suggest is more usefully thought of as a health treatment or medicine particularly for psychological ailments in my experience but also for the effects of physical ailments.
From a psychological point of view the research of Robin Carhart-Harris shows us that the effects of Ayahuasca (his research is on psilocybin mostly but this is considered very similar to DMT as a chemical compound so I’m extrapolating his research to Ayahuasca also) the brain is able to undergo Neurogenesis. I suggest Neurogenesis can be considered a treatment for anxiety and depression as well as PTSD and other mental health issues.
This is because, as Robin’s research has shown us, one of the effects of a psychedelic compound, is to reduce activity in some parts of the brain (The Default Mode Network) and allow connections between other parts of the brain which, under normal circumstances would not be able to be formed.
It is my theory, based on my own experience, that these new connections are associated with the visions we can have in an Ayahuasca ceremony and act as alternative neural pathways for our brain to ‘go down’ instead of the old negative ones.
The way I have seen this play out in my own life is that a pattern of negative thinking I had previous to Ayahuasca now has an alternative interpretation of way of thinking about it based on my visionary experiences. these experiences act as a memory full with visuals and emotions.
When I encounter this negative thought I can deliberately and intentionally remember by ceremonial experiences to objectively look at this thought pattern and remind myself of a different interpretation.
I think this is very similar to what happens in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which therapists use to allow someone to objectively view their anxious and negative thought patterns. It’s a similar process of being able to objectively view our thoughts but from a psychedelic source. The former, CBT, I assume also has a similar but less intense effects and I wouldn’t be surprised if it is also helping to allow Neurogenesis. I do think the psychedelic version is better for those with extreme amounts of anxiety, clinical depression and significant mental health traumas like PTSD.
What drugs to avoid after Ayahuasca?
Both before and after Ayahuasca there are some common drugs and medicines to avoid. This is because certain of these drugs have negative side effects with (ie contraindicate or mix unsafely with) Ayahuasca and can cause adverse effects like Serotonin Syndrome and stroke from high blood pressure.
According to the MAPS website which outlines drugs which are contraindicated (not to be combined with) with Ayahuasca. The below is a partial list of drugs with potential side effects when drinking Ayahuasca. Please consult your doctor if you have any doubts or questions.
- deconjestants & allergy drugs,
- drugs for the common cold,
- diet pills,
- asthma inhalers,
- certain antihypertensive drugs,
- sympathomimetic amines (direct & indirect acting) including psuedoephedrine & ephidrine type drugs.
What drugs can you continue to take in preparation or post for Ayahuasca?
Gaia Sagrada, a well respected Ayahuasca Retreat in Ecuador, recommends that you continue to take drugs or medcations for the below conditions in case you need them,
- any drug for diabetes
- any drug for blood pressure
- any drug for heart issues
- any drug for thyroid problems
- or any other condition that your physical well being and health depends on but does not contraindicate as shown in the partial list above. Again, consult your doctor if you have questions about specific a specific drug.