What is Ayahuasca made of?

What is Ayahuasca made of?

Brewed Ayahuasca Tea is made of The Ayahuasca Vine itself combined with (usually) Chacruna Bush leaves and boiled with water for 8+ hours. Chacruna provides the psychoactive ingredient being DMT and The Ayahuasca Vine allows it to pass to across your blood brain barrier to your Serotonin Receptors where it causes a psychedelic effect.

Table of Contents:

How is Ayahuasca made?

Ayahuasca is made from The Ayahuasca Vine itself (Banisteriopsis caapi) and often (but not always) the leaves of the Chacruna Bush (Psychotria viridis).

TIP: Sometimes the Chacruna leaves are swapped out for a different plant depending on the tradition with which it is being created within. For example, a native tradition from Colombia may not use Chacruna but perhaps another plant whereas a tribe from Peru probably will use Chacruna. The Ayahuasca Vine itself remains consistent in the brew.

The Banisteriopsis Caapi and Psychotria Viridis plants are combined into a mixture and sometimes some wild tobacco or other medicinal plants are added as per the shaman(a)’s recipe. Water is added and the brew is boiled for a whole day whereby it is reduced to a thick, dark green and brown bitter tasting tea. This is the brew which is later used in Ayahuasca Ceremonies.

TIP: If you have chosen one of the quality Ayahuasca retreat centers well then the brew is probably similar to the above. If you have found some nefarious character who is out to make a quick buck off of a tourist in Latin America then you may not be able to be so sure they have made a brew which is pure and medicinally focussed. So choose your retreat wisely by doing research and asking questions until you are happy.

What I have described above is a very western way of understanding Ayahuasca and its brewing process. A shaman(a) (plant doctor you could say) from the Amazon Basin would probably not describe an Ayahuasca brewing process as I have done. I am a western person with western understandings of the world. I think from a scientific perspective as culturally this is how my brain works.

A shaman(a) has a different understanding of the world I suspect. For them the world is full of ‘animal spirits’ and ‘plant spirits’. Western people would call this world view Animism. The Jaguar has a spirit. Plants have a spirits – some ‘good’ and some ‘bad’.

The Ayahuasca Vine has a spirit and importantly that is Madre de Ayahuasca (or Mother Ayahuasca). She is the one who is in reality doing the healing in an Ayahuasca ceremony. The shaman(a) is her backup singer so to speak who conjures with Icaros (songs sung during ceremony) and provides a spiritually hygienic space to drink Ayahuasca and later closes off a ceremony in a similarly spiritually hygienic way.

While harvesting The Ayahuasca Vine and the Chacruna Leaves used in the brewing process a shaman(a) will employ their understanding of the spirit world and harvest in a way which is in balance with this world view. This means performing various traditions as they harvest.

You can learn more about Ayahuasca’s brew process here. This video is filmed at Santuario Huishtin Ayahuasca Retreat where I also drank Ayahuasca in 2018 and 2019.

The chemical version of Ayahuasca is synthetic DMT

The DMT in Ayahuasca Tea is natural and occurs in the Chacruna plant which is one of its component parts as well as The Ayahuasca Vine itself.

Synthetic DMT is made in a lab. It is possible to obtain and smoke synthetic DMT to elicit a much stronger experiences that the natural DMT in brewed Ayahuasca Tea.

Both can be transcendental but pure synthetic DMT is very very strong indeed and lasts a lot shorter time at 10-15 minutes vs 3-5 hours for an Ayahuasca ceremony. Below I have some examples of trip reports from synthetic DMT and compared them to the experiences from my own Ayahuasca experiences. To say they are ‘quite different’ is an understatement.

For example, a description of a DMT experience from the book Inner Paths to Outer Space by R Strassman et al.,

Lucas approached a landing bay on a space station, accompanied by humanoid automatons. Chris met three reptilian creatures who opened up their bodies, showing him the nature of their reproductive processes. Jeremiah landed in a nursery where alien caretakers looked after him, but only in a most casual manner. He then experienced a session in which his brain was reprogrammed by a “master technician” sitting at a computer console. Dmitri found himself tested, probed, and examined by “aliens” in a high technology laboratory, and made a deeply sensual connection with one in particular, “who seemed in charge.” Ben also found himself on an examination table; however, the beings appeared to him as Saguaro cactus creatures, one of whom implanted a probe under his skin. When Ben came to, he was convinced that this implant was a tracking device and had no doubt about its real, but intangible, presence.

Quote from Part 4, Contact through the Veil. Inner Paths to Outer Space, 2008, R. Strassman et. al.

compared to a description from one of my Ayahuasca experiences in 2018,

…I energetically (perhaps is the right phrase?) went over to have a look at Jim… I was hovering above him looking down upon him and I could see and understand that Jim was not alone. Attached to his head and next to it was a large ‘black thing’. On seeing this, I understood that Jim was separate from the black thing which was the cause of all the screaming and pain he was going through. It was the cause.

I energetically went back to my bed and started to get angry. I wanted to stand up to the Black Demon as I will call him. I challenged him, I wanted to fight him. I didn’t do this physically but these were my thoughts. In doing so the Demon came over to me. I could see his face in front of me. He was up for the challenge. His face was not full of a lot of detail but he was various shades of charcoal pixels that made up a simple face like pattern. He actually reminded me of the Tranformer logo – it was that level of detail.

I energetically went back to my bed and started to get angry. I wanted to stand up to the Black Demon as I will call him. I challenged him, I wanted to fight him. I didn’t do this physically but these were my thoughts. In doing so the Demon came over to me. I could see his face in front of me. He was up for the challenge. His face was not full of a lot of detail but he was various shades of charcoal pixels that made up a simple face like pattern. He actually reminded me of the Transformer logo – it was that level of detail.

Is Ayahuasca a drug?

Technically Ayahuasca could be considered a drug or more specifically the DMT within Ayahuasca could be considered a mind altering drug. The word drug has a negative connotation with respect to addiction, poor health and life decisions and a lack of self-control which doesn’t apply to Ayahuasca.

Instead, many people who understand Ayahuasca very well consider Ayahuasca a medicine as opposed to a drug. This shows to the initiate Ayahuasca user that there are health benefits to Ayahuasca and that it is not addictive.

How does an Ayahuasca experience (s) change you?

An Ayahuasca experience can change your world view aka, your paradigm, via ego dissolution and allow you to cure your negative patterns of various kinds including behaviors and addiction and substance abuse. This makes little sense when you haven’t experienced it but once you have it makes all the sense in the world.

I’ll attempt to explain it but be aware its hard. I liken it to an astronaut who has walked on the Moon trying to explain 1/3 gravity of the Moon vs Earth’s. Conceptually you can understand ‘gravity’ and ‘1/3 being less than 1/1’ but unless you have been to the Moon it’s very difficult for most of us to understand what the feeling of a lower gravity is actually like.

In my below attempt you will understand the words but not necessarily how it feels or its greater meaning but I will attempt it.

How does Ego Dissolution Change You

I suggest to you that an Ego Dissolution experience is the fundamental effect of Ayahuasca which allows it to change you and your health in a positive way. I’m going to explain some neuroscience background first and then I want to try and explain it in a non-scientific way and what it actually feels like.

The research of Robin Carhart-Harris shows us that under the influence of psychedelics like Ayahuasca the activity in the Default Mode Network (DMN) of research participants brain’s was reduced. This is the neuroscience way of saying ‘ego dissolution’ because the DMN is where your Ego is thought to live. By Ego I mean the part of your brain where your sense of identity is held and you use to navigate the world.

But more importantly than reducing the activity in the DMN is ‘what else’ is able to flourish when the the DMN is reduced. What Robin’s research showed is that when the DMN is reduced in activity different areas of the brain, which don’t normally communicate, start to develop new pathways between each other. This is what’s known as neurogenesis and is generally considered positive for your brain health.

Ok that’s the scientific way of describing ego dissolution. What the experience feels like when you are in an Ayahuasca ceremony is that your negative patterns and behaviors feel at arms length from you. You are no longer ‘in’ the patterns you are adjacent to them and able to view them objectively from a distance. Better yet this feeling of distance of objectivity is permanent and can be accessed after ceremony for years afterward in my experience. 5 years on I can still access it. FOr me personally this was one of the biggest benefits of Ayahuasca.


  • I think these effects are similar to how meditation practitioners describe ‘the observer’ and I think is also related to Cognitive Therapy which mental health experts use as treatment with clients. In Cognitive Therapy they ask them to objectively think about the negative thought patterns you have and evaluate them.
  • In each treatment mentioned in the point above you are undertaking neurogenesis but Ayahuasca and psychedelics in general are much quicker and more effective compared to the other methods when done in a therapeutic or ceremonial setting.

Specifically what health benefits can Ego Dissolution bestow on you?

The above is quick a technical description and doesn’t explain what benefits Ego Dissolution can have for you but it does set a nice basis for discussing these aspects. Ayahuasca can change you in that it allows you to address and cure the patterns of behavior, addiction and thinking that you have engrained in your brain over the years of life. This means you can cure in some cases or reduce in others,

  • depression,
  • anxiety,
  • addictions of various kinds (drugs and alcohol),
  • PTSD,
  • Emotional trauma of all kinds like abuse or abusive relationships.

How can you find Ayahuasca?

Usually people go to an Ayahuasca retreat to drink Ayahuasca in what is known as an Ayahuasca Ceremony. I recommend this approach because preparing for an Ayahuasca ceremony in this way means that you will focus on it much more and for that reason take it more seriously and get more out of it in terms of mental and physical health.

It is also possible to buy Ayahuasca online and do it by yourself but I recommend you try to do it in a ceremonial setting with a trusted retreat for your first time.

NB: Ayahuasca is illegal in many countries so check you aren’t breaking the law wherever you are if buying Ayahuasca.

In the world of psychedelics the concept of ‘set’ and ‘setting’ is very important as they guide the results of your Ayahuasca journey(s).

‘Set’ means set an intention for your ceremony and setting means the atmosphere and general setting with which you drink Ayahuasca.

  • An intention is a topic you’d like to work on in a particular ceremony and guides it so it doesn’t go off the rails and is useful. It could be focussed on spiritual development or an aspect of your psyche you’d like to understand for example.
  • The setting or general atmosphere is important because you are a sensory being. You take in information externally through your senses and are influenced by them. At a concert you listen to music and are energized for example. If you were to take Ayahuasca at a concert your experience would be much different than in a quiet ceremony in the jungle in candle light.
  • The setting of an Ayahuasca ceremony is deliberately quiet (ish) and dark with not that much sensory stimulation (compared to a concert) because the aim is for you to go inward into your mind, emotions and ego and play with the experiences there as guided by your intention.
  • As such if you cannot replicate these kinds of aspects without a ceremony then your first time drinking you should do so in a retreat setting but once you have experienced a few ceremonies you may find it easier to order some Ayahuasca and do your own ceremonies once you know more or less the preparation process.

Can Ayahuasca do permanent damage? (brain health)

Under certain conditions Ayahuasca can have negative health effects and cause permanent damage or even death. There are two main health effects to be aware for people in this regard.

Psychological side effects of Ayahuasca:

Mental Break:

If you or people in your immediate family has a mental health history of psychoses like bi-polar or schizophrenia then psychedelics can cause mental breaks for you. If you don’t have a history of this then your psychological health is not considered at risk.

TIP: If you know someone who is in need of treatment for a psychedelic induced mental break you ultimately need to find a mental health expert with experience in psychedelic therapy and try to ‘ground yourself’. There are not well understood treatment for this kind of break because psychedelics are illegal in many cases and as such research has not been done to help in this scenario.

Actually any kind of hallucinogens can cause a psychological break if you are vulnerable in this way not just Ayahuasca. For example, LSD, Psilocybin Mushrooms can also have these effects for vulnerable people.

Note: Bi-polar and schizophrenia are not a full list of possible psychoses so, if you have a psychological health concern please consult your health professional.


While some people have said the Ayahuasca created depression of anxiety after taking it these effects are in the minority. Actually Ayahuasca is more commonly associated with healing completely or significantly improving depression, even clinical levels of depression.

I wrote more about depression post Ayahuasca where I noted two examples of people claiming depression after drinking Ayahuasca on from The Reddit Ayahuasca Group.

What not to mix with Ayahuasca?

Dietary Restrictions:

Ayahuasca contains, as mentioned elsewhere in this article, MAOI’s (Monoamine oxidase inhibitors) which also are known to increase blood pressure in people. If you already have high blood pressure as an existing health concern then the Ayahuasca Dieta is designed to reduce Tyramine in your diet in order to lower overall Blood Pressure with the ultimate aim that you can still drink Ayahuasca safely even with a blood pressure condition.

Please consult a doctor if you have high blood pressure and are looking to drink Ayahuasca.

Pharmaceutical Drugs:

If you are taking any drugs which contraindicate (ie mixes unsafely with) MAOI’s then you need to remove these from your system before taking Ayahuasca safely.

We’ll give you a partial list of these drugs to avoid below but, first let’s talk about what MAOI’s are. MAOI stands for ‘Monoamine oxidase inhibitor’. These are in the brewed Ayahuasca Tea and specifically is provided to the brew from The Ayahuasca Vine itself.

MAOI’s in Ayahuasca neutralize your body’s natural ability to stop psychoactive agents, like DMT, from passing from your stomach into your bloodstream where the effects would be a psychedelic experience. This is because DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) is contained naturally within many plants and humans have evolved a way to stop people from tripping as often as you might.

Removing them could take as much as 12 weeks for some people depending on the specific drug in question. Commonly anti-depressant medications contraindicate with the MAOI’s in Ayahuasca but these are not the only drugs to do so.

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 to avoid when drinking Ayahuasca,

  • amphetamines,
  • cocaine,
  • MDMA,
  • opiates,
  • barbiturates,
  • decongestants & allergy drugs,
  • drugs for common cold,
  • diet pills,
  • methylphenidate,
  • asthma inhalers,
  • meperidine,
  • levodopa,
  • dopamine,
  • carbamazapine,
  • certain antihypertensive drugs,
  • sympathomimetic amines (direct & indirect acting) including psuedoephedrine & ephidrine.

What medications can you continue to take in preparation for Ayahuasca?

Gaia Sagrada, a well respected Ayahuasca Retreat in Ecuador, recommends that you continue to take drugs for the below health conditions in case you suffer from their effects,

  • diabetes
  • blood pressure
  • heart
  • thyroid
  • or any other condition that your physical well being and health depends on but does not contraindicate as shown in the partial list above.

Consult your doctor if you have questions about specific medications.

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