It is truly astonishing to see how an ancient indigenous shamanic practice has become a major sensation in modern spirituality and holistic health.
There are many articles written regarding the miraculous healing powers of Ayahuasca. Some featured even in highly respected magazines such as National Geographic & Time. Ayahuasca is a psychedelic/hallucinogenic brew, whose advocates widely proclaim its ability to cure depression, heal deep-seated traumas, acquire deeper spiritual knowledge, and cure many other biological and mental illnesses. People are flocking from all over the world to South America to seek healing from many of life’s inherent ailments.
There is another side to this story which is far less publicized. This is the story of the serious contraindication and harm some have incurred while searching for healing. In medical terms, a contraindication is defined as: “A situation in which a drug, procedure, or surgery should not be used because it will be harmful to the patient.”
Ayahuasca is capable of creating a perfect storm of biochemical, emotional, and psychic conditions necessary to induce psychosis, or other neuropsychiatric conditions. That is of course if you have a predisposition or genetic vulnerability for a psychiatric or neurobiological disorder (which many times those at risk typically don’t understand, until a neuropsychiatric condition has become active & manifest in their everyday experience of life).
Ayahuasca can be an especially strong potential trigger for those predisposed to Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Dissociative Disorder, Depersonalization/Derealization, PTSD, OCD, Major Depression, Sensory Processing Disorders, and HPPD (Hallucinogen Persisting Perceptual Disorder).
Being a young man passionately studying Holistic Medicine, Naturopathy, Nutrition, and Herbalism, as well as someone who has been challenged with significant childhood trauma, I became interested in the accounts of powerful healing associated with this practice. So when an opportunity to attend ceremony presented itself, I did my research, and then accepted the possibility of healing in this way.
The hosts of the ceremony I attended were highly recommended and occurred to me as compassionate and caring. I trusted them, and if they wouldn’t have appeared this way– I would have never gone to begin with.
While making my decision, I choose to naively disregard the fact they are operating a federally illegal operation, which involves taking people’s minds, health and lives (potentially) into their hands.
I expressed concerns to the facilitators that I may not be compatible with a medicine that is psychedelic, because of trauma in my childhood and teenage years. I was strongly encouraged to attend and absolutely 100% convinced I was safe, because Ayahuasca is not considered a dangerous drug, nor hallucinogen (within the Ayahuasca community).
My first experiences I truly believed were healing. Unfortunately I was naive to the potential consequences, which ended up having extreme repercussions in my life.
During my final night of ceremony (multiple sessions are encouraged in this particular community) I unexpectedly spent an entire night with my consciousness outside of my body, projecting into multiple dimensions, encountering entities, endless fields of geometry, and ended up being uncontrollably thrust into some sort of unfathomable collective hell. Visions of turmoil, death, human violence, murder and suicide consumed my mind. It felt like pure chaos and my vision literally turned to total static.
The day following the ceremony I went into shock and started to have what could easily be considered a mental break. This was something I never thought could happen.
I was in a delirium, hallucinating, my visual perception was static and distorted, my head was ringing with pressure, I became terrified I was about to die. I didn’t know what to do, so I went to the host and asked for help. I shared my fear that I would be stuck like this and was abruptly told there was nothing they could do for me.
I soon after began to feel unwelcome and left the property thinking maybe I could meditate and stabilize myself at a nearby campground, but I couldn’t stop what was happening.
For days on end everything in my visual field would not stop shaking violently and my eyes were pinpoint dilated. I couldn’t stop crying and was overcome by a previously unknown and foreign ideation to end my own life. I was unable to integrate. I tried to contact the people in charge, and no one would call me back. When my call was finally returned by the ceremony administrator, I was told I should book a phone consultation with the ceremony host/shaman (which costs: $100).
I considered taking myself to a hospital, but feared stigmatization of what I was experiencing (I regret that decision now as it could have helped bring me down and minimize long term damage).
Many months I struggled to overcome what had happened. I lived day to day with (sometimes extreme) vertigo, a debilitating headache, intense nightmares, serious cognitive impairments, trouble speaking (aphasia) and no sense of purpose. I was suddenly in a sink or swim situation fighting for my life, and all from the simple misdirected choice of drinking several small glasses of seemingly harmless medicine.
My steadfast, unshakable discipline and progress in meditation, fitness, yoga and my path in spiritual development & joy was suddenly rendered useless to the crisis I now found myself in. I discovered the hard way that while Ayahuasca is traditionally considered a medicine, it is also a potent Tryptamine class hallucinogen that can potentially ravage your psyche or show you a glimpse of heaven. It is a very complex matter and one not to be taken lightly.
With no choice but to fully understand what I was experiencing, I started looking deeper into the matter and discovered that the history of this potent concoction is not solely what it is frequently made out to be…
Traditionally Ayahuasca is used in South America by both Curanderos (Healers) and Brujos (Witches & Sorcerers) for the purposes of healing, divination, gaining knowledge/power, but also for witchcraft, warfare, and bringing harm to others intentionally through alliance with malevolent forces and entities.
Even on the beneficial path of Healing in this indigenous practice, it is not entirely uncommon that a powerful Benevolent Healer is attacked psychically by a Brujo during an Ayahuasca ceremony, and must fight for his life in some way (such as the story of Pablo Amaringo – the famous visionary painter, who has been a big part of Western interest in Ayahuasca as indigenous medicine.)
I have come to the personal conclusion that Ayahuasca can be many things but it is not solely a miracle medicine by any means. If you look deep enough into the matter, you’ll find numerous people have suffered psychosis following consumption, there are cases of death and rape at “respectable” healing centers in Peru, as well as cases of post ceremony suicide. Some of these cases have actually been removed from the public eye, and deleted from South American news sites.
Tryptamines such as DMT have proven to be both profoundly dangerous & profoundly transformational depending on the set, setting, and circumstance as well as the individual biological/biochemical constitution of the person who is ingesting it.
It is important to reiterate: human beings are bio-individual/neuro-individual beings. Which means: different people with different genetics– respond in different ways to substances which alter the biology and biochemistry of the nervous system (especially hallucinogens). For instance: some people can take LSD or psilocybe mushrooms 20+ times with little consequence. Other people take LSD or psilocybin once and experience something called HPPD long after their experience. HPPD is a disorder in which the perceptual/sensory system of the brain becomes overloaded and chronically dysregulated which leaves the individual affected with a sense they are permanently impaired.
Thus, generalizations (I’ve actually been told) such as “Ayahuasca is a sacred spiritual medicine and only capable of profound healing” can be very naive, misleading and clearly not every person’s experience.
Psychoactive/hallucinogenic substances can be a gamble for some, and though it is unique, Ayahuasca is not an exception nor exempt from that particular law of human neurobiology and health. The vine used in the brew contains a very potent MAOI (Mono Amine Oxidase Inhibitor) which affects the blood-brain barrier and is known to have strong contraindications with multiple prescription medications (including possible fatal interaction with SSRI antidepressants), as well as contraindications with certain heart conditions. There is also another herb called Toé (Datura) which is traditionally added to the drink by some ceremony facilitators to increase potency of the experience. Datura is a neurotoxin which can cut off oxygen supply to the human brain (Hypoxic-Anoxic Brain Injury). Its effects include, delirium, hyperthermia, amnesia, and not infrequently, death. There have been tragic fates suffered by people who have unknowingly consumed this herb mixed into an Ayahuasca brew. If you choose to attend ceremony, do not hesitate to ask specifically what you are about to send through your blood stream into your brain.
My tale is a cautionary one. I personally believe if you are serious about healing yourself and evolving spiritually, the most safe, secure path lies in: Service, Yoga, Meditation, Ayurveda, Nutrition, Fitness, experiencing joy, developing an understanding of your weaknesses/strengths through mindfulness and gaining an intimate understanding of your own individual constitution. As human beings we are similar, yet can be profoundly individual and unique when it comes to constitution, neurological function, and biochemistry.
Authentic human progress and public awareness go hand in hand, and complete transparency needs to be brought to this subject. I would never deny the fact that people have powerful healing and transformative experiences with Ayahuasca, but the other side of this story keeps getting swept under the rug and marginalized. It’s time for that to stop.
This is not an argument about whether or not Ayahuasca is a “drug”.
The word “drug” is a vague generalization which is used to classify everything from methamphetamine to aspirin. Ayahuasca is however– an extremely powerful psychoactive substance which contains both a plant based MAOI and a tryptamine hallucinogen (DMT). Both of which can create massive changes to the chemistry, regulation and functional biology of the nervous system and brain. Playing with neurobiology on these levels is serious business and inarguably poses serious risk to some individuals.
There are many Ayahuasca ceremonies being held illegally throughout the United States. Some of which create an especially strong attraction to young people, and those of us who are specifically seeking healing from trauma. Ayahuasca Therapy in the United States is unregulated, which means no one can be held accountable if and when things go seriously wrong. This seems incongruent to a healing arts practice which claims integrity and authenticity, and certain accounts I have heard of and researched are to be considered criminal (see site references).
If someone becomes manic, hypertensive, psychotic or suicidal they tend to need immediate medical intervention. Many times the screening at these ceremonies is ineffective (as business is desired and those hosting ceremony are not trained in thorough psychiatric/psychological screening techniques). It also is questionable if those hosting a ceremony in the U.S. would respond appropriately if when medical emergency occurs. It is worth taking into account that delivering an attendee to the emergency room following a ceremony induced crisis, puts the host in a seriously compromising legal situation, as distributing Ayahuasca/DMT is federally criminal. Any disclosure documents you sign before attending a ceremony do not protect the hosts from legal action (if they overdose, poison or otherwise harm you) as Ayahuasca itself is illegal in the U.S.
Know yourself, never let someone else tell you that you’re safe, that is a boundary only you can decide. If you think that you (as an individual) are at risk, it’s not always just “your fear” speaking, it can also be intuition and foresight. Fear does not serve us, but a sharp sense of discernment can be your greatest ally in life.
I would encourage everyone to be absolutely discerning with what and who you involve yourself with. Health is precious and adults are not exempt from influence or psycho-spiritual “peer pressure”. Especially if your orientation is one of personal development, growth and spiritual progress.
If you are in crisis and you need someone to talk to, there is an organization called ICEERS, who are professional psychologists trained specifically in dealing with crisis states associated with ceremonial use of Ayahuasca, Iboga, and San Pedro. They have a free support service and crisis line.
I would also recommend finding a Naturopathic Doctor in your area who specializes in mental health and neurobiology. Neurobiological/neurochemical imbalances can be greatly improved through the correct application of nutrients, relaxation, diet, exersize, sleep, herbalism and homeopathy. There are also many other protocols such as Neurofeedback, breathing techniques and sensory integration therapies which can help your unique brain chemistry return to homeostasis.
If you are seeking safe, effective trauma recovery, I would recommend learning about the studies of Dr. Peter Levine. His research into trauma cause, impact on the brain/nervous system and resolution, is considered groundbreaking in the field of trauma rehabilitation.
After extensive research I have discovered that accounts like mine occur significantly more frequently than some would lead you to believe. I have been contacted by an unsettling amount of people since writing this article who have had similar (and worse) encounters, as well as people who have been subjected to transient psychosis. It appears to be a common thread that those who have traumatic encounters with Ayahuasca (and other psychedelics) fear ridicule and judgement, isolate themselves, and do not share their stories.
The hosts of many Ayahuasca ceremonies/retreats tend to not take responsibility for anything that happens to the individuals participating. Because they develop a religious relationship with this substance, they believe it can do no harm and tend to dismiss or justify anything harmful that happens as “someone experiencing their own darkness, entity possession, the will of Mother Ayahuasca, a journey they need to go on, or all part of the divine plan”, (I’ve heard all of this repeatedly in multiple cases)– meanwhile, undermining the fact that they just gave someone one of the most powerful hallucinogenic substances known to man, which substantially and unpredictably alters the biochemistry of the brain.
In my personal opinion: to insinuate that the people who have been induced into psychosis or died at retreats needed to, is an absolutely delusional, brutal, “cult-like” perspective. We make our own choices and we take our own actions, to which there are always reactions and consequence. The severity of negative consequence or benefit with psychoactive substances comes case by case, individual by individual.
The only motivation I have in sharing this information is to prevent further harm from being done to those who are already seeking healing, and to encourage total transparency, and authentic responsibility within the communities who are promoting and globalizing the use of Ayahuasca.
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We Have Created A New Page Dedicated To Sharing Experiences Of Individuals Who Have Been Traumatized, Mentally/Physically Injured Or Induced Into Psychosis At Retreat Centers
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