Ayahuasca: Dispelling Myth – Harm vs. Healing


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.
http://www.iceers.org/support-service.php

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.

http://www.traumahealing.com

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)– meanwhileundermining 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.

If this information reaches you personally or help someone you know, please share it using the buttons at the bottom of this page.

References Cited:

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
https://holistic-evolution.com/ayahuascawatch/

Death of 35 year old Leslie Allison
http://latinamericacurrentevents.com/ecuador-young-u-s-woman-dies-in-ayahuasca-ceremony-in-the-jungle/35577/

Death of 24 year old Matthew Dawson-Clarke
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11516673

Death of 26 year old Unais Gomes
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/18/canadian-man-kills-briton-ayahuasca-ceremony-peruvian-amazon

Death of 18 year old Kyle Nolan (Retreat Center)
http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/24/justice/ayahuasca-death-kyle-nolan-mother/

Death of 19 year old Henry Miller (Retreat Center)
http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/apr/27/british-backpacker-dies-hallucinogenic-drug-colombia

Death of  43 year old Celine Rene Margarite Briset (Retreat Center)
http://latinamericacurrentevents.com/lamas-peru-french-tourist-dies-from-consuming-ayahuasca-herb/11114/

Death of Fabrice Epiene Pierre Champion (Retreat Center)
http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&u=http://peru-rara.blogspot.com/2011/11/turista-frances-muere-en-sesion-de.html&prev=search

Death of Denis Tronchin and Emiliano Eve
http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=it&u=http://cerchiamo-denis.blogspot.com/&prev=search

Chilean Ayahuasca Cult Leader Kills Infant
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2314866/Baby-burned-death-bonfire-Chile-cult-leader-decided-antichrist.html

10 (reported) cases of Ayahuasca related suicide in 2012
http://touristkilled.com/dutch-tourist-commits-suicide-in-peru-by-hanging-himself/

Young Woman raped by Peruvian Shaman
https://translate.googleusercontent.com/translate_c?depth=1&nv=1&rurl=translate.google.com&sl=auto&tl=en&u=http://elcomercio.pe/movil/noticias/alemana-violada-peru-125972&usg=ALkJrhik3gku-H-VTBpWTzJsn9WWr2Rndg

Book written by Woman assaulted by Peruvian Shaman
https://www.facebook.com/MyAyahuascaNightmare

Clinical Accounts of Ayahuasca induced psychosis
http://www.iceers.org/docs/science/ayahuasca/Rafael_Guimares_The%20Ethnopharmacology_of_Ayahuasca/EthnopharmAyahuasca_Chapter7.pdf

Woman’s son unable to integrate after Ayahuasca induced psychosis
https://www.drugs-forum.com/forum/showthread.php?t=68423

Men’s Journal Article
http://www.mensjournal.com/magazine/the-dark-side-of-ayahuasca-20130215

36 Comments

  1. Allie

    Thank you for posting this article. I had a lot of trouble integrating. Reading more articles makes me see that I had some kind of manic episode where I felt as if my mind was falling apart. I had looked for help online but most ayahuasca people just look at my situation as an “ongoing lesson”. My life just doesn’t feel the same anymore. Sometimes it does, but I don’t feel I can ever be really normal again. Keeping a peaceful home, a regular yoga practice, meditating regularly, and having supportive friends has helped me immensely. Please post this link to other discussion sites so people know what they are getting into.

    1. Thank you for your response Allie,

      Please feel free to post a link to this article anywhere on the internet.
      I have been contacted by many people describing similar issues post ceremony.

      The problem (generally speaking)- that I see with pseudo religious and spiritual groups is when the guru, shaman, or ceremony host acquires enough followers who all open up their belief systems to the leader– the followers tend to integrate the beliefs of the host as their own (which is how cults form).

      If the belief is: “Ayahuasca can cause no harm”– then no matter what happens to you during a ceremony– it’s your fault, or the fault of an evil spirit entity and could never be the fault of the “Sacred Holy Medicine”.

      This is a classic psychological behavior to justify and take no accountability for ones actions- which MANY cult leaders have utilized historically.

      Expressing concern (or explaining the fact that you were actually injured and harmed) can lead to a entire groups of people attacking you– as I have found through posting this article and continuously receiving threatening and derogatory emails (REAL spiritual right?)

      I think harm from Ayahuasca comes down to biochemical interactions once “The Medicine” crosses the blood brain barrier– many people have certain neurobiological/genetic vulnerabilities whom are significantly more easily harmed by psychoactives than others.. It’s really not a matter of mysticism and spirits.

      People also like to forget the reason Ayahuasca has this “profound spiritual effect”– is because one of the plants contains Tryptamine chemicals and the other plant contains an MAOI which allows the tryptamines into the blood stream and brain– when damage is done it is usually on a neurobiological level and treatment/recovery options are confusing to say the least. We have poor options for diagnosing neurobiological, neuroimmune and neuroinflammatory conditions at this point. Even functional brain imaging is a relatively crude science as it exposes one to high levels of radiation.

      I have had the best luck by improving all aspects of my health methodically– system by system (everything from digestive to cardiovascular to sleep cycles to neurobiological)- which has lead to profound healing for my brain, nervous system and psychology– it is an on going journey which I have embraced and embarked upon with absolute discipline and diligence.

      Google “Neurohacking” or “Biohacking”

      Best of luck on your healing path ❤

  2. Paul

    Great job. While I’d like to believe there is the potential for the medicine to help everyone, I have to agree that such experiences are not for everyone.

    Can you be sure that Datura wasn’t included in your brew? The opinion of the skilled practioners I have spoken with all seem to agree that, apart from effects of contraindictions (and suicide), the deaths and any prolonged disturbances are the result of the addition of datura or possibly other dangerous intoxicants.

    1. holistic evolution

      Dear Paul,
      Thank you for your comment.

      What is important to integrate into our understanding is that the human brain is HIGHLY individual. As human beings, we all have vastly different genes, and our brains can work in profoundly different ways.

      As a holistic health practitioner, my view is that many people who struggle with long term disturbances after an Ayahuasca ceremony, have either sustained neurobiological trauma from overdose, or are not constitutionally compatible with hallucinogens in the first place. Many times, people in the community try to make everything “spiritual”, which is unfortunate because I have spoken to numerous individuals who have sustained serious, senseless, and unacceptable harm. Those responsible for overdosing an individual frequently take no responsibility and try to justify it through various means.

      You can see this with all powerful psychoactive substances, i.e: one person can take MDMA and experience total bliss and love with very little consequence, and another person can take the same MDMA and become suicidal afterwords. I have seen this exact situation happen to a friend of mine.

      It is not a “spiritual” phenomena, nor a personal problem. Serotonin “dumping” can cause significant neurobiological trauma to people who have highly sensitive nervous systems.

      Ayahuasca makes a serious impact on the brain itself. A large dose of Ayahuasca floods the brain with both DMT and a very potent MAOI. If someone is at risk for a neurobiological problem, the act of chemically flooding the brain could very easily be a potentiator for a serious problem.

      Typically, our brains do best with gradual, healthy adaptations. Extremely stressful experiences are what lead to disorders like PTSD and sometimes Psychosis. The brain is unfortunately fairly susceptible to injury; through impact trauma, chemical trauma, and psychological trauma.

  3. geronimolong

    Reblogged this on Sputnik Baby Go-Go Club and commented:
    Some things just have to be done.

  4. Hey, outstanding job on this article!!!! I can see that you did your homework and presented this article in a very professional manner. This is the exact type of next correct indicated action that can save lives and prevent harm to people who are uneducated in these matters. You have used your challenging experience to now be of service. Sometimes life is strange and beautiful that way.

  5. CosmicDrBii

    Very well-written article. I’m sorry that you had this experience. My take on it is that the person/people leading the ceremony did not know what they were doing sufficiently and were not able to give you the help and protection you needed during the ceremony.

    In my opinion, it takes ten years working with ayahuasca with a good Maestro(s) plus doing many plant dietas to become a ceremony leader. Many Westerners do not want to take the time to do this for egoistic or commercial reasons or maybe simply ignorance.

    It seems that in this case a primary motive for the people you worked with is money. I’m shocked they would want to charge you $100 for a further consultation. It shows me further that they don’t know what they are doing nor are they taking full responsibility for what happens in their ceremonies.

    Its a shame to put it mildly that this happened to you and has happened to others. I do think ayahuasca has enormous healing potential if used well. Clearly it also has the potential to be used badly

  6. alfredcassis

    Obviously from your article here, you should also have come to the experience with a more trustful heart &/or attitude then you presented when you went there with ; if you are in such a negative predisposition, you surely WILL encounter all types of negativity as you “so clearly ??” explained here … to discourage others ???
    A useful article though for those who find themselves with a similar situation as you

    1. holistic evolution

      Dear Alfred,

      Thank you for your comment.

      Because you do not know me, you do not know what attitude I entered with.

      The truth is that I spent two weeks straight in prayer, meditation and solitude before the retreat. My heart was open and I had cultivated more trust than you can imagine. The lesson I learned was far different than what you assume.

      I was overdosed, and something went terribly wrong with my neurobiology. I had a serious, morbidly contraindicated response to the chemical properties of whatever was in the Ayahuasca I was given. It had to do with my brain and neurobiology directly.

      This article has already prevented one young girl from going to a ceremony where she was not screened. She was taking 2 SSRI antidepressants and this combination can, and has been fatal.

      I wrote this article because there is a myth circulating that Ayahuasca is inherently safe for everyone. Myths such as this can have serious casualties and I am far too concerned about the health and well-being of human beings to do nothing about it, after I have experienced a serious consequence first hand.

      People need to understand “neuro-individuality”, “personal constitution”, “bio-individuality” and possible predisposition to psychiatric conflict with hallucinogenic substances before consuming Ayahuasca. It’s serious, real, and any time a life or mind is lost is tragic– those who justify these losses are quite possibly delusional.

  7. A very well written balanced and insightful article, thank you.

  8. This was an incredibly courageous article to write! Thank you for sharing your journey. I think many people will benefit from hearing your experience and knowing they are not alone.

    Thank you for being a light in a place that needs it.

  9. A

    Wow,

    I’m not much of a commenter, but this is a great informative article. How generous of you to share your story and all this information. I think it’s always best to research as much as one can before working with a selected healing method and this is a great article, that I’ve bookmarked

  10. Great story!!! You’re so right. I’ve also been experiencing side effects. Depression, anxiety, depersonalization disorder, panic and distorted vision. Just like a weird sense that everything is an illusion. Its been 3 weeks since I did it and I’ve been to countless shamans, spiritual healers and even a trascendental psychologist. I feel better for a moment and then it goes down hill again. I’m becoming more scared and freaked out about this.
    I asked the shaman before doing it if anything like this could happened and he swore nooooo, never, everything will be fine! He no longer takes responsibility and he said that If I wanted to fix myself it would cost me an extra 500 dollars. I don’t know what to do anymore. I had never suffered from mental illness before and I had never taken drugs. I’m thinking about going to a psychiatrist and but I’m afraid I’ll get medication that could make it worst or prevent from getting better on the long run. If anyone can help me, it be really appreciate it!! I leave my mail elsamalandrino@hotmail.com

  11. Paul,
    Your contribution here cannot be underestimated. This is, by far, the best report on the dangers of “Mother Ayahuasca” that I have seen. I have been warning people about the potential dangers of looking to cure disorders like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia with “plant medicine” for years, however the cultural environment online is strongly biased towards the myth which you describe so well – that Ayahuasca can do no wrong, and if wrong occurs, the issue is not with the plant, but with you. Thank you for setting the record straight.

    Also, your studies which indicated that Ayahuasca is also used in rituals to intentionally harm others is very interesting to me. My studies of tribal shamanism show that, in all tribes around the world, ‘shamanism’ is used to harm others, as well as help. ‘Witchcraft’ or ‘sorcery’ is a fundamental aspect of tribal life, even if us Westerners don’t want to see it. As a result, it is no surprise to me that you have found that Ayahuasca is also used to intentionally hurt others. For those of you who are offended by this last insight, I simply encourage you to open up to the deeper complexities of our shared reality.

    Stellar job, and I’ll be sharing your post everywhere!
    Sean Blackwell
    http://www.bipolarawakenings.com

    1. Thanks Sean- I really appreciate your work!

      Yes, those who take offense to the notion that Ayahuasca can be used for harm need only to research into the history of Brujos, and understand the fact they historically used Ayahuasca in their practices of witchcraft and sorcery. Many cultures do not look at Ayahuasca as a medicine, but rather as a “tool” to navigate the psyche, and as any other tool– can be used abusively.

      In my opinion, those with sensitive neurobiological regulatory issues (such as those observed in Bipolar disorder), should err towards extreme caution when it comes to anything psychoactive, especially Hallucinogenic substances of any type- I have been contacted by many people who have ended up in psychotic states post ceremony requiring psychiatric care.

      1. Joshua (sorry for screwing up your name in the comments). I completely agree with what you wrote here. You’ve probably noticed that, along with venerating ayahuasca, both shamanism and tribal cultures in general have been venerated greatly online as well – they can do no wrong! That’s why it’s so refreshing for me to see your candid post. Finally, someone looking at reality without the post-modern mythic filters! If there is ever a chance to collaborate with you in the future, it would be a pleasure.

  12. Very much appreciated article. I had been toying with the idea of taking Ayahuasca after listening to so many podcasts about its healing properties but I instinctively felt that the stresses the speakers could handle might very well be in excess of my own, always being aware of my own fragilities. It was very nice to see you list service as being an important aspect as I find it is often the most overlooked aspect of spiritual wellbeing (although always given lip-service)and I personally have found my dog rescue work to aid me more than any amount of meditation, yoga etc. I have done over the years. It’s a shame but my yoga buddies tend to pay zero attention to the service side of things so I was pleased to see the reference. Thanks for the article!

  13. Pavel

    Thank you for writing this! A word caution is absolutely vital in this topic. People get so wrapped up in new age healing and spirituality that they’re look for “salvation” through the most extreme practices. Your story is a very clear and concise alarm bell having seen first hand the detrimental effects of misusing psychoactive drugs on people close to me. Hope you’ve recovered by now.

    1. Hey Pavel,
      Thanks for your comment.

      The concept I have to reiterate continually is neuro-individuality.

      Because new age spirituality is based predominantly on belief and not science– I hardly ever hear any spiritual teacher or healer talk about the fact every single human being is a neuro-individual organism; and some of us are profoundly susceptible to harm from psychoactive substances, while others are not.

      Hallucinogens are among the strongest examples for this- countless people use psychedelics with little consequence, and countless people have been induced into manic states, psychotic states, extreme dissociative and depressive states, ended up with HPPD, depersonalization and so on. Why? Because these substances can potentially have an extreme impact on the chemistry and neurobiological function of the brain.

      Any psychoactive substance that makes you hallucinate and profoundly dysregulates and drives the chemistry of the brain to an extreme can potentiate serious problems and vulnerabilities, which some individuals are far more susceptible to- and others are not. This has absolutely nothing to do with how “spiritually advanced” an individual is…
      That would be comparable to saying someone with Autism needs to meditate more and transcend Autism- it’s a delusional belief.

      Writing this has given me a unique perspective- I have recently been contacted by a 20 year old man who went from an Ayahuasca retreat center straight to a psychiatric hospital where he recieved electro-convulsive therapy to be brought down from psychosis. Within hours of receiving this e-mail, I recieved hate mail for writing this article from a serious Ayahuasca enthusiast which read “Mother Ayahuasca can do no harm!” and advised me to remove this Article from Holistic Evolution.

      The further you look into this culture– the more delusion, superstition, cult behavior, and harm you uncover. This is not everyone’s experience involved, but it is frequent enough… “Healing” should lead to health and increased wellness. What happened to me was the exact opposite of healing, and I have spoken to many who have had similar and far worse experiences/consequences.

  14. Darek

    Dear Joshua,
    I translated this article for Polish readers, with intention to publish it on a reputable Polish website taraka.pl (free to read), if you approve it. What do you think? I can email you a copy for proofreading if you wish (and if there is someone near you, who speaks Polish). I look forward to hearing from you!

    1. Hi Darek,
      Yes absolutely– the intention of this article is to educate people on the way these substances impact the chemistry and functional biology of the human brain and impact the epigenetic potential of the health of an individual (negatively or positively). So please, post it on as many websites as you wish. Just include a link the this page as well…
      Best,
      Joshua

      1. Darek

        Thank you very much, Joshua!

  15. Hello Joshua, I clicked on your video and article after almost being sure I want to go and drink Ayahuasca. Luckily and thanks to you I’m doing some research and reconsidering. I think the reason for me to do this was not only healing (many options for that right? but wanting to come into contact with other realms and the “truth” we are blind to.
    Can you maybe recommend a safer path to reach shamanic states of mind without any substances? I can think about dance, song,prayer but they don’t always bring you into that state….
    Thank you!

  16. Marvin

    Thank you very much for this great article! I’m from Germany and couldn’t find any information like that in german. So I thought, I stand almost alone with bad experiences after some ayahuasca ceremonys. They told me, it wouldn’t make me addictive and could help me with some psychology issues. But now I have more intense depressive episodes than ever (including suicidal thoughts) and although I was psychotic for 1-2 weeks at the latest ceremony, I yaw after further experience to get away from this violent depression.

    I wrote my Shaman that I became psychotic by ayahuasca and now have realized that I have a bipolar disorder. He wrote that was not a problem, but even good, because I am more aware of my diagnosis; he would take good care and everything will be safe. Who believes this shit?!

    1. Hi Marvin,
      Thanks for your comment.
      I have found that many people involved with Ayahuasca shamanism get themselves deep into mythological thinking and can justify almost anything to convince themselves Ayahuasca cannot be harmful.

      At this point, I have received so many emails and personal accounts of Ayahuasca induced psychosis, manic depression, and profound crisis and trauma- it alpears fairly delusional when people insist or argue that Ayahuasca is this magical healing substance only capable of good.

      It’s not black or white though- many people feel Ayahuasca is helpful to them.

      The truth I firmly believe is that human beings react in radically different ways to the same substances. Ayahuasca has profound effects on the function and chemistry of the human brain.

      Because of the differences in genetics and constitution–

      This saying has never felt more relevant: “One mans medicine is another mans poison”.

      1. Marvin

        Thank you for your answer Joshua! I’m feeling clear, that I will not drink it again. All the best for you!

  17. Jess

    Thank you. This has been a temptation to me for many years as I have a past with great trauma. I have withheld for exactly these concerns; I am Bipolar and also frequently experience depersonalization events. Upon further reflection I think I have been wishing for a spiritual shortcut, a direct line to the ‘source’.

    Mood stabilization and maintenance is a constant chore for me, one I sometimes tire of. Meditation, physical fitness, low stress, medication, psycho-therapy, diet, etc. Every little bit helps but the work never ends. I have been cautious that a heavy psychoactive substance could undo all of the gains I have made and have permanent ramifications, but it’s been a temptation nonetheless. Your account has cleared this up for me considerably.

    Thanks also for the note that Ayahuasca has drug interactions with SSRI anti-depressants. I was unaware of that.

  18. Dan Chapman

    Thanks so much for this brilliant and honest article Joshua. I was seeing a woman for several years who has deemed Aya her path to enlightenment. She proselytises about it at all times. But she doesn’t realise she is now a dis- associated and confused, often sad human where once she was brilliant and funny. I rarely hear her laughter anymore, nor do her family.
    She has good days and days where she makes no sense.
    Truly ! It’s awful and she lives in a community that thinks it’s just a phase she is going through. I never did it thank god – I went surfing and in fields of service instead ( teaching – volunteering) and that helps my growth. I seriously believe Aya has fried her personality if not her brain. It’s tragic. And for what’s it’s worth she has done it all at ” respected” centres in US and Canada.

    Thanks again for another viewpoint.

    Dan Chapman

  19. yana

    Dear Joshua,

    Thank you for sharing this. I myself have participated in 40 ayahuasca ceremonies which I think only made my own childhood trauma and mental health struggles worse. I, too, was a passionate questioner and seeker studying health, yoga, and nutrition, but I had a lot of emotional pain that was affecting my life. Ayahuasca was a path I went down because I thought it would heal me.

    I did not experience the same immediate effects you did, and it is hard for me to tell what is a result of trauma and what is a result of being careless with things like Ayahuasca. However, all I know is that I’m struggling with what can be called complex post traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, social isolation, and a fragmented, meaningless, bleak existence wherein I am perpetually sucked back into emotional and financial dependence on my family.

    I’m considering getting psychiatric medication as a temporary intervention to help my PTSD-like symptoms decrease so my somatic work could be more effective. I also would like to be stable so that I can be more clear-headed and then pursue more long-term and growth-oriented solutions. I’m curious if you have or would recommend the psychiatric medication route. I myself have fought hard against taking meds, but I’m considering them because I’m in a desperate place.

    Thanks for your help,
    Yana

  20. Harvey

    Dear Joshua,

    Thank you for your insightful and informative article about the inherent possibilities of danger within the Ayahuasca ceremonies. I have been toying with the idea of taking Ayahuasca after two of my close friends have claimed that the experience was extremely therapeutic and helped them reach a state of self-actualization. However, I have also been very cautious as I had a number of disturbing trips on LSD when I was a teenager leading to a temporary state of HPPD which completely traumatized me and took a number of years to resolve. You are absolutely correct when you say that human beings are bio-individual/neuro-individual beings and different people with different genetics respond in different ways to substances. For example, to this day I still cannot smoke cannabis without immediately starting to feel as if I am on another LSD trip (and not in a good way). However, I have taken MDMA hundreds of times over the years with no problems whatsover. My friends are constantly claiming that my negative experiences with LSD aren’t important here, because there is no risk with Ayahuasca and that when my ego completely dissolves under it’s effects I will completely transcend this state of fear. I now belief that I should follow my gut instinct which has been telling me all along that a powerful psychoactive substance such as Ayahuasca would be incompatible with the biochemistry of my nervous system. Although I appreciate that this substance may be healing for some people, I plan instead to continue with meditation and exercise as a means of progression on my spiritual journey. Your article has helped me tremeduously with making that decision.

    Kind regards,
    Harvey

    1. Harvey,

      You are a very intelligent man. Thank you for your comment. The feedback I have recieved from writing this has allowed me to realize how many people are seeking and searching for healing in life, and how credulous/naive SO MANY people are on their quest.

      I know people who have been seriously messed up from taking MDMA just a few times.

      As always, until people fully integrate the understanding that different human beings respond to psychoactive and hallucinogenic substances uniquely- based on their unique chemistry, neurology, genetic makeup and psychology- their comprehension of the reality of using these substances (synthetic or plant based) is half baked.

      Thanks again for commenting…

  21. Renee

    Hi. I am glad that i found your article on Ayahuasca. My name is Renee, I’m a 39 year nurse and mother. I consumed ayahuasca on November 3 and 4 here where I live, on Vancouver Island. My journey was very dark and traumatic and I went into a state where I felt psychoti and paranoid.. I had intense fear and panic, my heart rate would not slow down, had very strong auditory hallucinations ( negative) and wanted to jump off a balcony.
    I was fine for about 4 days post ayahuasca, and then became extremely unwell. My body went into shock and I was in an acute stress response, I couldn’t function eat or sleep. Even just shifting my gaze would induce fear and panic attacks. I ended up in psych emergency services where they medicated me with benzos and an antipsychotic and sent me home.
    It’s been 4 months since the ceremony and I have been officially diagnosed with PTSD. Every day is a challenge, I had to take a longterm leave from work. Before ayahuasca, I had periodical anxiety and depression, but have never experienced a state like this. I have constant tinnitus and hyperacusis amongst other issues. I can only hope that I can heal myself from this state. I feel like my brain has gone haywire, and obviously ayahuasca did some damage to my nervous system.
    I would like to hear from you on how you recovered -through email or Skype. Thank you for writing as this information needs to get out. Im saddened that i chose ayahuasca for healing and instead came out traumatized.

    Warm regards,

    Renee

  22. Rhonda Winton

    First, I want to thank you!! My son was given ayahuasca and toe approx 13 months ago by a girl he had met online. Approx. 2 days after taking the tea he tried to commit suicide. The past 13 months have been horrible!! He has been hospitalized approx 6 times since then…at the beginning of the year after his first experience, he would have a psychotic breakdown about every six weeks…then every 4 weeks now it seems as if it is a permanent condition. He was just released from a mental hospital because of another suicidal attempt. I tried to explain that this started when he was given the ayahuasca tea but the medical professionals looked at me as if I was crazy…claiming to have never heard of it. He is extremely delusional…hears voices, sees all kinds of creatures and things, is extremely suicidale because the voices tell him that he needs to end his life. He even thought I, his mother, was the devil and that I was going to hurt him. He says he is living in hell. I am just at my wit’s end!! I have done everything I know to do for him…he says he isn’t taking the tea anymore and that it was only that one time…but after 13 months??? I am beginning to wonder if he is continuing to take it. It doesn’t show up on a drug test in the US btw. I was wondering how you overcame your situation and if you could, PLEASE, give me some advice on what I can do for my son. He was staying with me but became violent and thought I was the devil and insisted on going to his home. I live in a state of fear that he will kill himself…he has isolated himself, refuses to take the med’s the drs. have ordered for him and he has started drinking which seems to enhance his state of mind even more. PLEASE HELP ME!!!

  23. Dan

    Very interesting report. Better understanding of the frequency and nature of adverse reactions to ayahuasca and difficulties with integration (in addition to benefits) is crucial. I strongly encourage people who have had such experiences to take part in this global survey of ayahuasca use (www.globalayahuascaproject.org) which has a whole section on this topic. MAPS also publishes a list of therapists that can assist people that have had difficult psychedelic experiences.

    1. Thank you for sharing this link Dan- I agree with you completely.

      Because the only way to understand contra-indication is through 1 on 1 encounters, a survey is a very good option to start to comprehend the frequency in which this happens to people.

      To this day I have recieved over 200 emails of people wanting to share and help understand their harmful encounters resulting from participation.

      I have also had over 250,000 people read this article– which doesn’t by any means equate to a useable metric in adverse reactions– but just goes to show how important this inquiry really is….

  24. Thanks for sharing your story it really helps to hear that I am not the only one having problems long after the ceremony I took in 2015. I still struggle with my nervous system and recently I feel there’s maybe still some DMT left in my cellular memory as I had the worst allergic reactions to oregano oil, which I found out with my therapist contains tyramine so I am gonna get tested for that now if there’s DMT in my blood as that could possibly affect that the body is not breaking down the some oils with tyramine in it as it should and it can become toxic as I experience, that how I understood it. And he’d have ppl suffering up to 10 years from the side effects. This is as you say not to say that it’s all bad- but it surely has effects one should consider. My gut flora was messed up afterwards, I had tremendous panic attacks, my bio chemistry was fucked up, and before that I had a car accident, so in my case it probably wasn’t the best thing to do at that time. I started fearing death so much I was crying when leaving my house. I had so many ups and downs as the brain runs fast, which has developed me, but I do think my body has not been able to keep it up with the rapid changes in my brain. I am still suffering with the same stuff I came to the ceremony with. My best advice is do not mess with your brain! Really do your own research this is not for fun. I have so much respect for this things now that I would be too scared to ever try it again. I have heard so many people talking about it as a monthly event or something normal and I just do not get it. And now I share the concern as a psychotherapist myself that too many people end up mental – we are seeing it in Denmark at the moment how the long term effect is showing up, people seeing totem animals, dragons coming up the street, a sharp psychologist experimenting with aya over years ended up thinking he’s a shellfish. This all might exist but it’s not useful for the human experience. So it is very serious and I feel it should be treated that way too!

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