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The Dark Side of Ayahuasca

The Dark Side of Ayahuasca

You may have heard of Ayahuasca retreats where people travel to a foreign destination to experience the side effects of this psychoactive brew.

As with peyote, many people believe that Ayahuasca offers enlightenment and spiritual awakening. Ayahuasca’s negative effects are often attributed to spiritual cleansing rather than an adverse physical reaction to the drug. As enlightening as this brew is believed to be, our drug rehab in Philadelphia is sharing the dark side of Ayahuasca.

What Is Ayahuasca?

Also referred to as “The Tea,” “The Vine,” and “La Purga,” Ayahuasca is a psychoactive brew made from the leaves of the Psychotria viridis shrub and the stalks of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, though other plants and ingredients are often added, as well. Both of these plants have hallucinogenic properties. Psychotria Viridis contains N, N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a powerful hallucinogenic chemical. The history of Ayahuasca goes back to ancient Amazonian tribes, whose people drank the brew for spiritual and religious purposes. This drink is still believed to be and used as a sacred beverage by some religious communities in South American countries like Brazil and also in the United States. But is Ayahuasca legal? Although the brew itself isn’t officially illegal, its active ingredient, DMT, is banned as a Schedule I drug, in which other drugs like heroin and ecstasy are categorized.

How Is Ayahuasca Used?

Generally, Ayahuasca is drunk as a brew. When used in traditional ceremonies, a shaman or curandero – a healer who leads Ayahuasca ceremonies – would prepare the brew by boiling the leaves of Psychotria Viridis and Banisteriopsis caapi plants in water. The Banisteriopsis caapi vine would be smashed in water before being boiled to increase the drug’s side effects. Once the brew is done, the water is removed and kept, leaving the plant material behind. The process is then repeated several times to create a highly concentrated liquid.

Although Ayahuasca was originally used for religious and spiritual purposes, it’s now recreationally used worldwide by people who want to open their minds, heal from mental illness, and have an “enlightening” Ayahuasca experience. People may travel on retreats to countries like Peru, Brazil, and Costa Rica to experience the effects of the Ayahuasca drug. However, as enlightening as this drug is promised to be, it can severely harm the body in various ways.

How Does Ayahuasca Work?

The main ingredients of Ayahuasca are the leaves of the Psychotria Viridis shrub and the stalks of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, both of which contain hallucinogenic chemicals. Of these chemicals, DMT is the most prominent. It’s a powerful hallucinogenic chemical that’s easily broken down by enzymes in your liver and gastrointestinal tract called monoamine oxidases (MAOs). In order for the drug to take effect, it has to be mixed with MAO inhibitors. Banisteriopsis caapi contains these inhibitors, which produce psychoactive ingredients of their own. When combined, the two plants form a powerful psychoactive brew that impacts the central nervous system, producing hallucinations, out-of-body experiences, and euphoria.

Dangers of Ayahuasca: Bad Side Effects

Nowadays, people usually take Ayahuasca at retreats. These ceremonies are usually held at night and last until side effects have worn off. Ayahuasca’s negative effects include:

  • Euphoria
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Strong visual and auditory hallucinations
  • Fear
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks

But how long does Ayahuasca last? Ayahuasca effects usually begin within 20 to 60 minutes. The duration of these effects depends on the dose taken or how potent the brew is. A high on Ayahuasca can last anywhere between 2 to 6 hours.1 Also, while side effects may vary from person to person, all users typically experience vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea. Although participating in an Ayahuasca ceremony may seem alluring, consuming psychedelic drugs can cause serious and even life-threatening side effects.

A major concern of Ayahuasca use is side effects like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, paranoia, and panic. While they may be considered normal reactions to this brew, they’re still distressing and can lead to more serious problems like dehydration and changes in blood pressure. There’s also no guarantee that you’ll have a pleasant reaction to this drug. Considering the fact that the side effects of most psychedelics are unpredictable, this is entirely understandable.

Additionally, Ayahuasca can be dangerous if it’s taken with other substances like antidepressants, psychiatric medications, drugs for Parkinson’s disease, cough medicines, weight loss medications, and more. People with mental disorders or a history of mental illness like schizophrenia should avoid using Ayahuasca, as it can worsen symptoms and cause mania. The brew can also increase your heart rate and blood pressure, which may result in cardiovascular-related issues.

Moreover, participating in Ayahuasca retreats means you’re putting your life in the hands of the shamans who are leading the ceremonies. This means they’re in charge of the ingredients and doses that go into the brew. There have been reports of Ayahuasca ceremonies being led by untrained individuals, putting participants in danger. Also, while some may claim that there are some pros of taking the brew, in clinical trials that were carefully controlled, there are minimal positive findings related to this brew. It’s safe to say these trials do not equate to an average Ayahuasca ceremony.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Ayahuasca?

Long-term effects of Ayahuasca use include psychosis, frequent flashbacks or memories of Ayahuasca “trips,” and hallucinations. These symptoms may occur for months or years after using the drug. Also, specific conditions like hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD) and persistent psychosis can occur as a result of Ayahuasca use.

Common symptoms of HPPD include:

  • Seeing flashes of color
  • Having color and size confusion
  • Seeing halos around objects
  • Seeing tracers or trailers around images or objects
  • Seeing geometric shapes and patterns
  • Seeing images within images
  • Having difficulty reading and concentrating

Persistent psychosis is also known as schizophrenia or “split brain,” and is characterized by symptoms like:

  • Mood disorders
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Ongoing and persistent paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Visual disturbances

Although Ayahuasca’s potential for addiction is not yet confirmed, its short and long-term side effects are disturbing. It’s also common for people who experiment with hallucinogenic drugs to experiment with more intense substances. If long-term substance abuse occurs, the person may develop an addiction that requires PHP or outpatient drug treatment.

As you may have concluded, the dark side of Ayahuasca overshadows any of its supposed benefits. Any form of substance abuse can be dangerous and even life-threatening. Experimentation often opens up a person’s curiosity to try new drugs that may be even more harmful, increasing the risk of addiction and further physical calamity. If you or someone you know is battling any kind of substance use disorder, Banyan Treatment Centers Philadelphia can help. Call us today at 888-280-4763 to learn more about our addiction recovery programs in Philadelphia.

Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.