The Healing Powers of Ayahuasca

benefits of ayahuasca plant

You may have come across the term Ayahuasca online or heard about it through a friend, either way, this South American entheogenic, psychoactive brewed drink has increased in popularity within various communities in recent years.

Ayahuasca can be used as a ceremonial, spiritual medicine or socially and is extremely popular among indigenous people, especially those in Amazonian communities.

In recent years, Ayahuasca has increased in popularity within Western Society as more and more people have come to appreciate the tea’s healing properties. 

What is Ayahuasca?

Ayahuasca is made from parts of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and Psychotria Viridis shrub.

It comes in the form of a brewed tea and is produced by an experienced shaman – its effects include visual and auditory hallucinations, altered states of consciousness and altered perceptions of reality.

Why do people take Ayahuasca?

Ayahuasca has powerful hallucinogenic properties and can cause positive and harmful health effects (Healthline, What Is Ayahuasca? Experience, Benefits, and Side Effects, Jillian Kubala, MS, RD, June 26, 2019).

Typically, Ayahuasca is used as an anecdote, with many participants experiencing an “Ayahuasca trip” shortly after drinking.

Some of these experiences can be incredibly moving and enlightening, while others can be profoundly distressing.

Everyone has an entirely different experience with Ayahuasca. Some people react better than others. 

Long-term health benefits

Studies have shown various long-term health benefits associated with Ayahuasca, some of which will be covered in this article.

How and where Ayahuasca is used

Ayahuasca Plant

As mentioned, various communities have traditionally used Ayahuasca for spiritual and religious purposes for many years.

Ayahuasca has become increasingly popular within Western Society in more recent years – especially among those who seek to heal from past traumas, open their minds, or enjoy an Ayahuasca experience (Healthline, What Is Ayahuasca? Experience, Benefits, and Side Effects, Jillian Kubala, MS, RD, June 26, 2019).

Supervision

It is strongly advised that Ayahuasca is taken under tight supervision by an experienced shaman. Due to the potent effects of the brew, participants must be cautiously observed and looked after.

Ayahuasca trips often lead to hallucinations and an altered state of consciousness that may last for hours – therefore, guidance from an experienced shaman is imperative to ensure a safe experience for those taking part.

Location

Ayahuasca retreats typically take place in Brazil, Peru and Costa Rica.

These retreats are directed and led by experienced shamans, who prepare the tea and ensure the safety of all participants.

Preparing for the Ayahuasca experience

Those who want to partake in an Ayahuasca experience are advised to detoxify their bodies of specific toxins such as caffeine, drugs, alcohol and sex in advance.

Abstaining from these activities purifies the body and helps rid it of toxins, which may enhance a person’s experience. 

People are also advised to follow specific diets, mainly vegan or vegetarian, around 2 -4 weeks before the Ayahuasca experience to free the body of toxins.

Ayahuasca ceremonies

Ayahuasca takes around 20 – 60 minutes to take effect after consumption. However, the effects can last up to 6 hours.

Ceremonies are typically managed by experienced shamans who offer spiritual guidance to participants while ensuring their safety throughout the Ayahuasca journey.

People react differently to Ayahuasca, but the typical effects of ingesting the brew include vomiting, paranoia, visual hallucinations and euphoria.

The effects of Ayahuasca depend on the dosage, but an individual’s “trip” can last anything from 2-6 hours.

Preparing the space

Most Ayahuasca ceremonies occur at night and last until the brew’s effects have dissipated.

Before the ceremony begins, a shaman prepares and blesses the space. Shortly afterwards, Ayahuasca is offered to each participant.

Many people report different experiences of Ayahuasca; some experience enlightenment and euphoria, while others have more negative experiences like panic or profound anxiety.

Studies show that every Ayahuasca experience produces different effects, meaning that no two experiences are the same.

The benefits of Ayahuasca

Morning Yoga Meditation by the Beach

Many people who have taken Ayahuasca have reported the experience to be positively life-changing.

Research has shown that Ayahuasca can have long-term health benefits, particularly brain health.

Ayahuasca’s positive effects on brain health

Scientists say that some of the ingredients in Ayahuasca have exhibited neurorestorative and neuroprotective qualities.

Such elements include DMT and b-carbolines (Healthline, What Is Ayahuasca? Experience, Benefits, and Side Effects, Jillian Kubala, MS, RD, June 26, 2019).

One of the studies suggested that DMT protects human brain cells from damage, often caused by oxygen deprivation -it also increases human cell survival (Healthline, What Is Ayahuasca? Experience, Benefits, and Side Effects, Jillian Kubala, MS, RD, June 26, 2019).

The researchers noted that other ingredients found in Ayahuasca, such as B-carboline, had memory-enhancing and anti-inflammatory effects in animal and test-tube studies (Healthline, What Is Ayahuasca? Experience, Benefits, and Side Effects, Jillian Kubala, MS, RD, June 26, 2019).

Mental health benefits of Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca may improve emotional regulation and mood control. Studies show it can also help reduce anxiety and stress.

One study posited that Ayahuasca preparations created antidepressant activity; this may be due to some of the ingredients in the tea, such as harmine, which according to scientists, can contribute to neurogenesis.

Addiction

The research literature showed that Ayahuasca could help those with addictions and substance use disorders.

Twelve participants with substance and process addictions took part in a small study. 

As part of a four-day treatment program, the group participated in two Ayahuasca ceremonies in which the results proved positive.

After a six-month follow-up, the individuals who participated in the Ayahuasca ceremonies reported positive and lasting changes in their behaviours.

PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)

A study conducted in 2018 found that Ayahuasca can help those suffering from the mental health condition PTSD.

Mental health professionals report that Ayahuasca can help retrieve repressed, traumatic memories, allowing the brain to remove (or reprogram) the fear response associated with traumatic experiences.

Risks

There are various risks associated with Ayahuasca. For instance, eight reported deaths at Ayahuasca retreats have occurred in the last decade. 

The reasons for the deaths are unclear. However, many believe combining Ayahuasca with specific pharmaceutical medications can be potentially dangerous and even lethal.

Poor shamanistic supervision and care may also be another factor in the cause of these deaths.

Medical professionals strongly recommend that those with a family history of mental illness, particularly psychotic illness or psychotic mania, avoid taking Ayahuasca (or other psychedelic drugs) as such substances increase the chances of a psychotic episode.

Ayahuasca effects

Ayahuasca lowers an individual’s inhibitions and psychological defences. As a result, participants may experience various intense feelings, including fear, confusion and paranoia.

Some people report re-experiencing traumatic memories, while others gain clarity and fresh insights into personal matters.

The Ayahuasca experience involves a vomiting phase, where users experience an abrupt “shift” into an expanded state of consciousness. 

Additionally, many people report encountering “higher powers” or “spirits.” 

Other feelings associated with Ayahuasca include:

  • Peace
  • Euphoria
  • A feeling of oneness
  • Insights into the afterlife

Although Ayahuasca may offer various health benefits, much more research must be conducted to confirm these findings. 

Medical advice must be sought before taking part in an Ayahuasca retreat.

Contact Centres for Health and Healing

If you want more information about this article or are concerned about your mental health, speak to a specialist at Centres for Health and Healing who can help.

We treat various mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders. Speak to a specialist today to find out more.

Additional resources

  1. What Is Ayahuasca? Experience, Benefits, and Side Effects: Healthline, Jillian Kubala, MS, RD, June 26, 2019
  2. Ayahuasca Benefits: Healing for Cancer, Depression, and More: Ayahuasca Shaman Chaman
Lisa Davies - Program Director of Vaughan Recovery and Kirby Estate

About Lisa Davies

Lisa is the Program Director at Centres for Health and Healing. She lived for most of her life in the Durham region, before moving to Peel five years ago.

Lisa is a Master Hypnotist and is certified in Hypnotherapy (2008), Self-Hypnosis and in 5-phase Advanced Therapeutic Healing. As a Member of National Guild of Hypnotists, she is also specialized in hypnosis training in pediatrics, pain management, neuro-linguistic and stage programming.

Read more

Call now
Ready to get help?
Call for treatment options
Need financing?
Payment plans available