Ayahuasca (Ayaguasca, Ayawaska) is an entheogenic brew made out of Banisteriopsis caapi vine and other ingredients. The brew is used as a traditional spiritual medicine in ceremonies among the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin and is known by a number of different names.
Evidence of Ayahuasca usage dates to at least 1000 C.E., based on discovering in 2010 a bundle containing the residue of Ayahuasca ingredients along with other various well-preserved shamanic substances in a cave in southwestern Bolivia. Click here for Ayahuasca FAQs.
The shamans lead the ceremonial consumption of the Ayahuasca beverage in a rite that typically takes place over the entire night. During the ceremony, the effect of the drink lasts for hours. The ceremony is usually accompanied with purging which includes vomiting and/or diarrhea, which is believed to release built up emotions and negative energy.
People who have consumed Ayahuasca report having mystical or religious experiences and spiritual revelations regarding their purpose on earth, the true nature of the universe, and deep insight into how to be the best person they possibly can. This is viewed by many as a spiritual awakening and what is often described as a rebirth. In addition, it is often reported that individuals feel they gain access to higher spiritual dimensions and make contact with various spiritual or extra-dimensional beings who can act as guides or healers.
It is claimed that people may experience profound positive life changes subsequent to consuming Ayahuasca.
Vomiting can follow Ayahuasca ingestion; this purging is considered by many shamans and experienced users of Ayahuasca to be an essential part of the experience as it represents the release of negative energy and emotions built up over the course of one's life. Others report purging in the form of vomiting, diarrhea, and hot/cold flashes.
Shamans and experienced users of Ayahuasca advise against consuming Ayahuasca when not in the presence of one or several well-trained shamans.
Depending on dosage, the temporary non-entheogenic effects of Ayahuasca can include tremors, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, autonomic instability, hyperthermia, sweating, motor function impairment, sedation, relaxation, vertigo, dizziness, and muscle spasms. The ingestion of Ayahuasca can also cause significant but temporary emotional and psychological distress. Click here for Ayahuasca FAQs.
Long-term negative effects are not known. A few deaths due to participation in the consumption of Ayahuasca have been reported, although none have been linked specifically to Ayahuasca itself and are usually said to be due to other factors. Some of the deaths may have been due to unscreened pre-existing heart conditions, interaction with drugs, such as antidepressants, recreational drugs, caffeine, nicotine (from drinking tobacco tea for purging/cleansing), or from improper/irresponsible use due to behavioral risks or possible drug to drug interactions. (Click here for more information about the medical restrictions).
In 2018, it was reported that a single dose of Ayahuasca significantly reduced symptoms of treatment-resistant depression in a small placebo-controlled trial. More specifically, statistically significant reductions of up to 82% in depressive scores were observed between baseline and 1, 7, and 21 days after Ayahuasca administration, as measured on the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D), the Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS), and the Anxious-Depression subscale of the Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale (BPRS).
Ayahuasca is used largely as a treasured sacrament. People who work with Ayahuasca in non-traditional contexts often align themselves with the philosophies and cosmologies associated with Ayahuasca shamanism, as practiced among indigenous peoples like the Urarina of the Peruvian Amazon. While non-native users know of the spiritual applications of Ayahuasca, a less well-known traditional usage focuses on the medicinal properties of Ayahuasca.
When used for its medicinal purposes, Ayahuasca affects the human consciousness for less than six hours, beginning half an hour after consumption and peaking after two hours. In some cases, individuals experience significant psychological stress during the experience. Ayahuasca also has cardiovascular effects, moderately increasing heart rate and diastolic blood pressure. It is for this reason that extreme caution should be taken with those who may be at risk of heart disease.
The psychedelic effects of Ayahuasca include visual and auditory stimulation, the mixing of sensory modalities, and psychological introspection that may lead to great elation, fear, or illumination. Its purgative properties are important (known as la purga or "the purge"). The intense vomiting and occasional diarrhea it induces can clear the body of worms and other tropical parasites, and harmala alkaloids themselves have been shown to be anthelmintic. Thus, this action is twofold; a direct action on the parasites by these harmala alkaloids (particularly harmine in Ayahuasca) works to kill the parasites, and parasites are expelled through the increased intestinal motility caused by these alkaloids.
Dietary restrictions are often associated with the use of Ayahuasca. Prior to the ceremony, participants are instructed to abstain from spicy and heavily seasoned foods, excess fat, salt, caffeine, acidic foods (such as citrus), pork, red meat and sexual activities before, after and during the Ayahuasca ceremony. (Click here for more information about the dietary guidelines).