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Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca is an Amazonian plant mixture that is capable of inducing altered states of consciousness, usually lasting between 4 to 8 hours after ingestion. Ranging from mildly stimulating to extremely visionary, ayahuasca is used primarily as a medicine and as a shamanic means of communication, typically in a ceremonial session under the guidance of an experienced drinker.

The main ingredient is a vine, Banisteriopsis caapi, which acts as an MAOI and, like the tea itself, is also called ayahuasca. The secondary ingredient is either chacruna or chagropanga – plants containing a relatively high amount of DMT, a psychedelic substance. Ayahuasca induces a psychedelic, visionary state of mind and this effect is employed by various people for various reasons.

Shamans or medicine men take ayahuasca to communicate with nature or to see what is causing a patient’s illness on a spiritual level. In Brazil several religions can be found that pivot around gatherings where ayahuasca is taken by all participants. Drinking ayahuasca and singing together reportedly takes them into a healing and inspiring kind of trance.

History of Ayahuasca

The use of ayahuasca is a widespread practice among indigenous tribes in the Amazon Basin. Such practices were almost certainly well established in pre-Columbian times. Ayahuasca, along with many other medicinal plants, gradually became integrated into the ethnomedical traditions of the mixed populations following European contact in the New World.

The use of this psychotropic tea is experiencing expansion worldwide, and is the object of increasing biomedical research. These plants were central to indigenous cultures in the New World and were used in medicine, religious ceremonies and rites of passage. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, small groups of indigenous people continued to use these plants in traditional ceremonies and other cultural practices.

In Brazil, the practice and use of ayahuasca has been blended with Christian and Afro-Brazilian religious beliefs, giving rise to the Santo Daime, the União do Vegetal and other spiritual movements. These new forms have contributed to the spread of ayahuasca use to mainstream South American society and greater awareness among other people outside of the continent.

Why Ayahuasca is Used

Ayahuasca is used to create a psychedelic experience, like other hallucinogens. In traditional cultures, it’s often used by shamans or medicine men to open up communication with nature. These spiritual leaders also use it to determine what’s causing someone to be sick at the spiritual level. In some religious ceremonies including in Brazil, ayahuasca is taken by everyone who participates in the ceremony, and they sing and chant as they drift into a trance.

In contemporary Western society, there is an interest in ayahuasca by people who are intrigued by the use of mind-altering substances to overcome fears and explore the capabilities of their mind.

How the Drug Works

It’s important to understand that ayahuasca vine on its own doesn’t necessarily have psychoactive characteristics, but when it’s combined with the Psychotria Viridis plant to create a tea, there is a psychedelic effect. This tea contains DMT, which is something with a structure similar to serotonin. DMT will be discussed more below.

Within about a half hour after consuming ayahuasca tea, people experience something that they describe as hallucinations. People who have used it don’t feel like it’s the same as a trip they might get with LSD, however, and they describe it as more emotional and spiritual, as opposed to being recreational.

There have been brain scans showing the use of this tea can decrease activity in certain areas of the brain. These areas, when they’re overactive, are associated with conditions like anxiety and social phobia as well as depression, so it stands to reason that this is why people feel like consuming ayahuasca might be beneficial for these disorders. The DMT component of ayahuasca is also related to proteins that help with memory and the regeneration of neurons.

Is Ayahuasca Safe?

One of the most common side effects of using ayahuasca tea that occurs is vomiting, although in religious and spiritual ceremonies this is often equated with releasing negative elements from your life. Ingesting excessive amounts of ayahuasca tea could lead to serotonin syndrome. Serotonin syndrome is most likely to occur in people who are taking antidepressants while they also take DMT, and this occurs when your body builds up too much serotonin. Symptoms of serotonin syndrome can lead to headache, disorientation, agitation and high blood pressure. It can potentially be fatal as well.

Psychological Effects

A small control trial of 6 male participants with previous ayahuasca experience found that psychological effects were first noted 30–60 minutes after ingesting one of three doses (0.5, 0.75, and 1.0 mg/kg) and peaked between 1-2 hours. All of the psychological effects had worn off after 4 hours.

The first effects reported by the volunteers were physical changes, including burning sensations in the stomach, tingling sensations, changes in perception of body temperature and skin sensitivity, and mild nausea. Hallucinations were typically intense and experienced suddenly. Most reported a degree of initial anxiety or fear, which faded in all but one case thereafter.

Visual hallucinations were experienced in all subjects and their intensity was dose-dependent. They did not persist throughout the entire experience, but usually came and went in waves. These effects ranged from increases in an object’s brightness and sharpness, or as vibrations in the visual field, to rapidly moving patterns and scenes.

Other users have reported:

  • Disturbances and changes in their visual surrounds
  • Intensification of colors and details – especially in natural surroundings
  • An increase or decrease in how quickly time seems to go by
  • Many users have out-of-body experiences
  • Intensely powerful vibrations of the physical environment felt in the body

Physical Side Effects of Ayahuasca

Users of ayahuasca have reported the following side effects:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Double vision
  • Uncontrolled rapid eye movement
  • Disturbances in depth perception
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Chest pain at very high doses
  • Decreased motor skills and coordination
  • Dizziness

Is Ayahuasca Addictive?

DMT itself isn’t currently known to have a potential for physical addiction or dependence, but the psychological effects can cause cravings. This is something that’s seen with other hallucinogens as well. While the chemical makeup of DMT might not lead to addiction, people often become psychologically addicted to the experience of using a drug like DMT or drinking ayahuasca tea. They may want to continue recreating the feelings and experiences they had when taking the substance, which can lead them to use it continuously.

Seeking Treatment

Choosing the right type of treatment for your addiction can be a daunting task. It is always best to weigh the risks and benefits of any potential treatment before beginning. A reputable alcohol and drug rehab will fully disclose any risks involved in participating in their treatment program.

Additionally, because everyone experiences addiction differently, the more individualized the treatment is, the better.  There should be a combination of both individual and group addiction counselling, and ideally an option for family therapy or dual-diagnosis therapy as well.

When choosing a drug or alcohol rehab it is always best to consult a doctor or addiction specialist in order to help you determine what type of treatment is the safest and most effective for your individual case. And while spending a weekend in the forest taking psychedelics probably sounds more fun than weeks of counselling and therapy at an addiction treatment center, it is important to remember that addiction is a serious disease and there is no quick-fix solution. Successful, long-term addiction recovery requires persistence, dedication and a willingness to succeed.

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