An introduction to Ayahuasca

What is it? Where did it come from? What are the experiences people have with it?

These are probably questions you know the answers to or do not.

However the case, I want to write about it. So here we go.

What is Ayahuasca?

Ayahuasca is a psychoactive substance made from the mixture of two plants commonly found in the Amazon Rain forest around Peru.

In technical terms, Ayahuasca is a thick, viscous liquid made by mixing and boiling Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis leaves – both of which have psychoactive ingredients.

P. viridis leaves have DMT (N-dimethyltriptamine) which is a strong psychedelic compound. While B. caapi have MAO inhibitors. These MAOi’s called beta-carbolines stop the body from quickly breaking down the DMT which allows the psychedelic effects to materialize.

Although the ingredients may vary in some places, these form the base of the drink.

Many regard it as “tea” and many think of it to be a “concentrated concoction of hallucinogens that allow the user to perceive and interact with the world in an altered state of consciousness.”

What does it do?

The crux of Ayahuasca as a substance is that it allows the one ingesting it access to a part of their subconscious mind, thus unraveling memories thought to have been forgotten and allows the subconscious mind to interact with reality – something that does not happen on a daily basis.

The substance does have a very peculiar effect on people. While some people have pleasant, life changing experiences, there are also those that have anxiety attacks and ‘bad trips’.

The subconscious mind, freed, can bring up suppressed feelings and these can be of happiness or fear, calmness or anxiety – it differs from people to people, based on what experiences they have been through and how they have been shaped by those experiences.


Ayahuasca is said to have originated in the Amazon. Ancient Amazonians have been noted to have first used the substance thousands of years ago and the usage has prevalent ever since.

The ancient amazonians are thought to have used it as a healing medicine and in tribal rituals. People believe it helped them connect with deities and spirits.

A Shaman or a curandero is the leader of a ceremony that typically involves 8-16 people on an average, during which all the participants ingest the liquid in unison.

Ayahuasca ceremonies usually take place at night. Quite recently, since word has spread about the substance and how it can “heal” you by helping you get rid of your past trauma, has led to a Ayahuasca tourism boom wherein there are more and more dedicated Ayahuasca retreats coming up all over the world.

Experiences with Ayahuasca

There have been many different experiences with Ayahuasca as there should be. The drug effects the part of the brain that allows little “conscious” control over our bodies, and thus there are little chances of controlled uniformity.

When asked to describe it, people are not able to put into words exactly what they experienced because it is truly something they have never been through or heard of before.

As popularity and usage of the substance increased, the most notably recurring experiences are with deities and spirits – something that a lot of individuals in the Ayahuasca community have experienced.

Ego Death is another common experience that many that have used the substance have felt – claiming it gives an opportunity to connect with the world around on a deeper level.

There have been many that have been known to have gone back from Ayahuasca retreats to have a “better” control over their lives because they have been “healed” by the use of the substance.

That statement could be re-framed as – they have learnt how to react to situations in their life in a better way because they have learnt how to deal with and at many times just accept their past traumatic experiences.

This explains a lot of the positive effects of Ayahuasca. However, there have been many negative effects too – where users have been known to have anxiety attacks and even sexually harassed.

While anxiety is a deeply personal issue and can only be resolved by the Self, sexual harassment can be controlled.

It is sad to say that the need to find the right shaman at the right retreat is imperative. Considering the positive intentions of the people that seek out these retreats and the nature of the substance, taking undue advantage of people under the influence sounds terribly wrong. Sadly though, there are reports and proof of such activity which creates a need for trustworthy shamans.

Shamans have to practice their art for a minimum of 10 years before they can be called Shamans and it seems like a waste to throw that reputation away on sexual desires but still, it is happening.

Special mention

“Regardless of everything”, says a user that has been sexually abused by a 50 year old Shaman at the tender age of 20, “I keep going back to the substance under the guidance of different Shamans, so there is definitely some positives to using the substance.”

While humans have little research about the use and effects of this substance, as the popularity grows, so does the research and we will have much documented research soon.

5 thoughts on “An introduction to Ayahuasca

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