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The information below are intended to help you understand what is ayahuasca, what benefits you can get from it and what are the risks involved.
The International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research, and Service (ICEERS) is a non-profit organization dedicated to transforming society’s relationship with psychoactive plants. We do this by engaging with some of the fundamental issues resulting from the globalization of ayahuasca, iboga, and other ethnobotanicals.
ICEERS is launching a new informative guide on ayahuasca, which was commissioned by the Department of Health of the Generalitat de Catalunya. “Towards Better Ayahuasca Practices: A Guide for Organizers and Participants” is a compilation of basic ethical and security standards for the use of ayahuasca in non-Amazonian contexts and deals with areas of legality and both individual and collective responsibility.
To our knowledge, this is the first time that any health department in the world has published a safety guide for ayahuasca. In this regard, we want to thank all the people and collectives that, over decades, have paved the way and contributed with much of the information that has made the publication of this guide possible. This is a collective victory and a recognition of the value of previous resources that were stigmatized or of low quality.
Ayahuasca is a decoction of different plants of Amazonian origin. For centuries, various peoples of the Amazon have used this drink as part of their traditional medicine, as well as in religious rituals. In recent years its use is expanding, globalizing and reaching people in other countries that approach it as a tool for personal, spiritual or therapeutic development. In many countries there has been ayahuasca presence for more than two decades. This presence has many forms, from indigenous shamans, Amazonian vegetalistas and Brazilian ayahuasca religions, to neo-shamanic and therapeutic circles. Although there is a lot of variety between them, what they all have in common is the fact that there is a person guiding the sessions. That is to say, there is always a person who is responsible for the session who serves the ayahuasca and who accompanies and assists the participants.
In the short term, the effects of ayahuasca usually start between 15 and 60 minutes after ingestion, and last between 2 and 5 hours. Ayahuasca induces a modified state of consciousness where it is common to have visions and changes in the way of thinking and perceiving reality. Physically, the intake can cause vomiting and diarrhea, which is often interpreted as a form of emotional and energetic cleansing.
Levels of Experience
Ayahuasca, acting on the brain, produces biological effects that manifest as transient modifications, the release of certain hormones, modulation of the immune system, and an increase in blood pressure (without reaching pathological parameters.) Keep in mind that these physiological modifications do not affect everyone in the same way, for example people with previous conditions might be more affected. For this reason, although ayahuasca is physiologically very safe for healthy people, those with pathologies should be extra careful, especially if they take other medications. (see section of contraindications below).
Effects include frequent emergence of memories and images from the past and other psychological materials, either conscious or unconscious, which are experienced with greater emotional intensity than normal. Many consider ayahuasca as a kind of mirror of one’s interior, where one can see the internal conflicts, fears and difficult emotions, but also the beautiful and good parts of one’s life.
Spiritual or transpersonal level
Spiritual or transpersonal level: The effects can sometimes include experiences of access or contact with realities that go beyond one’s ordinary experience, and are ascribed to mythological, religious or spiritual dimensions, surpasssing what one commonly feels or experiences.
The combination of the afore-mentioned effects can lead the person to have changes in their conception of themself and reality. In the medium and long term the effect that ayahuasca has on the life of each individual is unpredictable and varies from group to group and person to person, but it can be affirmed that it can sometimes prompt very deep changes in the life of individuals; this is something that people interested in taking ayahuasca should keep in mind.
Some scholars believe that ayahuasca acts as an adaptogen, helping people find a more comfortable relationship with themselves and their surroundings. Although there is still a lack of broad scientific studies, there are many accounts of people who after an extended process with ayahuasca claim to have received clear benefits, both personal and in their immediate environment.
Depending on the situation of each person, their previous history and the social context, the effects may vary, but there are reports of therapeutic results for people with a range of problems ranging from depression, burn-out, grief, compulsive use of drugs, guilt, emotional pain, childhood trauma and acceptance of death, to more common issues, such as life purpose, professional problems relationship problems, etc.
The spectrum is broad, however, what seems established is that, although ayahuasca can help, in general it is not enough just to take ayahuasca. In order to produce a therapeutic benefit that is sustained over time, a broader therapeutic endeavor is necessary before and after the ayahuasca.
When not to take ayahuasca: Security and exclusion criteria
Ayahuasca is not recommended in the following cases: people with severe cardiovascular problems (as it slightly increases cardiovascular parameters); glaucoma; retinal detachment; severe hypertension; fractures; recent surgeries; acute infectious diseases; tuberculosis; epilepsy,;convulsions; cerebrovascular accidents. Also, those with serious liver, gallbladder, kidney or pancreas diseases, certain cases of gastroduodenal ulcer or gastritis, digestive hemorrhage.Those who have difficulty vomiting should also avoid ingesting ayahuasca.
Ayahuasca is not recommended for pregnant or lactating women.
Ayahuasca is not indicated for people suffering from panic attacks, serious psychiatric disorders such as bipolar, schizophrenia, borderline personality, etc. If a person has a history of severe depression, suicide attempts or self-harm, it is essential that the work with ayahuasca is accompanied by adequate psychological supervision.
The use of ayahuasca is contraindicated with drugs or substances inhibiting monoamine oxidase (MAOI), and any drug or medication with an effect on the serotonin system. Ayahuasca is also contraindicated with many antidepressants and psychotropic drugs.
Incompatible psychoactive substances
Substances such as cocaine, amphetamines or MDMA may interact negatively with ayahuasca, so their combination is not recommended, as the effects can result in hypertensive crises. Likewise, the combination of ayahuasca with bufotenin and/ or 5-MeO-DMT (present in other substances of natural origin such as Bufo alvarius, vilca or yopo) is also contraindicated.
Ayahuasca is not and should not be used as a substitute for psychotherapy or medical care.
Finally, you should consult a specialist if you have any type of illness or use daily medication (including herbal medicine) and report this beforehand to the person guiding the ayahuasca experience.
Dietary Guidelines for Ayahuasca
The plant medicine Ayahuasca has a strong biochemical and energetic effect on the body. Everything you put into your body before and during your retreat experience will effect how the plants work within you. If you want to get the most from your experience, our shamans highly recommend starting the following diet 2-4 weeks before you intend to drink Ayahuasca. This will cleanse the cells, tissues and energetics of the body and mind, which will help the wisdom of the plant medicine to work for your better good and at a deeper level. A clean and ready body will help you to receive the Ayahuasca, and also give you a smoother overall experience. If you are not able to follow the diet for this length of time for you, then do try to follow the diet for at least 3 days before. You will be happy you did!
Recommended Foods for Ayahuasca diet Preparation
- A small amount of dairy is okay: yogurt, small amount of milk
- Rice, quinoa, amaranth
- Cage free Eggs
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- Green bananas
- Boiled plantains with no oil
- Lots of water
Foods NOT to Eat for Ayahuasca Diet Preparation
- Hot spice
- Fat from meat
- Red meat
- Chicken (fish is okay)
- Sugar (Use stevia as a substitute if you like)
- Salt (small amounts of Himalayan salt and Bamboo Salt is okay)
- Fermented foods
- Wine, beer or hard alcohol
- Butter, cheese
- Coffee (Drink Green Tea as a substitute if you like)
- Processed and frozen foods
- Pharmaceuticals EXCEPT for heart issues, high blood pressure, diabetes and life threatening illnesses.
- NO pharmaceuticals that affect the brain, such as for depression, psychosis or mental illnesses (Dangerous in combination with Ayahuasca)