Ayahuasca: All about the psychoactive brew

Pills and white powder on a table

A plant-based medicinal tea, Ayahuasca is known for its psychoactive qualities. A rather interesting brew, Ayahuasca is known to makes people travel back in time, and view their experiences and traumas from a different light. It is also believed that mental health ailments such as depression and anxiety can be treated with Ayahuasca. However, there are major side effects that can occur due to inappropriate consumption.

An ‘Ayahuasca trip’ – the immediate effect of the medicinal tea – can be both exhilarating as well as distressing. Read on to learn more about this psychoactive brew.

What is Ayahuasca?

Ayahuasca is made from the leaves of the Psychotria viridis shrub as well as the Banisteriopsis caapi vine stalks. Other plant extracts can also be added to the tea. Ayahuasca was discovered in the 900 BC. The Amazonian tribes used Ayahuasca for their religious and spiritual demonstrations, conducted by shamans.

Ayahuasca is legal in many countries and folks often travel to South America and Central America to experience this brew. It is believed that Ayahuasca gets you on the track of introspection as well as spirituality. However, it is not legal in many countries. The main component – N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) – a psychedelic drug – is banned in European countries.

How does Ayahuasca work?

Ayahuasca contains Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis. Now, Psychotria viridis contains N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) that gets broken down into enzymes called monoamine oxidases (MAOs), states this study, published in The Mental Health Clinician. Therefore, DMT is combined with MAO inhibitors such as β-carbolines present in Banisteriopsis caapi. These two plants are combined to formulate Ayahuasca.

Ayahuasca impacts the central nervous system and can help you experience an out-of-body experience. Also, it is said to increase blood flow in the frontal cortical of the brain, the part that is responsible for memory and emotion regulation. While Ayahuasca has been used in rituals for generations, more research is needed on its benefits.

The Ayahuasca ceremony

An Ayahuasca ceremony is usually conducted a few nights in a row. A shaman prepares the brew for the participants. About 1-2 drinks are offered every evening. Most people start to experience the effects about 20 minutes after drinking the tea. Participants are usually on a path of self-discovery and healing, and take part in the ritual. The ceremonies last till the effect of the medicinal tea wears off, which is about six to eight hours, states this study, published in Current Neuropharmacology.

Besides an out-of-body experience, hallucinations, and a sense of euphoria can be experienced by the participants. However, people may also experience vomiting as well as diarrhoea, anxiety and panic. Different people react in different ways.

An experienced shaman, conducting the ritual, will also guide the participants, and monitor their effects.

Ayahuasca can help treat substance addiction. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Benefits of Ayahuasca

It is believed that Ayahuasca rituals are beneficial for your health. Here are a few Ayahuasca benefits.

1. May boost memory

Be it improving memory or promoting nerve cell growth, Ayahuasca has been shown to help in these areas. DMT is responsible for producing a protein called sigma-1 receptor (Sig-1R), that helps prevent neurodegeneration, and protects your brain cells from lack of oxygen, states this study, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience. Other test tube and animal studies, published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, point out that Ayahuasca helps boost memory and has an anti-inflammatory effect.

2. May improve mood regulation and wellness

Ayahuasca can also help in promoting psychological well-being, as well as reduce depression and anxiety. A study, published in Frontiers in Pharmacology, observed participants through a four-week Ayahuasca session and compared the results with an 8 week mindfulness programme. It was seen that the Ayahuasca sessions showed considerable results in increasing acceptance, which is a major part of psychological health. Another study, published in Springer, revealed the stress levels of participants decreased after the ayahuasca ceremony, and their satisfaction level with their lives increased.

3. May help treat addiction

When it comes to drug dependence and addiction, Ayahuasca has shown some considerable outcomes. A study, published in Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology states that Ayahuasca can have anti-addictive effects, as well as treat depression and mood and anxiety disorders. In another study, published by Current Drug Abuse Reviews, participants suffering from substance abuse were given two Ayahuasca ceremonies over four days of treatment. A follow-up was done after six months, and it was seen that their use of alcohol, cocaine and tobacco had reduced, and they were more mindful and hopeful.

Side effects of Ayahuasca

Not every Ayahuasca trip is the same, and you may experience both negative and positive outcomes. Ayahuasca can have various side effects and must be consumed after an informed consideration.

1. Bad trip

An Ayahuasca trip can be both good and bad. Besides an exhilarating experience, a trip can also result in severe diarrhoea, vomiting as well as paranoia and even a panic attack. These will go as the effect fades.

2. May react to medication

You need to be very careful about consuming Ayahuasca if you are on medication for depression, or even cough medications, weight loss medications, as well as psychiatric medications, and Parkinson’s disease medications. Ayahuasca can react with these medications, and cause harm, states this study, published in The Mental Health Clinician.

3. May worsen psychiatric disorder symptoms

Psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia can become much worse with Ayahuasca, and can even lead to the patient to personal harm, states this study, published in Case Reports in Emergency Medicine.

4. May be bad for the heart

When it comes to heart rate and blood pressure, Ayahuasca consumption can make it increase these. So if you have a heart condition, beware of taking Ayahuasca, states this study, published in The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.

A girl trying to remember
Ayahuasca can help boost memory. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Risks and Dangers

It is very important to keep a few things in mind before you try out an Ayahuasca ritual. You must always go only to an experienced Shaman. If you are suffering from any mental health disorder, or have heart-health issues, please consult your healthcare professional before trying Ayahuasca.


Ayahuasca can have both positive as well as negative effects on our body. While it is said to help with depression and addiction, it can increase our heart rate and worsen psychiatric disorder symptoms. There is a lot more research that is needed in this field as of now.

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