Many generations ago, indigenous curanderos of the Amazon rainforest brewed together two plants, creating an entheogenic tea that would forever transform the health and lives of many around the world.

This concoction is called ayahuasca, and in this article we will explore its potent biology, rich cultural history, and other aspects of its use which make it so uniquely powerful and transformative.

What Is Ayahuasca?

Ayahuasca is a sacred, ceremonial, psychoactive tea originally concocted and consumed by Amazonian shamans. In traditional contexts, its purposes are:

Medicinal — diagnostics and healing of illnesses
Divinatory — ascertaining answers to questions and locating missing objects or people
Magical — energetic protection and waging spiritual warfare, and
Entheogenic — crossing over to otherworldly realms and communicating with deities.

Ayahuasca use has deep-rooted ritualistic traditions among indigenous and mestizo communities of Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, and Bolivia. Over the last few decades, though, it has also become widespread among Western psychonauts and seekers of healing and growth, who typically consume the brew in plant medicine retreats in the Amazon or with a traveling facilitator passing through, or based in their region.

The effects of this potent tea can be described as an extraordinary entheogenic voyage which can include spectacular visions, intense emotions, profound insights, and life-transforming revelations. The physical and spiritual purging of toxins often accompanies the journey and is considered a significant, or even central aspect of the experience.

The ayahuasca pronunciation sounds just like reading out its name as transcribed from the indigenous Quechuan languages: aya waska. Aya means “spirit,” “soul,” “the dead,” or “ancestors,” and waska translates to “rope” or “liana,” making both the brew’s and the plant’s name “Vine of the Soul.”

Both the ayahuasca tea and the ayahuasca plant are also known by many names depending on the local region or culture. Some of these names include: yagé or yajé (Cofán people), caapi (Tupí-Guaraní people), cipó (União do Vegetal church), daime (Santo Daime church), bejuco de oro (Colombia), hoasca (Brazil), natem (Shuar people), shori (Yaminawa people), uipa (Guahibo people), pindê or pilde (Tsachila people), and many others.

Due to its powerful medicinal and spiritual effects, the ayahuasca vine has the status of a Master Plant in Amazonian medicine, and the brew is also often referred to as la medicina sagrada (the sacred medicine).

Ayahuasca Tea Ingredients

There are numerous ayahuasca recipes depending on the specific shamanic practices and availability of admixture plants in different regions in the Amazon. However, the one plant that  ayahuasca tea cannot be made without is the ayahuasca vine, Banisteriopsis caapi.

Caapi Vine

The bark of this sacred vine contains a number of alkaloids with mild psychotropic properties, which are also responsible for the brew’s purgative effects.

In many indigenous preparations, especially the ones shared with the whole community, B. caapi is also the only ingredient, the accent being more on the cleansing effects of the brew than on the ayahuasca visions.

Shamans also often drink vine-only brews, as their years of training enable them to experience the full range of the brew’s effects just through the vine.

DMT Leaf

The primary admixture in ayahuasca brews is the DMT-containing leaf of chacruna (Psychotria viridis) or chaliponga/chagropanga (Diplopterys cabrerana). Which of the two is used depends on local availability and cultural preference. While they are technically interchangeable, their chemical configurations differ slightly, making the experiences with either distinct.

DMT, or dimethyltryptamine, is well-known to much of the world as the “Spirit Molecule.” It’s an immensely powerful psychedelic compound able to catalyze immense visionary journeys, astral projections, and contact with otherworldly sentient entities.

The DMT-caapi Synergy

Without B. caapi, a DMT-only brew is not considered ayahuasca, nor does it have any effect on the drinker. If consumed orally on its own, DMT gets broken down when it reaches the human liver and gut. The alkaloids contained in the ayahuasca vine prevent this process, allowing the DMT to stay intact until it reaches the bloodstream and, ultimately, the brain.

Once this process became understood by science, a viewpoint emerged suggesting that the role of the B. caapi vine is primarily that of an enabler, facilitating the DMT-containing plant in achieving its full effects. This perspective was notably popularized by renowned ethnobotanist, psychonaut, and advocate of entheogenic and mind-altering substances, Terence McKenna.

However, from both the scientific and indigenous standpoints, it’s the vine that appears to hold a more significant role and power within the context of ayahuasca experiences.

Shamans typically introduce the DMT-containing admixtures only when their intentions call for powerful visions. Otherwise, if the intention is healing or gaining spiritual insight, they often maintain that the visual ‘fireworks’ DMT imparts on the drinker can be too distracting from the main purpose of the journey.

As most Western visitors seeking out ayahuasca have had a strong desire to experience the ayahuasca visions they’d heard so much about, DMT admixtures have become an essential element of contemporary ayahuasca brews.

Other Admixtures

Aside from the ayahuasca vine and a DMT leaf, more than 80 different medicinal plants have been recorded as potential admixtures in indigenous ayahuasca tea recipes, their role being to modulate the brew’s taste or effects.

For instance, Amazonian tobacco or mapacho is a Master Plant almost always used in conjunction with ayahuasca. Shamans typically blow its smoke at the ceremony participants in order to perform cleansings; however, as an admixture of the brew itself, it can amplify the purging and intensify visionary experiences.

Another potent plant that’s sometimes infused into ayahuasca is toé or Angel’s trumpet, also known as Brugmansia. Toé makes the brew’s intoxicating effects more intense, adding deliriant hallucinations to the experience. This notorious flower may only be used by powerful, seasoned shamans — it can be, and has been deadly in the wrong hands.

Other botanical additions can include bobinsana, which can make the brew more stimulating and heart-opening; kana, an aromatic plant used to sweeten the taste of yagé in Colombia; and brunfelsia and remo caspi, which have the potential to deepen and prolong the brew’s effects.

The Culture of Ayahuasca Use

The ayahuasca tea has a rich and diverse history of traditional use among indigenous and mestizo peoples of the Amazon basin, with its origins dating back at least several centuries, and potentially even longer.

Traditionally, the consumption of ayahuasca was primarily the duty of the village shaman, who would undergo extensive training and dieting for months or years in order to grow a strong connection with the spirit of the vine and become a masterful navigator of the ayahuasca journey.

They would consume the brew ritually for the purposes of healing, divination, and magic. At times, they would administer it to patients or share it with community members in group cleansing or social bonding ceremonies.

Shamanic Healing

Among the primary intentions in shamanic ayahuasca use are the diagnosis and treatment of serious illness. Indigenous Amazonian belief holds that negative energies, in the form of “tsentsak” (magic darts), can be sent by sorcerers or malevolent entities, causing various psychophysical illnesses, some of which may be life-threatening.

The shaman’s role is to drink ayahuasca, enter the spirit world, identify the source and effects of this affliction, and gain the knowledge needed to heal it. Ayahuasca would convey to them the proper course of treatment using other medicinal plants or impart guidance on how to dispel the dark energy or defend their patient from the malevolent entities.

In some cases, the patient may also be required to drink ayahuasca to cleanse themselves of toxins and release the negative energies underlying their condition. The spiritual effects of ayahuasca, including encounters with spirits and deities and the enhanced insight it can catalyze, may contribute to a positive transformation and bolster the patient’s resilience in their battle against illness.


Among the primary intentions in shamanic ayahuasca use are the diagnosis and treatment of serious illness. Indigenous Amazonian belief holds that negative energies, in the form of “tsentsak” (magic darts), can be sent by sorcerers or malevolent entities, causing various psychophysical illnesses, some of which may be life-threatening.

The shaman’s role is to drink ayahuasca, enter the spirit world, identify the source and effects of this affliction, and gain the knowledge needed to heal it. Ayahuasca would convey to them the proper course of treatment using other medicinal plants or impart guidance on how to dispel the dark energy or defend their patient from the malevolent entities.

In some cases, the patient may also be required to drink ayahuasca to cleanse themselves of toxins and release the negative energies underlying their condition. The spiritual effects of ayahuasca, including encounters with spirits and deities and the enhanced insight it can catalyze, may contribute to a positive transformation and bolster the patient’s resilience in their battle against illness.

Cultural Rituals

While in some indigenous communities ayahuasca consumption is reserved for the shaman and the severely ill, in others the brew is available to all residents.

For instance, the Awajún in Peru have traditionally held ayahuasca ceremonies as rites of passage for their youth. The Tukanos in Colombia have used ayahuasca in communal rituals involving music playing, singing, and dancing. In Brazil, hoasca has been widely used in a similar communal manner by syncretic religions of Santo Daime, UDV, and Barquinha.

Spiritual Healing

It seems that ayahuasca use aimed at spiritual and psychological self-healing, like what we find in contemporary plant medicine retreat centers, only really emerged in the second half of the 20th century.

Reportedly, it started in Peru, where indigenous and mestizo villagers moving from the jungle to the growing town of Iquitos found themselves destitute and unable to adapt to and prosper in this unfamiliar, urbanized environment.

They sought help from local shamans, who would hold group ayahuasca ceremonies for them. In these collective healing gatherings, participants had the opportunity to gain clearer insights into their situation and how to work toward overcoming their unfavorable circumstances.

Ayahuasca Retreats

Toward the end of the 20th century, with growing numbers of Global North denizens visiting the Amazon to experience the brew, ayahuasca ceremonies had started being adapted to cater to the needs of foreign visitors.

Nowadays, particularly in Peru, large numbers of plant medicine retreat centers offer guests not only ayahuasca ceremonies, but also a variety of other plant medicine rituals, as well as flower baths, cleansings, and, at times, Eastern mindfulness-cultivating activities such as yoga and meditation.

Ayahuasca Religions

Ayahuasca also plays a central role in two large syncretic religious organizations, Santo Daime and União do Vegetal, which originated in Brazil in the 20th century and now have followers worldwide.

These churches are so well-established that they have received legal exemption on religious grounds for practicing their rituals in the USA and Canada.

The Ethics of Evolving Tradition

Throughout the last century, ayahuasca has transitioned from its traditional use in the Amazon to a global phenomenon, drawing the interest of science, alternative healing practitioners, artists, and individuals seeking healing, spirituality, and inspiration.

With all the lives it has transformed for the better, however, it’s important to also consider the ethical and environmental challenges associated with its popularity. These include the impact of tourism and capitalism on the many local communities which have become part of the ayahuasca market and overharvesting of ayahuasca vine for ceremonies and international shipping in certain areas of the Amazon.

This is why everyone engaging in ayahuasca use is encouraged to approach the consumption of this sacred medicine with humility and respect, ensure that it was sourced sustainably, and, if possible, engage in reciprocity with the indigenous cultures which have safeguarded it for hundreds of years.

Ayahuasca Effects

The ayahuasca experience can be intensely visionary, emotional, and profound. Each journey is the product of the drinker’s mindset going into ceremony, personal experiences and beliefs, connection with the spirit world, and numerous other factors.

Still, generally speaking, we can outline some aspects common to most ayahuasca journeys.

The Stages of an Ayahuasca Experience

  • Gradual Onset: After drinking, the effects of ayahuasca unfold gradually over the course of a couple of hours, becoming more intense with each wave. From very early on, you may be aware that a powerful potion is circulating throughout your body and that there’s no going back
  • Shift in Awareness: Initially, you may notice a subtle alteration in your state of mind, marked by a sense of anticipation and heightened alertness, signifying that something significant is about to transpire. Nausea typically starts around this point.
  • Sensory Alterations: Changes in perception begin to manifest. The environment may start seeming different, perception of proportions may be altered, and physical sensations like tingling and temperature fluctuations may occur. Time can feel dilated, and closed-eye ayahuasca visions may start emerging.
  • Purging: A revered aspect of the ayahuasca journey, considered to help expel toxins and negative energies, thus allowing the Master Plant to work more effectively. It can involve vomiting or defecating and may be considerably more visceral than what you’re used to. While it is common, it doesn’t happen to everyone.
  • Intensification & Waves:  After purging, the effects may briefly subside before the next wave starts building up. During each ebb, the experience may seem like it’s ending, only to take the drinker to ever deeper levels in the next wave. Ayahuasca visions may become more vivid and compelling, and less responsive to external factors (less synesthetic). The ceremony guide’s sacred songs (icaros) can facilitate the exploration of otherworldly realms.
  • Ayahuasca Visions and Spiritual Insights:  The spiritual effects of ayahuasca are wildly diverse, deeply personal, and difficult to put into words. Some people may experience ayahuasca visions, which can range from lights and colors to fractal patterns to jungle spirits to otherworldly, multidimensional landscapes and their populations. Some may delve into past memories, confront their traumas, or undergo ego dissolution.
  • The sensations during the journey can range from tranquil and embraced to dark and terrifying. It’s common to feel connected to a universal consciousness or even engage in communication with omniscient entities. In this part of the journey, it’s possible to gravitate away from the self and your physical identity toward the idea of your soul being but a drop in the infinite sea of unified existence.

As varied as ayahuasca journeys come, they can also be quite uneventful, especially for first timers who aren’t yet connected with the medicine. This is why, as with any psychedelic experience, the best advice is to:

  •  Approach it without expectations
  • Embrace what arises without fear or judgment
  • Remain humble, honest, curious, and open to learning, and
  • Surrender fully to the journey.

Keep in mind that every aspect of the experience serves a purpose, even if not much is explicitly being experienced.

In essence, ayahuasca journeys provide drinkers with an opportunity for profound and diverse exploration of consciousness, emotions, and spirituality. They can catalyze powerful self-transformative insights and offer the blueprint to self-healing and growth.

How Long Does Ayahuasca Last?

An ayahuasca experience typically takes a couple of hours to reach its peak, and concludes within four to six hours, although individual variations exist. The comedown is usually swift but gentle, leaving the drinker in a peaceful afterglow that can last for more than a day.

Ayahuasca ceremonies often take place at night, when, according to indigenous beliefs, the spirits are more receptive and easier to communicate with. Following the journey, the body may feel fatigued, making it easy to fall asleep. The next days are best spent engaging in calm, mindful activities that facilitate the integration of the experience.

How Does Ayahuasca Work?

Discussing the biochemical effects of ayahuasca involves addressing the pharmacology of its two main constituents: the ayahuasca vine bark or B. caapi and the DMT-containing admixture.

B. caapi contains three β-carboline alkaloids, collectively referred to as harmalas: harmaline, harmine, and tetrahydroharmine (THH).

These alkaloids act as reversible inhibitors of monoamine oxydase (MAO) enzymes, which dissolve DMT in the human gut. This means that the alkaloids in the caapi vine enable orally consumed DMT to stay intact, pass into the bloodstream, and reach the brain.

However, they also possess various other pharmacological properties. When consumed individually, they can induce a range of experiences, from pleasant, dreamy emotional states, to tingling sensations in the body, to mild psychedelic visions. Extracts of these alkaloids can be used to create pharmahuasca preparations, which aim to mimic the chemical profile of ayahuasca.

Aside from the harmala alkaloids, the ayahuasca plant also contains several polyphenols, which have been shown to have antioxidant effects.

The second core element of ayahuasca, DMT, is a classic serotonergic psychedelic. Like LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin, it binds to serotonin receptors in the brain, with a special affinity for 5-HT2A receptors.

It’s not exactly understood how, but this mechanism has been singled out as the one responsible for the altered consciousness, visualizations, and other psychedelic effects.

Is Ayahuasca Safe?

Ayahuasca is considered safe for generally healthy people without cardiovascular issues or a personal or family history of psychosis.

However, the powerfully transformative and intense journey it can catalyze should ideally be experienced:

  • With proper preparation
  • In safe circumstances
  • Under competent guidance, and
  • While abstaining from any substances the brew may negatively interact with.
 Below are some key considerations for optimizing ayahuasca experiences for safety.
Experienced and Trustworthy Guides
When considering participating in an ayahuasca ceremony, it is vital to choose an experienced and reputable shaman or facilitator who can provide a safe and supportive environment.
If you are looking for an ayahuasca retreat in South America or other well-established retreat locations, you may browse online directories such as Retreat Guru for details and verified participant reviews of retreat centers around the world.
If you are looking to join an underground ayahuasca ceremony in your vicinity, make sure to do your due diligence and contact the organizers, facilitators, or prior participants for detailed information on safety and harm reduction practices implemented.
Proper Dosage and Setting
The dosage of ayahuasca is based on the needs and sensitivity of every individual and should be carefully determined by experienced facilitators.
The setting for an ayahuasca ceremony should be safe and supportive, not overcrowded, equipped with all the resources the participants may need, and overseen by competent individuals who can provide assistance if needed.
Integration and Aftercare
An ayahuasca journey can be intense and emotionally challenging. Proper integration and aftercare include:
  • Journaling about the experience the day after and reflecting on its meaning
  • Discussing and processing the experience with a qualified therapist or integration coach
  • Allowing at least several days of stresslessness for a smooth psychophysiological rebound
  • Engaging in mindfulness-building activities such as walking, meditation, yoga, artwork, spending time in nature or with animals etc.
  • Consuming light, healthy foods and drinks and avoiding intoxication for at least a few days, ideally up to two weeks.

Implementing these practices can be essential for maximizing the potential benefits and ensuring mental well-being post-ceremony. While the ayahuasca experience may be difficult for some, it’s really only the starting point of a path of hard inner work toward healing and growth. The journey itself unveils what must be done, but it’s up to the journeyer to implement these insights and walk the walk.

Ayahuasca Benefits

Since it entered the public eye of the Western world, ayahuasca has been garnering scientific attention for its potential therapeutic benefits, especially as a treatment for mental health disorders and addiction.

Below is a summary of some of the most important potential ayahuasca benefits backed by science.

Depression & Anxiety

Several studies have examined the effects of ayahuasca on treatment-resistant depression. A team of Brazilian scientists published their findings in 2015 and 2019, which indicated that the antidepressant effects they had observed were immediate and long-lasting.

A more recent study from 2022 used an ayahuasca analog, and it too reported high remission rates in depressed patients, which were maintained at the 1-year follow-up.

Ayahuasca has also demonstrated the potential to reduce panic-like anxiety and hopelessness. According to a study done in 2007, these measures reportedly decreased in Santo Daime church members one hour after consuming the tea, and remained lower after the ceremony.

Substance Abuse

study from 2005 involving Brazilian adolescents who regularly consumed ayahuasca reported that they have decreased rates of alcohol use compared to their non-ayahuasca drinking peers.

Additionally, an observational study done in 2013 on a rural indigenous community in BC, Canada reported significant reductions in substance cravings after a single ayahuasca retreat combined with counseling.

Another paper published in 2021 by the Takiwasi retreat center in Peru documents the success of their addiction treatment protocol, which involves several months of ayahuasca treatments, psychotherapy, and communal living.

Finally, this qualitative ethnographic study from 2017 shares how interactive rituals involving ayahuasca consumption and life in a supportive community can turn around the lives of substance abusers.

Eating Disorders

An exploratory study done in 2017 reported promising results of ayahuasca in the treatment of eating disorders, detailing touching accounts of participants sharing how the ayahuasca experience helped them establish a healthier perception of their bodies.


While no official studies have been conducted on the topic, many personal accounts can be found online pertaining to the potential of ayahuasca to alleviate symptoms of PTSD. Platforms such as the Heroic Hearts Project have already organized numerous ayahuasca retreats for US veterans suffering from PTSD, with very encouraging results.


The main psychedelic compound of ayahuasca, DMT, has been shown to stimulate neural cell growth in the hippocampal region of the brains of mice, improving their spatial learning abilities and performance in memory tasks.

In human adults, hippocampal neurogenesis can be spurred by physical exercise, rich environmental stimulation, a nutritious diet, a lack of stress, and ingesting certain medications. Its results can be more flexible integration of new information into familiar contexts and enhanced episodic memory.


It’s long been known that one of the β-carboline alkaloids in B. caapi, harmine, has antioxidant properties. As far back as a century ago, it was being researched as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease symptoms. In a recent study, inquiry into harmine as a potential antiparkinsonian agent was again suggested due to its suitable pharmacological profile.

A few other polyphenolic compounds in the ayahuasca plant have also been shown to have antioxidant properties, suggesting that consuming ayahuasca tea might yield significant neuroprotective effects.

Creativity & Wellbeing

Participation in ayahuasca ceremonies has been linked to enhanced creative divergent thinking. The ayahuasca experience empowers drinkers to recognize and release their destructive mental patterns and conditioned reactions, leading to increased ability to form new associations in the brain.

Another recent study found that an ayahuasca session resulted in an increase of subjective wellbeing, enhanced decentering (more objectivity and less self-judgment), and amplified empathy.

Spiritual Growth

An ayahuasca experience can be powerfully emotionally cathartic, allowing the drinker to release and process their deep-seated emotions and traumas. It can provide profound insights and impart important lessons, exacerbating personal growth and deepening our understanding of life.

While the potential therapeutic benefits of ayahuasca are promising, it’s important to note that this sacred medicine is not a silver bullet and that the science behind it is still in its early stages. The ayahuasca tea should be used respectfully, with caution, and, importantly, without expectations because individual responses can vary widely, and not everyone may receive healing in the form they believe they need it.

Research into ayahuasca holds the potential to offer new perspectives on mental healthcare, contributing to a paradigm shift in how we approach the treatment of certain disorders conventional pharmaceuticals are struggling to resolve. However, more scientific research and clinical trials are needed to establish its safety and efficacy for specific conditions.

Ayahuasca Risks

While ayahuasca is a powerful plant medicine with many potential benefits, it’s also not an experience without risks. Below are some of the main things to be cautious of if planning to participate in an ayahuasca ceremony.

Medical History and Medication Regimens

Individuals with cardiovascular disorders, hypertension (high blood pressure), or those who are taking blood pressure or other heart medications should avoid ayahuasca altogether due to its potential to raise blood pressure and heart rate.

Ayahuasca can also interact dangerously with certain psychiatric medications, particularly a common class of antidepressants — selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

The ayahuasca vine contains MAO inhibitors, which increase the level of serotonin in the nervous system, and DMT binds to serotonin receptors, increasing serotonergic activation; the combination of these two and SSRIs can lead to a potentially fatal condition known as serotonin syndrome.

Medications such as lithium and tramadol are also contraindicated with ayahuasca due to potential for life-threatening interactions.

Finally, the psychotropic effects of ayahuasca may trigger psychotic states in individuals predisposed to them. This means that, like with other psychedelics, those with a personal or family history of psychosis are strongly advised to steer clear from drinking ayahuasca tea.

It’s crucial to disclose all medications and medical conditions to the facilitators or shamans before participating in a ceremony. If they do not conduct medical screenings or cannot answer questions about the interactions of ayahuasca and pharmaceuticals, it’s best to find alternative practitioners.

Tyramine-Rich Foods

Tyramine is a substance found in aged, preserved, dried, fermented, pickled, cured (meats), old, overripe, or even slightly spoiled foods, as well as in alcohol (especially red wine and craft beer), and cocoa.

The MAOIs in ayahuasca can interact negatively with tyramine, so excessive consumption of tyramine-rich foods and drinks can pose health risks when combined with ayahuasca. Here is a list of items that should be avoided for several days before and after the ceremony.

Psychoactive Substances

Ayahuasca should not be combined with other psychoactive substances, including recreational drugs or stimulants, as these interactions can be unpredictable and potentially harmful.

This especially goes for substances that have a marked excitatory effect on the cardiovascular system, such as stimulants and methamphetamines.


It should go without saying, but pregnant women are advised to avoid ayahuasca, as there is limited research on its safety during pregnancy, and the potential risks are not well understood.

Addressing Ayahuasca Deaths

Every once in a while, there is a news report of an apparent ayahuasca death. To address these reports, the International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research and Service (ICEERS) recently issued a summary of all the publicized fatalities associated with ayahuasca consumption.

In their analysis, they reported that out of 58 documented deaths (on more than 4 million people who have tried ayahuasca worldwide) there has not been a single ayahuasca death that could be attributed directly to the basic brew made only from B. caapi and chacruna or chaliponga.

Instead, most of the fatalities seem to have come from suicide, homicide, substance intoxication, overhydration, or, likely, poor health of the participants and lack of competent healthcare givers in the ceremonies.

Ayahuasca can be a transformative and healing experience when used responsibly, but taking all possible safety precautions is crucial. Always consult with healthcare professionals and experienced ceremony guides when considering an ayahuasca journey to ensure your safety and wellbeing.

How to Prepare for Ayahuasca

While you can never be truly ready for an ayahuasca experience, preparing as best as possible is a vital step you can take to enable the medicine to do its work efficiently.

Ayahuasca preparation involves at least several days of actions aimed at cleansing your body, mind, and soul so that your journey may unravel safely and transformatively. Below are some key aspects of preparing for ayahuasca.

How to Prepare for Ayahuasca

Before diving in deep with ayahuasca, you are encouraged to take some time for yourself to unwind mentally and emotionally.

Reducing distractions such as social media scrolling and phone use in general, as well as stressors such as consumption of the news, work deadlines, emotional dramas, or intentional exposure to frightening experiences can go a long way in grounding you so that you can absorb the intense spiritual downloads ayahuasca may bestow upon you.

In order to cultivate mindfulness and reach a place of spiritual stability, you may consider engaging in practices such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, or other light physical activities. You may also want to spend some time in nature, away from pollution, listen to some calming music, and/or do some journaling to enhance your awareness of your current state of mind.

La Dieta

If you’re serious about getting the most out of your ayahuasca journey (and you should be), you’re advised to honor the ayahuasca dieta for at least 3 days, and ideally 2 weeks, before drinking.

Following la dieta implies: avoiding stressors, as mentioned in the previous section, no sex (no masturbation either), no alcohol or psychoactive substances, and maintaining a healthy, light diet made up of chicken and white fish, lots of fruits and veggies, with low amounts of oil, fat, spices, and carbs.

While these dietary recommendations are optional, serving to cleanse your body, there are some foods and beverages that actually need to be avoided due to potential negative interactions with the MAOIs in the ayahuasca plant. These are the tyramine-rich products we’ve already discussed in the ‘Ayahuasca Risks’ section of this article, and here’s a detailed list of what to exclude from your intake before an ayahuasca ceremony.

  • Setting and Reinforcing Intentions

Setting clear intentions for your ayahuasca experience can make the difference between a meaningful and wasted or, worse, harrowing journey. Intentions are an important tool for navigating the landscapes ayahuasca can open up for you — they can serve to reel you back in if you get lost while wandering the ineffable, as well as to deepen the insight and lessons you receive from the medicine.

Setting your intentions means defining what you hope ayahuasca can help you achieve or understand. They don’t need to be elaborate or grandiose; all they should be are deeply personal, genuine queries that embody the purpose of your ayahuasca journey.

Once you have settled on one or more intentions, devote some time in the days leading up to the ayahuasca ceremony to reflect on them so they would more easily follow you to the other side. You may choose to meditate on them during the mindfulness-cultivating activities in your process of unwinding.

Once you drink, remind yourself why you’re setting off on this journey, and do your best to bring your intentions to Mother Ayahuasca without expectations or pressure and with honesty, humility, curiosity, and a readiness to learn and change.

Personal Preparation

Every retreat center or ceremony organizer should provide you with a list of things you should bring to the ceremony. These usually include a water bottle, a headlamp with a red light option, an eye mask, a journal, etc.

You’re also encouraged to bring any meaningful personal items — mementos, trinkets, effigies, images, crystals, or whatever else brings you grounding, strength, or clarity.

On the day of the ceremony, you’d best have only a light meal or two in order to minimize the body load of the medicine. You should avoid eating at least 4-6h before drinking.

Dress comfortably in loose, non-restrictive clothing. In many Amazonian traditions, white or light clothes are believed to attract positive energies.

Incorporating the above ayahuasca prep steps can contribute to a safer, more meaningful, and more transformative ayahuasca experience. Approaching Mother Ayahuasca with respect, mindfulness, and a commitment to personal growth and healing should go a long way in your comfort during the ceremony and the value you receive from your journey.

Ayahuasca Ceremony

While facilitation styles can vary greatly according to the guide’s lineage or training, the different medicines or healing modalities they practice, and the system of beliefs they subscribe to, we’ll attempt to outline some common aspects of contemporary ayahuasca ceremonies.

So, before you type up “ayahuasca ceremony near me” into your preferred search engine, make sure to read the following section so you’d know what you’d be getting yourself into.

The Ceremony Setting

In South America, ayahuasca ceremonies typically unfold within a specially crafted wooden cabin, known as a “maloca.” This structure is typically designed for communal gatherings, so it’s spacious enough to accommodate a dozen or more people. It may or may not have walls.

Participants are normally arranged in a circle along the interior of the maloca, ensuring that there is ample space between everyone to allow for undisturbed energy fields. Futons or mattresses and purging buckets are typically provided for each participant.

Since the ceremonies are usually held at nighttime, it’s important to be aware of a clear route to the toilet. In order to move about during the ceremony without disturbing others, it’s advisable to bring a flashlight or headlamp with a red light option. The use of cell phones and their flashes is discouraged.

The Ceremony Guide

The shaman or facilitator is typically positioned in the center of the ceremonial space. Their attire might be adorned with a variety of traditional accessories that hold spiritual significance in the lineage they are trained in.

They commonly wield a chakapa, which is a bundle of dried leaves used for cleansing rituals and during the chanting of sacred songs, icaros. Some shamans keep an altar where items of spiritual importance are arranged. If you bring a small, meaningful item to the ceremony, you may contribute it to the altar.

Pre-Brew Cleansings

Before the ayahuasca is served, the shaman or facilitator typically conducts initial cleansing and preparatory rituals. These rituals frequently involve the use of Amazonian tobacco — mapacho — as many indigenous belief systems regard tobacco as a Master Plant teacher with powerful protective properties and a strong connection to other Master Plants such as ayahuasca.

The energy of the spirit of tobacco is harnessed in various healing ceremonies. The most common method of using tobacco involves blowing its smoke over or into the participant’s head and body, a practice known as sopla. This is a fundamental tool in the shaman’s healing repertoire.

Sopla isn’t limited to tobacco; depending on the intention, it’s also employed with other tools such as agua de florida (floral water), agua ardiente (homemade liquor), thimolina (mouthwash) or Creolina (disinfectant).

An increasingly common practice is using a powdered preparation made from tobacco, tree ash, and a variety of healing or aromatic herbs, called rapé or hapé.

This snuff is blown into the participants’ nostrils using a large blowpipe called a tepi. Initially, this induces lightheadedness, tearing of the eyes, and a choking sensation, but these effects subside swiftly, leaving a sense of clarity and peace.

Drinking the Brew

Once participants have undergone cleansing, the drinking of ayahuasca begins. The shaman usually initiates this step by offering a short prayer over the bottle of brew, establishing contact with Mother Ayahuasca, and seeking permission and protection for the ceremony.

Participants are then individually invited to approach and take their servings. Experienced shamans can often intuit how much brew to pour for each person, and everyone is advised to stick with that dose for a good while before asking for seconds.

Before drinking, you are encouraged to show respect to Mother Ayahuasca by meditating briefly on your intentions and humbly asking for well-being and insight rather than consuming the brew hastily.

In some ceremonies, all participants drink from the same cup or shot glass, so if you have concerns about hygiene, you might want to bring your own cup or request another one.

Setting Sails

After drinking, participants return to their spots, the lights are dimmed, and silence descends on the space as the mareación (intoxicating effect) is welcomed in.

Initially, participants commonly experience physiological changes, including an increased heart rate, fluctuating body temperature, sweatiness or tingling in the extremities, and subtle nausea.

These sensations may evoke a feeling of anxiety, especially for those unaccustomed to the profound bodily effects of ayahuasca. Surrendering to the experience, letting go of any fearful thoughts, and embracing the journey with openness is encouraged at this point.

Flowing with the Waves

Purging in the group typically signals that Mother Ayahuasca has arrived. If you are a first-timer, the visceral nature of this sound may startle you as it can be quite more aggressive of an expulsion than any vomiting you might have heard before.

Over time, you may become accustomed to the sound, and may even start enjoying the unique closed-eye synesthetic visuals they can cause. If your turn comes to purge (and not everyone does), don’t fear it or try to suppress it — purging will help expel your toxins and leave you feeling cleansed and relieved afterward.

As the effects intensify, some participants may express their inner states in different ways. Emotional releases can involve moans of pleasure, sobs of sorrow, childlike laughter, or sighs of remorse. These expressions can be viewed as energetic offerings sent out by individual participants, contributing to the energetic space that the shaman oversees.

The Guide’s Spaceholding

The ceremony shaman or facilitator manages this collective experience by harnessing the power of their spiritual allies. They chant prayers, perform cleansings, shake the chakapa, and sing sacred icaros, songs bestowed upon them by the plant spirits which they commune with during their shamanic training.

Icaros are powerful, magical melodies which, during the mareación, can feel like they open portals to different realms, weaving together a blueprint of a multiverse that participants can explore. They can also serve as an anchor, guiding back the souls of the drinkers to the shaman’s protected space if they wander too deep into darker spiritual realms.

Additional Servings

After several waves of ayahuasca visions and spiritual journeying, the shaman may offer additional doses to those who desire a deeper experience or those who have not felt much effect.

Ayahuasca first-timers are advised to resist the temptation to consume more, even if what they had experienced was minimal. Trusting the shaman’s judgment in estimating the appropriate dose could be wiser than attempting to fulfill their expectations of the journey with a second dose — this can lead to a compounded, overwhelming, and potentially darker experience.

Not reaching some desired level of ayahuasca visions or insights during a session does not mean that nothing had occurred; sometimes, ayahuasca works subtly in the background, clearing space for future, more profound experiences.

The Final Cleanse

As the collective mareación dissolves, the shaman may individually invite each participant for a deeper cleansing. Once ayahuasca has coursed through the body and reconfigured the soul of the drinker, the curandero can more easily locate and remove any blockages and negative energies.

This process, known as chupa, entails extracting these energies by ‘sucking’ them out. Like sopla, this is one of the breath-rooted techniques shamans commonly employ for cleansings. If conducted properly, it may feel like a heavy burden has been extracted and dispelled into oblivion.

The Decompression

Following the final cleanse, the participants are typically dismissed. The heightened sensitivity to light that ayahuasca affords its drinkers allows them to perceive an awe-inspiring abundance of stars in a clear night’s sky. This presents an opportunity for a short respite and gentle contemplation on what had just transpired.

Unlike the aftermath of some other psychedelics, falling asleep after an ayahuasca journey is usually effortless. The body is fatigued, the mind is drained, and the consciousness gently drifts away into vivid and intense dreams, which may feel like the extension of the ayahuasca visions experienced during the ceremony.

Is Ayahuasca Legal?

The legal status of ayahuasca is complex and varies significantly from country to country; regulations and their enforcement can differ even among different regions of a single country.

The question of ayahuasca legality comes down to the legality of the ayahuasca tea and the ingredients themselves. Here are some important notes to help unravel this complicated topic:

  • The harmala alkaloids in the ayahuasca vine have only mild psychoactive effects and are rarely scheduled substances; the vine itself is also not illegal in most countries;
  • DMT is, thus, the main ‘contentious’ element of ayahuasca, and it’s a scheduled substance in much of the world;
  • However, the DMT-containing plants themselves are mostly not illegal;
  • Although, any preparation of DMT plants, including the extraction of DMT, are considered illegal in most countries;
  • The brewing or possession of the ayahuasca tea also implies an intention to consume DMT, and is therefore considered illegal in most of the world.
What this all means is that in most countries throughout the world, excluding the countries with indigenous history of consumption and a few instances of religious exemption awarded to Brazilian hoasca-using churches in North America, possession and consumption of ayahuasca tea is illegal.
However, the plants themselves are legal to purchase and possess in most of the world, with several exceptions, such as France and Italy, where all ayahuasca ingredients and their compounds have been declared illegal, and Latvia, where only dried DMT plants are illegal.
Curious to learn more about the legal status of the ayahuasca tea and ayahuasca plants throughout the world? Read our full article on Ayahuasca Legality.

Where to Buy Ayahuasca Plants Legally?

Here at Maya Ethnobotanicals, we offer a range of traditional medicinal plants which have been used by indigenous peoples for a variety of purposes since ancient times.

Our products are organically grown, sustainably harvested, and sourced through fair trade, and we sell them with the intention to promote ethnobotanical enthusiasm throughout the world.
We do not advocate for the use of any of our products in illegal ways, nor do we ship any of our botanical samples to countries where they are illegal. We strongly advise our customers to inform themselves thoroughly about their local regulations before placing an order.