Shaman Drink: Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca is a sacred plant mixture used by indigenous cultures of the Amazon region for millennia. The psychoactive brew has gained considerable interest among westerners in the last few decades, often as a means of treating depression, anxiety or addiction, or to attain a greater spiritual understanding.

Traditionally, ayahuasca is used in ceremonial circles or small groups, usually under the guidance of a shaman or well-trained leader or facilitator. Users claim they experience earthshaking spiritual awakening, deep insight, renewed purpose and a feeling of harmony and connection with nature and the universe.

What is Ayahuasca?

Ayahuasca is extracted primarily from the Ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi), a sacred flowering plant native to the Amazonian basin. The plant is also known as yage,’ daime, natema, or iowasca, depending on the region where it grows.

The tropical tea, which may also contain leaves of chacruna (Psychotria viridis) or other plants with psychoactive qualities, is prepared by an ayahuasquero, a shaman who is trained in traditional methods of preparing and administering the tea. The vine and leaves are carefully cleaned and then pounded into a pulp with wooden mallets.

Potency of the tea varies considerably depending on factors such as natural variations in plants and the skill level of the ayahuasquero.

An Ayahuasca Ceremony

Ayahuasca ceremonies are usually held in a circular hut. Participants, who are asked to remove their shoes before entering, sit on thick mats arranged in a circle around the shaman. Pillows and blankets are provided. The room is lit by candlelight.

After various rituals take place, the brew is blessed and the shaman or facilitator invites each participant to come forward for their cup of ayahuasca. When each person has received a cup, the candles are blown out and participants sit in darkness and silence for 15 to 20 minutes.

Vomiting, as well as severe cramps, diarrhea or profuse sweating are common when the drink takes hold. However, many users say they feel refreshed and reborn after the experience, which generally lasts four to eight hours.

Some people report a life-changing experience and the feeling that a powerful, supreme intelligence is present. Others report unpleasant experiences such as nightmare-like hallucinations and visions of reptiles, insects or space aliens.

Although the substance clears the body fairly rapidly, the intensity and anxiety of the hallucinatory experience may be overwhelming to some users.

The Dangers

Most people experience no adverse affects once the drug wears off, but the risk of serious problems is higher for people who have pre-existing conditions, including heart problems, epilepsy, kidney or liver disease, diabetes, bipolar disorder, psychosis or schizophrenia.

Ayahuasca can also be dangerous for people who use recreational drugs, nicotine or caffeine, antidepressants and certain other prescriptions, as well as over-the-counter medications and herbal remedies. Users are advised to forego alcoholic beverages and recreational drugs, including marijuana, prior to the ceremony.

While severe consequences are relatively uncommon, most shamans and facilitators aren’t trained to deal with dangerous side effects.

Treatment for Addiction: Drug and Alcohol Treatment and Rehab is Safer

Although ayahuasca is often used to address substance abuse and addiction, most addiction professionals, concerned about the lack of solid scientific evidence, believe that more research is needed before the drug can be considered safe and effective. In the meantime, drug and alcohol treatment and rehab is a less dangerous, more reliable means of addressing the problem.

If you are considering using ayahuasca as a treatment for addiction or mental health problems, research the matter thoroughly and ensure you are familiar with possible risks to your physical and psychological health. Beware of charlatans and fake shamans who prey on unsuspecting ayahuasca users.

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