Ayahuasca: What Is It, Possible Benefits & Side Effects

Ayahuasca is a psychoactive brew that is made from a mixture of plants from the Amazon Rainforest. Since it is capable of causing changes in consciousness for about ten hours, it is used in a lot in religious indigenous rituals to open the mind and create mystical experiences.

This brew contains substances that are known for their potential hallucinogenic effects, such as DMT, harmaline, or harmine. These usually affect the nervous system, causing states of supernatural consciousness, which can lead to visions related to self problems, feelings, fears, and experiences.

For this reason, some religions and cults use the drink as a cleaning ritual, in which the participants open their minds and have the opportunity of facing their own personal problems with greater clarity. In addition, and since the mixture tends to causes side effects like vomiting and diarrhea, it is seen as a complete purifier, cleaning the body and the mind.

Ayahuasca: What Is It, Possible Benefits & Side Effects

What are the visual hallucinations like?

The hallucinations that happen as a result of ingesting Ayahuasca tea are usually seen in the mind when the person’s eyes are closed, and so they are also known as closed-eye hallucinations. During these episodes, the person may see animals, demons, deities, and even see themselves flying.

For that reason, this tea is used for mystic purposes to complete religious rituals, allowing the person to access a kingdom that comes in contact with the divine.

How can it be used in medicine? 

Even though Ayahuasca is used mainly in indigenous tribes and there are few studies regarding this particular brew, the interest in its medicinal use is growing, and there is an increasing number of studies that justify its use in the treatment of psychiatric problems, such as:

  • Depression: different people have affirmed that during their experience with Ayahuasca, they were capable of understanding and resolving the problems that were the underlying reason behind the illness;
  • Post-traumatic stress: the hallucinogenic effect may allow the person to relive the memories that lead to the syndrome, allowing them to confront fears or help the grieving process to be easier;
  • Addictions: Ayahuasca may also help the person to look more deeply into their ideas, problems, beliefs, and lifestyles, causing changes in negative habits.

Nevertheless, the cults that do Ayahuasca ceremonies state that this type of medicinal effect only happens if the person is determined to face it's own problems and that it should not be taken as a simple remedy to cause the desired effect.

Even though many times it is compared to a drug, Ayahuasca tea does not fit in this category, because it does not seem to have chronic toxic effects, or cause addiction or any other type of dependence. Despite this, anyone seeking to use this type of brew should do it so under the supervision of someone who knows the effects well. 

Possible negative effects 

The most frequent side effects resulting from the ingestion of Ayahuasca are vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea. These side effects can happen immediately after drinking the mixture or during the hallucinations. Other side effects include excessive sweating, shaking, increased blood pressure, and increased heart rate.

In addition, as it is a hallucinogenic drink,  Ayahuasca can cause permanent emotional changes such as high anxiety levels, fears, and paranoia, which in extreme cases can cause death. Therefore, even though it is a legal drink, it should not be used lightly.

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References

  • PIANURA, Alex Sandro; MARTINEZ, Guilherme Balarde; SILVA, Celi de Paula. Ayahuasca - aspectos botânicos e farmacológicos. Revista Brasileira de Ciências da Saúde. 90-95, 2009
  • FARIA, Deyse F.; LINS, Laís F. T.. Bem-estar subjetivo e qualidade de vida em adeptos de Ayahuasca. Psicologia & Sociedade. Vol.26, n.1. 224-234, 2014
  • REVISTA DE ANTROPOLOGIA SOCIAL DOS ALUNOS DO PPGAS-UFS. Efeitos da Ayahuasca em medidas psicométricas de pânico, ansiedade e desesperança. 2009. Available on: <http://www.rau.ufscar.br/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/rau2edicao-Ayahuasca-3.pdf>. Access in 22 Jan 2020
  • THE HEFFTER REVIEW OF PSYCHEDELIC RESEARCH. The Scientific Investigation of Ayahuasca: A Review of Past and Current Research. 1998. Available on: <https://heffter.org/docs/hrireview/01/chapter10.pdf>. Access in 22 Jan 2020
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