Ayahuasca Dangers and Side Effects
Updated: Nov 23
When considering taking part in an Ayahuasca ceremony, people are concerned
about the safety and any possible harm it can cause. These doubts should be taken seriously because if approached light-minded and carelessly, Ayahuasca can bring the same amount of harm as it provides benefits.
A surgeon's scalpel is a very powerful tool that can save your life or kill you. It will all depend on a number of factors. In the same manner, Ayahuasca can heal your life or bring trouble depending on how well-aware you are about it.
By the end of the following article, we will address most of the dangers of Ayahuasca and will see how to avoid them.
When it comes to Ayahuasca, many people load into the same basket the possible dangers and side effects of it. As you may see soon, they are not the same and this mixing leads to the wrong understanding of risk reward-ratio of this Medicine.
As a result, people that really need help and can tremendously benefit from it, simply give up and lose a chance to have a real change in their lives.
This magical plant cannot be held responsible for your problems before you even touch it so let's consider as "dangers" ( and risks) anything that can potentially cause harm to your mind or body during or after the Ayahuasca ceremony.
Let's take a close look at the dangers that are spinning around Ayahuasca, their root cause, and the ways to deal with it.
The definition of a "side effect" though will be different. Let's consider all the unpleasant sensations that accompany the desired outcomes of Ayahuasca.
With the pharmaceutical industry it is simple - if your pills are elevating your headache but also give you an extra arm, baldness, and/or memory loss, then you know something went wrong and this is definitely a side effect of the pill.
With Ayahuasca it is not that straightforward (fortunately) and we will explore this later. So stay tuned.
Dangers of Ayahuasca
Depending on the damage that can result from it, the dangers of Ayahuasca can be divided into two categories.
The physical dangers ( everything that can lead to damage or the death of your body) and the mental or psychological dangers ( everything that can lead to damage to your mind).
Same as knowing where the riffs are allowed your boat to reach home, knowing the Ayahuasca pitfalls will allow you to get what you need most from it - healing, help, and fulfillment.
Death from Ayahuasca
So the first and arguably the worst thing that can happen to you is Death. The honest question here is “Can you die from Ayahuasca”?
Sorry for not pacifying your mind with a simple answer but the answer here is Yes and No at the same time.
There have been a number of deaths apparently linked to the Ayahuasca intake in the past. However, the investigation and common sense show that those deaths were barely related to the Ayahuasca intake itself. In most cases, Ayahuasca acted just like a trigger. People were careless while preparing for the ceremony, they were taking incompatible prescription medications and/or illegal drugs right before the ceremony. In other cases, the participants were hiding their health issues from the organizers. Also, some of the people cooking and administering the Ayahuasca were not qualified to do it.
You can compare it with going deep into the Jungle, alone, naked, with a piece of meat tied to you. And when you and that meat become the dinner for a jaguar, you are blaming it on him. I can understand the temptation to do so, but let’s be honest there were a number of bad decisions from your side as well. The hungry cat was the consequence, not the root of the problem.
To avoid your unplanned reincarnation there are many things you can and should do.
First of all, do your research and ask the right questions. The inquiry should spin around all the concerns you have.
Ask how the ceremony is going, who is the shaman, and what is the history of working with him. Ask about the medical requirements for a safe Ayahuasca ceremony.
If you have a health condition that can remotely put you in danger, tell it to the retreat staff before making a reservation, and finally, talk to your doctor.
The doctor can be “conservative” about Ayahuasca in general but at least he can explain if your current medication intake can be safely paused.
Be curious and dig for understanding. The reward will be a lack of fear and anxiety when you finally make your decision about attending the ceremony.
Permanent Health Damage from Ayahuasca
Since with Ayahuasca, we deal with very powerful chemicals, It is fair to ask if these chemicals can in any way permanently damage your body or its parts.
The existing studies are showing that Ayahuasca is incredibly safe if you follow all the preparation and precautions.
The brew has mysterious ways of being really gentle to your body. Sometimes newcomers have zero effect on the first ceremony. But as their retreat progresses they are getting more and more effects till they get to the final resolution by the end of their retreat. So you can say that Ayahuasca is gently preparing people for the insight they need to receive. It spares their body and mind by making sure they are ready.
That being said, sometimes the brew can contain ingredients that should not be there. And that is also not the issue of Ayahuasca but of the person preparing it. There were rumors of retreat centers adding MDMA and other substances to give a “better touristic high” and to “satisfy the expectations of their customers”. Sounds awful, I know, but I hope you came here for a breath of reality and this is it.
What’s more, Ayahuasca can interact dangerously with many prescribed medications, including antidepressants, psychiatric medications, drugs used to control Parkinson’s disease, cough medicines, weight loss medications, and more (Trusted Source)
Some people withhold crucial information about their physical health ( allergies, prescription drug intake, etc.), and the result is that they cause harm to themselves and to those around them.
While choosing your retreat please make sure you are being screened with a medical questionnaire. If there is a condition that can be a restriction for your participation in the retreat, tell the truth and consider withholding from attending the ceremony.
The traditional Ayahuasca brew is made of only two plants but a skillful shaman can use other plants as well to mediate the medicinal effects (it can have a more healing effect, be more curative, give more visions, etc).
While selecting the retreat center to attend, ask how their shamans are cooking the brew, which plants they are using, and why each plant is used. You have the right to know all these details in advance.
Sometimes the shaman can add some advanced plants like Toé (Brugmansia suaveolens). Taking this plant requires quite a lot of experience and preparation. When an untrained person is ingesting it can result in a pretty hard trip with some lasting effects.
How to mitigate this? Ask questions.
Sexual Abuse on Ayahuasca
There are many horror stories about having Ayahuasca in the native environments of the Amazon. But few of those disgust me more like sexual abuse that some women can go through.
All these stories reduce to one thing - an untrustworthy shaman.
One would think that someone who is having permanent contact with such a mind-healing and mind-expanding medicine would be miles away from the mere thought of taking advantage of someone who is in need of healing.
Unfortunately, the reality is that some local shamans need more healing than their guests.
I could go into a whole tirade on why it is a fault of our modern society, but that would be too far from the scope of this article.
The only way to avoid this is… you guessed it - doing your research about the place you are about to visit.
The center and the shamans there should have a good reputation.I suggest asking how your potential retreat center is qualifying the shamans and how they make sure that the shamans are trustworthy. Also, ask how much time they work with the shamans.
Also, consider checking the reviews of the retreat center on AyaAdvisors, Google, Reddit, etc.
The Bad Idea of Getting Ayahuasca on the Streets
Traveling in a country like Peru makes you a desired paying customer. So much so, that sometimes you can be approached by shady-looking people who "accidentally" are having their cousin as one of the greatest shamans in Peru, and only for you as their friend, they can provide you with a high-quality Ayahuasca ceremony.
I surely respect your spirit of an adventurer, but please don’t do it. Or if you will, please realize that the degree of things going wrong will increase manyfold. And if after thinking about it, you still decide to go for it, you are really brave (and maybe crazy).
If you are traveling through Peru and would like to jump on a retreat along the way, make sure you do your homework research.
The Dangers of Traveling to Peru
Traveling is a dangerous business. At least the cat-like people think so and spend most of their lives in small cardboard boxes.
Fortunately nowadays traveling to a country where Ayahuasca is legal is easy and safe.
Many retreat centers take care of you from the moment you land. So you don't have a chance to stumble into the wrong part of the city block.
The tourist zones of Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, and Brazil are pretty safe because the governments value the money of the tourists and offer protection.
The Dangers of Mental Harm of Ayahuasca
Ayahuasca is definitely able to change your life and body by acting on your mind. And since our actions and their results are a consequence of our thoughts, Ayahuasca addresses the root of the problem.
The Scottish psychologist RD Laing said that "there are three things human beings are afraid of - death, other people, and their own minds".
We discussed the Death, now let's wrestle with our mind or to be more exact with the danger of losing it.
He who made it that far, has a very important question: "Can you go crazy on Ayahuasca?" The answer is “No because there are no sane people, to begin with”.
Jokes aside, there are for sure mental health dangers but again, they are not linked to Ayahuasca itself.
It is known that people with a family history of Schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, borderline personality disorder, dissociative identity disorder, epilepsy, etc. can have problems. The intense experience of Ayahuasca in some cases can trigger the “dormant” illness. People with such conditions are fragile and usually should seek gentile methods of processing their traumas and other issues.
So if you know that there is someone in your family with such a condition or you suffer from it yourself, be cautious.
It is common sense that every retreat center should do a medical screening before accepting anyone. And if someone is in the danger zone, they should reject participation for the sake of the safety of that person.
While doing your research, pay attention if you are asked questions about your mental state. If you are not asked, then it is a red flag and therefore an unnecessary risk to your health.
Expanding Your Perception or "Seeing Things"
There are occasional reports of people having mild changes in their visual perception. To put it simply, they start seeing things they were not seeing before.
One of the pathways that Ayahuasca is using to solve some mental issues is by increasing and sharpening your sensibility and attention.
During the ceremony, you can have a deep understanding of yourself just because the Medicine allowed you to pay a closer and more concentrated look at some events, decisions, and results of your life.
If the person is lucky enough to have an increased base level of sensibility some peculiar post-effects can be observed after the retreat (seeing auras etc.). Usually, these effects do not last if not developed. I would say that the plant can unlock some senses that we forgot that we possess.
For this, I am not sure that this is something bad. You are basically unlocking a part of your superpowers. So enjoy it!
Fear and Anxiety
I would start this one with a fancy quote: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Unfortunately, people are definitely doing the opposite and trying to be as far away as possible from the things they fear.
As mentioned before, along with other naturally occurring psychedelics, Ayahuasca tends to be pretty gentile.
Frodo only took the Ring because he was ready to handle the tough journey. In the same way, Ayahuasca will not show you things that you are not ready to see. So there is no reason to be afraid.
Nevertheless, If one has a disrespectful or neglectful attitude, Ayahuasca can give a rough time by making them face their fears in quite a colorful manner. As a result, the untrained and unprepared person can panic and start reacting. The reaction will further propel the fear and the person will end up in a downward spinning spiral.
There is no way to exclude your fear from the equation of healing and having a fulfilling life. In many ways, fears are your only problem.
You end up searching for help from Ayahuasca because you are tired of running from something. So the secret is to stop running and inspect your fears with a magnifying glass.
To be able to withstand your findings you need just two things: knowing that whatever you will see or experience cannot harm you and secondly, you need training.
A good training will be a meditation practice. Paying attention to your attention will teach you to direct your focus and not be influenced by your emotions.
You could also inspect your fears by focusing on them during your meditation. You will be able to dissect and inspect them just to realize that there is nothing there and your fears are just a smokescreen for something exciting.
Perfecting this ability will allow you to use it during the Ayahuasca. As a result, you will have an inspection of your fears on steroids.
The good news is that the Shaman and the staff members of the retreat center should know how to keep you from going into "panic mode" during the ceremony.
All these people are trained and experienced to calm people down and bring them back on track.
While choosing the retreat, you can ask what is the way they handle such situations to make sure you are in the right hands.
Sudden Ayahuasca Experiences After the Retreat (Flashbacks)
The way the flashback phenomenon is understood with other substances is that several days after taking a drug, you suddenly start tripping while being on your new job interview. This sounds dramatic, and the good news is that Ayahuasca works differently.
It is said that once you take Ayahuasca, it stays with you forever. Oddly enough this is true. People report tapping into the Ayahuasca states of consciousness during their sleep for weeks, months, or even more time after the retreat is over. Oftentimes you get insights during the day.
It seems that you literally get trained to tune into specific modes of perception and your unconscious has them as a tool to deal with life situations.
The Shamans are saying that there is the “Ayahuasca call”. And it doesn't mean that Ayahuasca uses telemarketing. It means that a long time after the ceremony you can suddenly experience a powerful insight about something you need to do or change.
I experienced this myself and can assure you it is an amazing feeling of clarification.
So would you consider this type of flashback as a danger?
Temporary feelings of depersonalization or derealization
Our consciousness is truly amazing. The modalities it has are incredible and at least partially, this is the reason many people are attracted to it.
The Ayahuasca medicine can help your mind tune into states that can be baffling. In different degrees, the same effects can be achieved by long meditation, intense breathwork, and just by dreaming.
This can be considered a danger in the same way as the snow can seem threatening to someone who has never seen it before. But once you encounter the snow, it brings you nothing but joy.
Ayahuasca Side Effects
When it comes to the side effects of Ayahuasca, quite often people mistake them for its beneficial effects.
For example, some medicinal plants
(ex. Sagebrush) are healing partially because they are bitter. So their bitterness is the cause of their benefits. But since extreme bitterness is not really pleasant, we would call it a side effect whereas it is the cause of our curing.
So you got it, our mind is trained to want things to taste like Oreo and at the same time to cure cancer.
So let's take a closer look at the effects and the side effects of Ayuahuasca and try finding a difference between them ( if there are any).
Ayahuasca Purging: Vomiting and Dihareea
It is observed that the presence of the purging effect is not mandatory. Many people go through the ceremony without having dramatic purging episodes.
But if you are among the lucky ones who do purge, my congratulations. You will feel so light, clean, and released afterward, that you will tell everyone that the vomiting was the best thing to happen to you.
From childhood, we are trained to think about vomiting or diarrhea as something to be avoided at all costs.
But what is Ill tell you is that these are just channels of expelling emotional pressure and damage that piled up for decades in your body and brain. What if after vomiting you will forget about your PTSD and trauma?
Purging can be considered proportional to the mental damage the person was exposed to. If you suffered from deep trauma or abuse as a child you are carrying a huge burden throughout your life. in that case, you will more likely need a deeper cleansing (with more purging) than someone who had a happy and joyful childhood and life.
Also having a chaotic lifestyle will result in a larger amount of purging and cleansing. All the habits you carry around that are not beneficial for your advancement will be exorcised via one of the gates of your body.
How to reduce the unpleasant effects of Ayahuasca
The best way to ease up any journey is preparation.
If the Ayahuasca ceremony is a trip to the deepest inner parts of yourself, then treat it accordingly.
To travel to another planet, you would need to prepare your ship ( your body) and the crew ( your mind). There are many activities that help with that.
To prepare the body I would advise taking a close look at the food you eat. Giving up on processed foods, alcohol, tobacco, and other things commonly accepted as “harmful” is a great start. A clean diet will elevate the burden on your body and you will navigate easier the whole journey.
In addition to that, you might consider any type of fasting before the ceremonies. Many traditional Amazonian tribes recommend fasting 24 hours before each ceremony. From one point of view, this can be demanding, but on the other hand, it will give incredible depth and results.
There is one thing that you are most likely not appreciating enough - your breath. The ability to remember to breathe deep and calm can be your main shelter when the winds of your mind get overwhelming.
So how would you train to remember your breath? Meditation.
Implementing the simplest types of meditation is like wearing a diving costume when jumping into the depths of the mind.
Start small, and by the time your retreat begins (ideally), you will be able to do 30 min of daily meditation. If you are serious about your results, it is a wonderful thing to implement.
Stretching/Hatha yoga can also be of big help. You don't need to tie yourself in a knot, but some basics will help you to relax, feel your body better, and let the healing effects of Ayahuasca go deeper.
The next one is slightly hard to swallow, but nevertheless, it is incredibly powerful - Sexual Abstinence.
Many professional athletes use abstinence to come to a peak mental and physical state before an important competition. This is also practiced by many spiritual schools. It makes you sharp and focused.
Abstaining for a couple of weeks before your retreat will give you a calm, strong, and determined state of mind that will allow you to go very far in your journey.
The Shift in the Priorities and Need for Change
The fear of change is something everyone has. Nevertheless, this is one of the main reasons people come to Ayahuasca in the first place. So don't be surprised if after your retreat you will have a shift in your priorities.
This will be an evolving realization that certain things should be changed for you to have a meaningful and joyful life.
The main trick here is to wait till this fruit is ripe and falls down by itself. Give it time. Don't force the changes upon yourself or upon others. Be patient and trust yourself in recognizing when the time will come.
Unssatisfaction with the results
Sometimes after having a retreat, people leave with a buzzing sense of something unresolved. They expected to have a profound insight or a clear answer and they think that the plant failed to deliver that.
Usually, they receive the answer to their question, but because of their life patterns, they are so dull that they simply need more time to unpack it. It can take weeks or months, but one day while standing in the shower you will have your “a-ha!” moment.
As an alternative, this issue can be fixed by simply having a longer retreat with more ceremonies. To undo some deep psychological damage, longer work is needed. The bigger the burden on your shoulders, the longer your Ayahuasca retreat for healing should be.
You are Much More Powerful Than You Think
Throughout our lives, we are challenged by a myriad of situations. Unfortunately, we are not always making the right conclusions.
After failing or not reaching the desired outcome, we tend to think about ourselves as failures and losers, and over the years this compounds and we make the conclusion that we are weak.
The good news is that this is not true. Most people have no idea how powerful, brave, wise, and intelligent they are. They hide these qualities from themselves.
Ayahuasca can be intense. Especially when there is a lot of damage that needs to be addressed. But regardless of that, you will always be capable of withstanding the insight and the process. Just take this as a mantra, and let it stick to you.
You will handle the whole journey. Maybe it won't be easy, but it won't be impossible either. So buckle up, and know that you will arrive at the desired destination.
In conclusion, I want to point out that Ayahuasca is not a toy.
It is a very powerful Medicine that helped an incredible amount of people throughout centuries and millennia.
If the preparation for the retreat is taken not carelessly, it can bring harm and trouble. But if we are responsible and mindful we can benefit from its healing properties. It can change our minds, and therefore our lives in an unimaginable way.
I wish you health, wisdom, and finding your way to the Truth.