The healing hallucinogenic: Ayahuasca

by DGO Staff

Does this Amazonian psychoactive brew have the potential to help mental health issues for
good?

The legalization of psychedelic plants has been a hot topic in recent months, thanks to the big pushes for decriminalization and legalization of psilocybin and other plant-based hallucinogens across Colorado and other states. In turn, you may have heard some chatter about the benefits of the use of ayahuasca, a powerful psychoactive brew hailing from the Amazon rainforest.

Also known as yage, ayahuasca is made from the Ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and the leaves of the chacruna plant (Psychotria viridis). It has been used for centuries by indigenous tribes in South America for both spiritual and medicinal purposes. The brew is typically consumed in a ceremonial setting, led by a shaman or traditional healer, and can result in intense hallucinations, as well as feelings of euphoria and introspection.

The active ingredient in ayahuasca is DMT, a psychedelic compound that binds to serotonin receptors in the brain, causing changes in neural activity and results in hallucinations and other effects. In recent years, ayahuasca has gained popularity as a tool for personal growth and spiritual exploration, and has also been studied as a potential treatment for a range of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

The history of ayahuasca is deeply entwined with the indigenous cultures of the Amazon basin, and has been documented by explorers and anthropologists for centuries. However, its use predates written history among the indigenous people of the region. In recent years, Ayahuasca has also gained attention in the Western world for its potential therapeutic benefits, and has been the subject of numerous documentaries, books, scientific articles and podcasts.

When you take ayahuasca, you can expect a range of effects, including intense hallucinations, distorted perception of time and space, changes in body temperature and blood pressure, and nausea and vomiting. The effects can vary depending on the individual and the setting in which it is consumed. It’s a powerful and transformative experience that can be life-changing for many people, but it should be approached with caution and a respect for its potential risks. Let’s take a deeper dive at what all the fuss is about ayahuasca.

 

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Tracing the history of ayahuasca

The exact date of its discovery is not known, as ayahuasca use predates written history among indigenous people in the Amazon basin. However, there are several historical documents that reference ayahuasca or similar substances.

For example, in the early 16th century, the Spanish chronicler Francisco de Orellana wrote about a hallucinogenic beverage used by indigenous people in the Amazon during his expedition down the Amazon River — which was likely a nod to ayahuasca use. Similarly, in the 19th century, the French explorer and botanist Richard Spruce also documented the use of ayahuasca among indigenous people in South America.

Ayahuasca has also been a subject of interest for anthropologists, ethnobotanists, and other researchers studying indigenous cultures in the Amazon basin. Throughout the 20th century, various scientific studies have been conducted on the effects of ayahuasca on the human mind and body, its traditional use in indigenous cultures, and its potential therapeutic benefits.

And, in recent years, ayahuasca use has been featured in documentaries, books, scientific articles and podcasts, which discuss the use of ayahuasca in the modern context.

The legal side of ayahuasca

While the use of ayahuasca has been documented for hundreds of years, the legal status of ayahuasca varies by country and can be complex.

When it comes to the legalities of using ayahuasca in the United States, the technical answer is that it is legal to do so — but there’s a caveat. It’s only allowed for religious use.

In 2006, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Gonzales v. O Centro Es-pirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal that the government cannot prevent the UDV from using ayahuasca as part of their religious practices. And, the U.S. government only recognizes the religious use of ayahuasca by certain religious organizations — the União do Vegetal (UDV) and the Santo Daime Church in particular.

What’s perhaps a bit more confusing is that it is illegal to possess or distribute DMT, which is the active ingredient in ayahuasca. And, possession or distribution of ayahuasca outside of religious use can result in criminal charges. So, user or distributor beware. You’ve been warned.

Now, onto the good stuff.

What happens when you take ayahuasca?

When you take ayahuasca, the active ingredient, DMT, binds to serotonin receptors in the brain, causing changes in the activity of neural networks, leading to the hallucinations and other effects associated with the use of ayahuasca. The effects of ayahuasca can vary depending on the individual and the setting in which it is consumed.

Common effects of ayahuasca include:

Intense hallucinations, which can include vivid colors, patterns, and geometric shapes

Distorted perception of time and space

Changes in body temperature and blood pressure

Nausea and vomiting, which are considered to be a purging process

A sense of euphoria and introspection

The experience of taking ayahuasca is often described as profound and can lead to a greater understanding of oneself and one’s place in the world. Some people report that it can help to provide a sense of clarity and understanding about one’s issues and facilitate personal growth and healing. It can also be used to access spiritual and mystical experiences, and to help people connect with nature and the spiritual realm.

Tripping on ayahuasca

An ayahuasca trip can vary depending on the individual and the setting in which it is consumed, but it is generally described as an intense and profound experience.
Upon consuming ayahuasca, the effects can be felt within 20 to 60 minutes, and the trip can last for 4 to 6 hours. The onset of the effects can be accompanied by feelings of nausea, which is often followed by a purging process, which can include vomiting and/or diarrhea. This is often considered to be a necessary part of the healing process and is seen as a way to release physical and emotional toxins.

During the trip, people often report intense visual hallucinations, which can include vivid colors, patterns, and geometric shapes. They may also experience changes in body temperature and blood pressure, as well as a distorted perception of time and space.

One of the most significant aspects of the ayahuasca experience is the emotional and psychological effects. Many people report feeling a sense of euphoria and introspection, as well as a heightened sense of awareness and a feeling of connectedness with oneself, others and the environment. The trip can be accompanied by a profound emotional and spiritual experience, and it can also be accompanied by a sense of clarity, understanding, and insight into one’s issues.

It’s important to note that not all ayahuasca trips are positive, and some people may experience negative effects such as anxiety, paranoia, and fear. These effects are more likely to occur if the individual is not in a safe and comfortable environment, or if they have a history of certain types of mental health issues. Therefore, it’s important to be prepared for the experience and to have a trusted and experienced facilitator who can guide and support you during the experience.

 

More on the ayahuasca purging process

Ayahuasca purification is a term that is often used to describe the process of purging that can (and almost certainly does) occur during an ayahuasca experience. This purging process can include both physical and emotional purging, and is often considered to be a necessary part of the healing process.

As mentioned above, the physical purging process is, well, mostly revolting and can include vomiting and/or diarrhea, which is seen as a way to release physical toxins from the body. This process is thought to cleanse the body and prepare it for the deeper emotional and spiritual work that can occur during an ayahuasca experience. Whether or not that’s true depends on who you ask, but one thing remains constant among prior users: the physical purge is real. There’s no getting around it — which is why most ayahuasca ceremonies go on for days, not hours. It’s…a process.

There’s also the emotional purging process, which can include the release of strong emotions such as fear, anger, sadness, and guilt. This process can be accompanied by deep introspection and a greater understanding of oneself and one’s issues. It is thought to help individuals to release negative emotions, patterns of thought and behavior, and to gain a deeper understanding of themselves and their relationships with others. In particular, anecdotal evidence suggests that the emotional purge from ayahuasca use can be especially effective for those who have suffered from addiction issues or certain types of emotional burdens in the past, including PTSD.

But while the ayahuasca purification process can be intense and difficult, many people report that it is a powerful tool for healing and personal growth.

A growing trend: ayahuasca retreats

While certain populations have used ayahuasca ceremonially for hundreds of years, a trend of holding ayahuasca retreats in the U.S. has grown substantially over the last decade. Ayahuasca retreats have been more popular in recent years for a wide variety of reasons. One such reason is the growing trend of using alternative therapies, like ketamine treatment or psilocybin, to treat and address mental health issues, including depres-sion, anxiety, and PTSD. While research on the subject is limited, some people be-lieve that ayahuasca can help to provide a sense of clarity and understanding about one’s issues, and can help to facilitate personal growth and healing.

Additionally, ayahuasca is also seen as a tool for spiritual exploration and self-discovery. Many people who participate in ayahuasca retreats report that the experience is profound and can lead to a greater understanding of oneself and one’s place in the world.

Another reason why ayahuasca retreats have become popular is that they offer a structured and safe environment to take the ayahuasca — which is, according to many ayahuasca users — an imperative part of the process. Retreats are typically led by experienced facilitators and shamans who can guide participants through the experience and provide support and guidance, leading to a better experience and more growth in many cases.

There has also been a growing interest in ayahuasca tourism — and people are traveling to places like South America to participate in retreats. This has led to the growth of ayahuasca retreat centers, which offer a range of services, including accommodation, meals, and transportation, making it more accessible for people to participate.

But, as with anything, it is important to note that not all ayahuasca retreats are created equal, and it is important to research and choose a reputable retreat center and facilitator before participating in a retreat.

Reputable ayahuasca retreats

Speaking of reputable ayahuasca retreat centers, there are a number of options that are run by experienced facilitators and shamans who have a deep understanding of the traditional use of ayahuasca, and who prioritize the safety and well-being of their participants.

Many of the reputable ayahuasca retreat centers are located in South America — in Peru and Ecuador in particular, where ayahuasca is a traditional plant medicine. These centers often have a strong connection to the local indigenous communities and offer a traditional and authentic ayahuasca experience.

There are also some reputable ayahuasca retreat centers that have been established in the United States and Canada that are operated by religious organizations and have been granted legal exemption to use ayahuasca as part of their religious practices.

However, as there is no formal regulation of ayahuasca retreat centers, nearly anyone can open one. That’s why it’s important to do your own research and choose a reputable retreat center. Look for centers that have a good reputation, are transparent about their practices and staff qualifications, and prioritize the safety and well-being of their participants. Additionally, you can also look for reviews and testimonials from previous participants to get an idea of the quality of the center.

It is important to note that taking ayahuasca is a personal decision and should be thoroughly researched and considered. It’s also important to consult with a medical professional before taking ayahuasca, as it can have potential health risks and may interact with certain medications.

Ayahuasca’s role in the treatment of addiction and mental health
Ayahuasca has been successfully used in many cases as a tool for addressing addiction and mental health issues, though more research is needed to fully understand its safety and efficacy.
However, some people who have used ayahuasca to address addiction and mental health issues have reported positive effects, such as:
– Greater insight and understanding of the underlying causes of their addiction or mental health issues
– A sense of clarity and perspective, which can help them to overcome negative patterns of thinking and behavior
– Increased self-awareness and a greater sense of personal responsibility
– Reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD
However, it is important to note that ayahuasca is not a substitute for traditional medical or psychological treatment, and that it should typically not be used as the only treatment for addiction or mental health issues. Additionally, not all ayahuasca retreat centers or facilitators have the same level of experience or expertise with these types of issues.

Research on the benefits of ayahuasca

In addition, a growing body of research suggests that ayahuasca may  be effective in treating certain mental health conditions. While this research is still in its early stages, a growing body of scientific literature suggests that ayahuasca may have therapeutic benefits for a range of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction. Research has also suggested that ayahuasca may help to reduce symptoms of addiction and improve impulse control.

While it’s still unclear how exactly ayahuasca can be effective in the treatment of certain mental health issues, what studies have shown that ayahuasca can increase activity in the default mode network (DMN), a network of brain regions that is involved in self-reflection and introspection. This increased activity may be what’s responsible for the therapeutic effects of ayahuasca.

Additionally, studies have also shown that ayahuasca can lead to neuroplastic changes, which can improve the functioning of the brain and improve the mental health outcomes in some individuals.

Ayahuasca retreats in Colorado

huasca retreats are outside of the U.S., there are a number of ayahuasca retreat centers located in Colorado that offer ayahuasca ceremonies. However, it is important to note that while some of these centers may be reputable and offer a safe and professional experience, others may not. It is important to thoroughly research and choose a reputable retreat center and facilitator before participating in a retreat.

Some reputable ayahuasca retreat centers in Colorado include:
– Blue Morpho: This center is located in the mountains of Colorado and offers ayahuasca ceremonies led by experienced shamans. They also offer retreats that focus on personal growth and healing- The Ayahuasca Healings: This center is located near Denver, Colorado and offers ayahuasca retreats and ceremonies led by experienced shamans. They also offer support and integration services.

– The Ayahuasca Foundation: This center is located in the mountains of Colorado, and offers ayahuasca ceremonies and retreats led by experienced shamans. They also offer retreats that focus on personal growth and healing.

In addition, there are numerous Col-orado-based groups that hold retreats both in and out of the United States, including Origen Sagrada, which offers retreats in both Colorado’s mountains and in other countries like Colombia and Peru.

It’s important to do your own research and choose a reputable retreat center. If you’re interested in experiencing ayahuasca, look for centers that have a good reputation, are transparent about their practices and staff qualifications, and prioritize the safety and well-being of their participants. And be sure to do your research and learn about the benefits and possible downsides of the ceremony. While it could be a road to enlightenment for you, it’s not going to be the right move for everyone — and that purge is, trust us, no freaking joke. You’ve been warned.

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