With the knowledge that drinking Ayahuasca can be a very powerful and mind-altering experience, the number one question most people will have is:
“Is it safe?”
Obviously, nobody with a reasonable amount of sanity wants to risk losing it!
So it’s a perfectly rational concern to have, indeed it was a huge concern of my own before I started drinking it. The following is my perspective on the safety of Ayahuasca.
In my opinion, drinking Ayahuasca with a good and experienced shaman is entirely safe for the majority of people. I could not, in good conscience, invite people to an Ayahuasca retreat if I felt I was putting them at risk. I know from over 9 years of experience that Ayahuasca is truly a medicine that heals on all levels, and the risk of any harm is almost nil.
However, like with most powerful medicines, there are a few issues you shouldÂ be aware of, and there are certainly a few circumstances when you should not consider drinking Ayahuasca.Â First of all there are some contraindications you need to be aware of.
Firstly, You should not drink Ayahuasca if youÂ are currently taking antidepressants/SSRIs drugs like Prozac, Seroxat, Zoloft, Effexor, Paxil, Welbutrin (bupropion), or other similar drugs that are MAOIs (Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors). This is because Ayahuasca also contains MAOIs and it could be harmful for you to have too many in your system.Â If you want to drink Ayahuasca and you’re currently taking these drugs then you should stop taking them at least 5-7 weeks before drinking Ayahuasca.Â You should also not drink Ayahuasca if you are currently on, or have recently finished an antibiotic treatment. In my opinion it’s better to not take any kind of pharmacuetical medicines or pills when you take Ayahausca, but if you are, you should at least consult with your doctor first.
It’s also recommended to avoid certain foods for at least 24 hours before and after you take part in an Ayahuasca ceremony. These are foods that are high in a substance known asÂ tyramine which is aÂ monoamine, derived from the amino acidÂ tyrosine. Foods high in tyramine have been known toÂ cause a hypertensive reaction in patients receiving MAOI therapy. To my knowledge, nobody has ever died from eating the wrong foods and taking Ayahuasca, and it’s extremely unlikely that eating foods high in tyramine will do any serious damage, but they could cause you to feel unwell so are best avoided.
You can find a full list of foods and drugs that you should avoid taking before and after an Ayahuasca ceremony at Ayahuasca.com
You should also not drink Ayahuasca if you have a chronic heart condition. severe blood pressure, or diabetes. This is because the effects of Ayahuasca can sometimes increase your blood pressure and heart rate, so if they’re already at a really high level then it could prove dangerous to your health.
So long as none of the above applies to you then there should certainly be no physical health risks in drinking Ayahuasca. Well known medical doctor and natural health expert Andrew Weil MD wrote a brief article about the safety of Ayahuasca and concluded:
“I think ayahuasca is quite safe medically, but because it’s a powerful psychoactive drug, it should be used only under the supervision of someone familiar with its effects. I do not advise using it casually or recreationally, nor should it be used in jurisdictions where it is illegal or its legality is in question. It can be psychologically risky if taken under wrong circumstances.” Read the full page here
That takes care of the physical, but what about the mental? I know from talking to many people that it’s usually the mental effects that most people are more concerned about, and as Andrew Weil wrote “It can be psychologically risky if taken under wrong circumstances.”
So what are the wrong circumstances?
First of all, you should be very careful about drinking Ayahuasca Â if you suffer from schizophrenia, bipolar disorderÂ or other psychiatric/dissociative conditions. That’s not to say you shouldn’t consider drinking Ayahuasca at all, because I’m aware that some severe psychological conditions have been effectively treated with Ayahuasca. However, if you suffer from a serious mental condition then it’s essential you drink Ayahuasca with someone who understands your illness and already has experience in treating it. Most people don’t, and most people working at retreat centres will not have the necessary skills to take care of you should any problems arise.
Secondly, if you don’t already have a lot of experience with Ayahuasca then drinking without an Ayahuasca shaman present, whether on your own, or with a few friends is also putting yourself at risk. Â I’ve heard a few bad stories about people who have bought the ingredients through the internet, cooked their own Ayahuasca brew, and then drunk it alone. A friend of a person I know did this and had a really terrifying experience that left him a bit traumatised for a while afterwards (although no serious harm was done).
A good shaman can often influence your experience, so if things get a little too intense he will be able to support you and lessen the effects somewhat. Also, if you’re on a retreat and have people to support you who Â have a great deal of understanding about how the medicine works, then it’s always very helpful to be able to talk things through after, or even during a ceremony, if things are particularly challenging. Often just having someone to hold your hand or reassure you that everything will be back to normal in a couple of hours is enough to help you through a difficult experience.
I always use the words ‘difficult’ or ‘challenging’ because I don’t believe that Ayahuasca experiences are ever bad, negative or harmful. But sometimes, for the purposes of healing and conscious growth, Ayahuasca can force you to face your darkest demons, your deepest fears and/or your shadow-self. These kinds of experiences are certainly never fun and they can be extremely hard for many people; however, the healing and realisations that take place during these kinds of experiences often border on the miraculous! I’ve heard a few people sayÂ that a couple of Ayahuasca ceremonies were more helpful to them than a decade of psychotherapy! I’ve seen people who have suffered from years of depression have it finally lift after just one ceremony.
So don’t be scared of ever having a difficult experience because it’s the difficult experiences that usually do you the most good. They are challenging to be sure, but the rewards are immense.
To summarise, if you’re in fairly reasonable health (mentally, emotionally and physically), and you’re not taking any drugs, then Ayahuasca is definitely safe. It isn’t going to make you go crazy or give you any unpleasant physical effects (apart from making you puke of course).
However, that doesn’t mean to say there are absolutely no risks whatsoever. They’re probably just ‘risks’ you might not have considered. I’m going to write about the most common problem I’ve seen in my next article “Ayahuasca Integration â€“ Avoiding the Feelings of Alienation After an Ayahuasca Experience”.