Ayahuasca: A Sacred Medicine or Dangerous Drug

Each year, thousands of people leave the comfort of their homes to travel to remote parts of South America to take part in an ancient healing ceremony with a psychedelic plant medicine known as Ayahuasca.  Many who dare to take the journey are seeking some sort of healing, whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual.  But many people are skeptical about the efficacy of this supposed medicine, and still others are concerned about the safety of the whole experience.

I’m here to share a bit about my experience of living deep in the Amazon jungle for six months and my participation in 25 ayahuasca ceremonies. 

 Riding up the Nanay River in the Amazon jungle, on my way to an ayahuasca healing center 

Riding up the Nanay River in the Amazon jungle, on my way to an ayahuasca healing center 

In January 2011, at 20 years old, I experienced a health scare that totally rocked my world: potential kidney failure from living with Chronic Lyme Disease for 15 years.  Long story short, the prognosis was grim and doctors had no answers for me.  I felt like I had hit rock bottom, and I stayed there for awhile.  

But then I made a decision: I was going to cure myself.  I surrendered to the fact that I didn’t know what to do and I asked the Universe for guidance.

One this decision was made, over the next three years I was synchronistically led to some amazing healers on three separate continents.  Almost two years to the day of my initial surrender, I was introduced to the idea of working with the medicine men and women in the Upper Amazon region of Peru, called shamans, and their sacred plant medicine, ayahuasca.  As soon as I heard about it, I knew this sacred medicine was the next step for me.

Ayahuasca, also known as “yage” or “la medicina" (the medicine), is a tea infusion made from a combination of two plants: a vine known by its Quechua name, ayahuasca, and any number of leaves that contain high levels of a molecule called N-N, Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), the most common being the chacruna leaf.  DMT produces the psychedelic experience while the ayahuasca vine has Mono-Amine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOI’s) that prevent the enzymes in our digestive system from breaking down the DMT, which in turn allows us to enter the psychedelic experience, or “the journey.”  The ayahuasca vine is also a powerful cleanser, which can lead to purging of physical and emotional toxins through vomiting or diarrhea during the journey.

Ayahuasca is not just any psychedelic; it’s known as an entheogen, which is a psychedelic that is used for spiritual purposes.  This brew is very respected by the indigenous people of the Amazon, seen as a medicine, a healer, and a teacher.  The medicine is called “Mother Ayahuasca,” because it has a spirit behind it; a nurturing energy that can provide healing and insights about any part of our human experience and beyond. 

 Visionary artwork from an ayahuasca ceremony

Visionary artwork from an ayahuasca ceremony

Personally, I went to Peru searching for answers, as I intuitively felt there was a deeper rooted cause behind the Lyme Disease.  I had done my research and thought I knew what I was getting myself into.  Nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced. 

Working with ayahuasca was by far the most challenging experience of my healing process so far.  In 25 ceremonies, the medicine brought me from the darkest, most terrifying parts of myself and humanity, to some of the most beautiful, magical places in the universe.

I was humbled.  I was connected.  I was enlightened.

It’s impossible to put into words the gratitude I have towards the shaman's and their medicine for the role they've played in my healing journey.  Words could never express the totality of my experience; to put it into words would limit the influence the medicine has had on my life.

 Daily flower bath with maestra (shaman) Sulmira. Flower baths help to cleanse heavy energies that may come from ceremony.

Daily flower bath with maestra (shaman) Sulmira. Flower baths help to cleanse heavy energies that may come from ceremony.

Unfortunately, ayahuasca has almost become a fad amongst travelers; people are seeking out ayahuasca with intentions that are out of alignment with the purpose of the medicine itself.  Many people are just looking for some variety, some adventure, or some high.

This energy is disrespectful to the medicine, and can lead to unpleasant consequences.  Working with ayahuasca is no simple task, and should be approached with clear intentions of healing and expansion of conscious awareness.  If you are feeling pulled to learn from ayahuasca, be sure to do plenty of research before committing to make the trek to South America.

Understand that this work is a sort of “mental/ emotional/ spiritual surgery.”  It’s highly likely that you will not come out the same person you were when you went in.  Ayahuasca can change your perspective and heal open wounds like no form of therapy I have ever experienced.  Be ready to leave everything you know behind, because once you go inside, it can be nearly impossible to go back.

For those who find the strength and courage to make the journey into the depths of their soul, enjoy the trip, in every sense of the word!