The world’s most powerful antidepressant and psychotherapeutic agent may be a natural herbal tea.
As many as 40 million Americans will suffer from some form of depression during their lifetimes. For some depression will be a mercifully short episode in their lives, for millions it becomes a chronic experience of emotional pain that devastates all areas of their lives. Depression is notoriously difficult to treat, especially in its chronic form. Talk therapy is often ineffective, and anti-depressive medications sometimes have unwanted side effects. Medications such as Webutrin, Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft often leave the client with sexual dysfunction, agitation, sleeplessness and alterations in their personalities. These medications can and do save lives, but for some the side effects make them less than satisfactory answers to long term clinical depression.
Ayahuasca is a tea made from a combination of legally available plants that produces a profound alteration in consciousness. It has been used for thousands of years by South American shamans, and is currently used as a sacrament in at least two Christian based religions in with world wide memberships. It is noted for the power of the experience it produces, and the tendency for it to facilitate positive personal change in those that consume it. It is non-addictive, non-toxic, and in its classical forms, produces no physical or psychological harm to the users. The primary drug involved is N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a natural substance that is in the bodies of all mammals, and one of the most powerful hallucinogens known. DMT is extracted from any one of the plant that contain it by brewing it in water that has been made slightly acidic, in effect making tea. Once the tea is made it is considered illegal in most western countries because it contains DMT, which was made illegal as a manufactured hallucinogen before it was known it existed in natural form in the plants used to make ayahuasca.
Normally the DMT in the tea would be destroyed in the digestive system by a chemical called mono amine oxidase, rendering the tea completely inactive. With the addition of a second plant containing a mono amine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI), either in the tea with the first DMT containing plant or taken separately, The DMT survives the digestive process and reaches the brain where it alters the persons state of consciousness.
The most common anecdotal reports from use of the tea are of profound psychological and spiritual healing, accompanied by personal insight and integration. It is often reported that the tea breaks even profound depressive episodes in a single use. This positive psychological benefit is what I call the “Ayahuasca Effect.” That is, to produce an intense and positive integrative experience with lasting beneficial effects from use of the tea, with no side effects common to pharmaceutical antidepressants. The following one such personal encounter with ayahuasca;
“Sometime during graduate school, while holding two jobs and trying to raise a family, I fell into a major depression. It was the kind of illness that one could fight through to lead a normal life, but it sapped the joy and light from every experience. My wife and I fought often, the world seemed a dark and difficult place.
There should have been the relative leisure of just work and family to enjoy, but the depression hung like a dark resentful fog on every day, coloring it with hopelessness and undeserved despair. In order to keep working I sought medical help, which came in the form of anti-depressant medications. After two years of trying different medications, Zoloft was the final choice. I was told to reconcile myself to having to take this medication every day for the rest of my life. I was grateful for having a chemical floor under my feet, it saved my life, both figuratively and literally, but there were side effects. The medication left me sleepless and mildly agitated much of the time, feeling like a constant infusion of caffeine. It made sex difficult, which played hell with my self-esteem, and it did not make me able to experience happiness or joy. I had been to years of talk therapy, taken the drugs western medicine had to offer, followed the known treatment courses, they had not restored me to wholeness.
Finally, even with the medication, the illness was winning. My ability to make a meaningful connection with my wife was gone, my work was an endless parade of despair, my attitude was permanently dark and agitated. This was not who I wanted to be, not the life I had worked hard to live.
I decided I was not going to be healed by taking the advice of others, I would have to do it from within, I would look for a miracle, I would go back to the study of shamanism and find a way to heal myself. After months of research on shamanic cultures and their use of native plants I learned about ayahuasca, an herbal tea made from plants native to the Amazon basin. I read everything on the web, the books, the articles I could find, and went to an Ayahuasca conference with experts from many fields from all over the world.
What I learned was that studies had been done on members of the UDV, one of the religions that use the tea as a sacrament, which indicated ayahuasca was a powerful anti-depressant which treated the cause of the condition rather than the symptom. In short, most depression is caused by problems with the way the brain processes serotonin, which could be called the “mood” neurotransmitter. Prescription antidepressants work by various means to keep serotonin in the synapses longer. Ayahuasca contains DMT, which bonds to the 5-htp receptor sites, the same sites as serotonin. The DMT bonds at a higher rate, and the body adapts to this by increasing the number of 5-htp receptor sites, making better use of natural serotonin levels.
The UDV studies stated regular drinkers of the tea were less depressed, more social and more organized than the control groups, and that there were no physical or mental side effects to long term use in healthy individuals. Ayahuasca seemed to be an anti-depressant that treated the cause, had a better psychological outcome, and no side effects. The final factor in my decision was some of the people who I met at the conference. Many of them were long term drinkers of the tea from countries where it has been legalized. I found them to be some of the most grounded, sane, kind, and generally healthy people I had ever met.
I took the tea at 9:10 P.M. on a Friday night. The setting was a workshop I set up as a meditative space separate from the house. An altar was created, candles lit, the area smudged and cleansed. The meditation and prayer was for relief from depression, and to help me become a better person.
The nausea and lethargy often caused by the tea persisted for two hours, but there were no other noticeable effects. By midnight I believed the session a general failure. I went into the house, ate the dinner I had left in the fridge, having fasted since before lunch, and went to bed with my wife after talking briefly about the lack of significant results. Shortly after that I went to the bathroom and had an episode of explosive diarrhea that expelled the tea. It had passed all the way through my digestive tract with no real effect, and I thought that was the end of the experience.
I laid down next to my wife, who objected to the whole doing ayahuasca to treat depression concept, who I was in marriage counseling with. Despite loving each other, we had not really gotten along for several years. She went to sleep, and I lay there wondering what had gone wrong with the ayahuasca and my life.
Then, in the darkness of my inner vision, colors, in long wispy lines, like gentle rainbow vapors, began to appear. The lines moved in and out of themselves, and appeared to be lined with gear teeth moving in impossible ways. I know now that these were the classic visions of DNA reported by other drinkers. The colors became gradually brighter and the visions more intense and beautiful as I realized this was going to be far more than just some residual effect. The images became ever more beautiful and intense, surpassing any of the comparatively graceless visuals of other drugs, and I realized my body was slipping into sensations of ecstasy more sublime than anything I have ever experienced. As the experience grew ever more powerful the beauty of it became absolutely overpowering. I begged for more, became ever more immersed in indescribable gratitude and utter joy such as I had never even hoped to know. Tears began falling silently, and I remembered again asking to be relieved of my long depression and to receive help to be a better person. The euphoria was so complete it was as if I had been granted heaven itself, washing away the long years of darkness I had groped through. I was astonished that the brain was capable of experiencing such wondrous and complex imagery, of knowing such utter joy. In the midst of this my ability to think was amazingly intact. As the intensity became ever more overwhelming I realized I was losing awareness of my body altogether, into a more shamanic dimension. I mentally called for more and more, and the ecstasy and gratitude that followed seemed infinite.
Then the lessons came. They came from a hidden presence of relentless gentility I had experienced before, only now the presence had a new power and depth. I saw what could be called entities of immense beauty, but knew not to mistake images of things for the reality of something existing outside my drugged brain. Telepathically they said that I had spent most of my life running away from my own pain, manipulating, defending, sleeping, doing anything but experience the natural pain of being a human being. The gratitude I was feeling was indescribable, it filled my entire being, as the ecstasy also became absolute suffering at the same time, and I was infinitely grateful for both. The light became sacredness, pain, ecstasy and beauty as one. I found myself weeping, feeling all these emotions at once, as if I had been emotionally dead for years, and was now suddenly able to feel again. Great warm, wide rivers of tears flowed in gratitude, release and realization that I had been so cold and angry inside for so long, and was now alive and able to feel again.
The weight of how I had treated my wife during the years of depression, , flooded over me, and I sobbed heavily for not cherishing and being grateful for her all those years. This had woken her, and I told her how very sorry I was for the way I had treated her. She told me I was hallucinating, and that it was just the drug, that I didn’t really mean it. I told her I knew I was hallucinating but that it was opening my emotional centers, that this was the idea behind doing it. I tried to lie quietly through the rest of the experience so as not to worry her. I was so grateful to her that I would not dare to burden her with some request for forgiveness, I put her through enough already. We lay together quietly for the next two hours while the rest of the experience ran its course, gradually tapering off, giving ecstasy, pain and insight. Finally, when I was relatively down, we embraced and held each other until we slept. The experience lasted a bit over four hours, and felt like an eternity.
The next day I was grateful for my life for the fist time in years , for my marriage, for my family. I enjoyed parts of my life I considered a burden. Working became easier, and enjoying simple pleasures seemed natural, instead of almost impossible. The experience of not being depressed and just about perpetually irritated, of being emotionally normal again, was beyond anything I hoped for. “
Although the personal mind set and setting of the experience undoubtedly has a profound effect on the person’s experience, the “ayahuasca effect” is based not on the placebo effect, but on the neurochemistry and anatomy of the brain as it interacts with the tea. Although it is not possible to do the research needed to determine the exact cause of the “Ayahuasca effect” because of legal and practical limitations, it is possible to make an educated guess at the mechanism. This is an explanatory fiction, a story that fit’s the facts as they now appear. Let’s look at what is probably happening in the brain when a person ingests ayahuasca.
There are about a hundred billion neurons in the brain, each of these connects to as many as two hundred thousand other neurons. The cell axonal bodies of a neuron can be more than a yard long for each cell. Each neuron sends signals by generating an all or nothing pulse along the axon, which eventually branches out into thousands of dendrites that end in presynaptic membranes that release neurotransmitters that are received by receptor sites on the postsynaptic membranes of the receiving cells. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that carries messages from one cell to another, ayahuasca helps serotonin act more effectively. Substances that help a neurotransmitter act more effectively are called agonists.
There are only two major neurotransmitters in the body, glutamate and GABA. Glutamate is the “turn on” signal to the neuron, GABA is the “turn off” signal. They are essentially + and – chemical signals that pass from neuron to neuron. Each cell receives thousand of these on and off signals from thousands of other cells. When the cell has gotten enough + signals above the – signals, the cell fires and passes the electrical potential to the next cell through the axon, the “cable” it uses to connect with other cells.
On and off signals, Glutamate and GABA, that is the basis of all neural activity. The natural state of the brain is not to be at rest, it is to be at full-bore, flat out, run away seizure, neurological electrical storm. GABA provides the brakes to the natural push for maximum chaotic activity.
To get more subtlety out of the system, and to produce ordered activity, there are other neurotransmitters that modulate GABA, fine tuning it up or down, to regulate the intensity of neural activity. Many of these modulating neurotransmitter receptor sites are more concentrated in some areas of the brain than others, thus some affect different areas specific functions of the brain more than others. Serotonin and dopamine are modulating neurotransmitters, they affect GABA, in most instances inhibiting it, therefore lessening the number of “off” signals it gives neurons. Serotonin therefore, in general, takes off the brakes from neural activity and lets the neurons fire more rapidly.
When someone takes ayahuasca they are taking four chemicals, harmine, harmaline, tetrahydroharmine, and DMT, all of which are serotonin agonists, substances that assist serotonin, attach to serotonin receptors, or otherwise increase its effectiveness at removing the GABA braking system. The result is neurological activity goes up in areas of the brain that use serotonin as a modulator. The altered state of consciousness that results is because of this increased activity.
Herein also lies the reason different hallucinogens produce different types of effects on consciousness. There are many types of neurotransmitter receptor sites. Each is a gateway that when fit with the right chemical keys, opens a passage into the cell through which sodium flows to change the cells electrical balance. Each receptor type and subtype asks for a different key, or set of keys to unlock it. So, one type may want just a GABA and a serotonin molecule, while another might want those, a dopamine, six other amino acids and god knows what else in a specific order before it activates.
All of these receptor sites are distributed unevenly in the brain, therefore there effect on he GABA system in each part of the brain is highly variable. The exact “flavor” of a substance depends on what combination of brain areas are having their neural activity raised by having the GABA braking system inhibited.
Ayahuasca is both a serotonin and dopamine agonist at the same time. The other visionary substances are generally one or the other, ayahuasca is both at the same time. It activates more areas of the brain at once by Affecting GABA through more than one modulating neurotransmitter. The result is more of the brain becomes activated in a better balance than if just one or the other of the modulating neurotransmitters was activated by another single channel GABA inhibiting hallucinogen. In fact, PET scans show neurological activity during ayahuasca experiences raised up to 90% above normal over a wide area of the brain.
Here is the oversimplified short form of what ayahuasca does neurologically, which leads to the explanation of its work as a psychotherapeutic agent and the cause of the “Ayahuasca effect.”
After taking the tea the areas of your brain with the most serotonin and dopamine receptors become uninhibited by GABA and their nuro activity goes up drastically. Think about the word uninhibited fir a moment. What do you normally think of when you say that about someone in a psychological sense? It has connotations of being less in control, freer in actions, of not thinking as much before acting. Being uninhibited in this way, and in the neurological sense, is the exact same phenomena.
The frontal cortex of the brain is where most of what you think of as “you” is located. That is, the parts of the personality that makes the executive decisions on what to do in the world, both internal and external, with the thoughts, information and sensation we are presented with. This area of the brain is heavily wired with axons that run directly from the cells that produce serotonin in the brain stem. The prefrontal cortex’s major GABA inhibitor and modulator is serotonin. Ayahuasca therefore dis-inhibits this area of the brain responsible for judgment and decisions. A decision about anything is made by inhibiting the neural patterns of all other possibilities until the one neural pattern remains. If that area of the brain is disinhibited and neural activity remains high, judgments and evaluations become more difficult to make.
In short, you tend to just accept the information and experience you are having without as much filtration and evaluation. It’s a hypnotic state that renders you more open to suggestion and less likely to critically evaluate the experience and information being received by the frontal cortex.
But there is more to the story than just frontal lobe suggestibility. The effects caused by the tea’s actions on dopamine also play an important role in its potential action as a therapeutic agent. Dopamine modulates GABA in much the same way that serotonin does. Two systems in the brain that use dopamine heavily for GABA regulation are the middle brain limbic system and areas of the brain that control fine motor functions that allow us to control smooth motor motions. The limbic system is a central controller and processor of both emotion and memory. In fact, it appears that emotion and the limbic system are key in forming most lasting memories.
One theory of trauma and repression states that when the brain can not assimilate an experience because it is too foreign to its schema, it’s sense of the way things should be, it represses that experience by sending chemical signals that tell the brain not to use those neural pathways. It stores the experience in pieces all over the brain, but does not complete the integration into memory. Since the instructions not to process, not to be neurologically active, can only be given as GABA signals to keep neurons in the “off” state, this repression of neurological signals must be maintained by modulating neurotransmitters . The presence of elevated levels of dopamine during the ayahuasca experience inhibit GABA in the limbic system, increasing activity there and overriding nurochemical processes that would limit the processing of experiences.
This means that the increase in neural activity in those areas of the brain tends to bring up repressed experiences and start the process of re-integrating them. As these memories and experiences are being once again brought into current processing memory in the mid brain they encounter a brain state profoundly different than the previous state that they were not processed during initially. For one thing, the elevated serotonin levels in the prefrontal cortex have disinhibited executive functioning due to the increase in overall neural activity. The part of the personality that would previously have passed judgment on the incoming experience is no longer as able to perform it’s limiting function. The re-emerging experiences are no longer filtered, no longer repressed out of ongoing processing. So, the higher levels of dopamine cause GABA inhibition and therefore higher activity in the limbic and midbrain systems that bring unprocessed experiences back into activity. Higher serotonin levels cause GABA inhibition and therefore higher activity levels in the prefrontal cortex that hinder the experience being re-repressed.
It is significant that ayahuasca acts on more than one modulating neurotransmitter, that it increases neural activity in a more even and coordinated way than other hallucinogens. Because of this there is far less disturbance of the intricate processing and transfers of information between different areas of the brain. The rising tide of neural activity raises all boats, brain systems as it were. The result is all systems continue to function together in much the same way they normally would. The person hallucinates and has a disinhibited thought process, but that process remains internally coherent without serious delusional processes or breakdown of the personality. Thought and cognition of the internal and external environments remains essentially intact. With other hallucinogens the imbalances brought about by less even regulation of the GABA system produce conditions where some areas of the brain are out of processing sync with others, resulting in more common instances of delusional thinking and loss of touch with reality, which rarely occurs with ayahuasca.
The condition brought in the brain by the tea is therefore ideal for the recalling of repressed experiences and emotions into conscious processing, lessening the chances the experiences will be re-repressed by executive functioning, and having the neural resources available to complete the processing and integration of those experiences.
Even with these advantages for personal integration brought about by high levels of the modulating neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine affecting the GABA system, there is yet another significant advantage ayahuasca gives to this psychotherapeutic process.
One reason experiences remain repressed is people become behaviorally conditioned to avoiding re-experiencing them. If the brain starts to re-integrate an anxiety producing memory the person naturally begins to experience some symptomatic form of anxiety. This often is experienced as sensations within the body such as tension in the muscles, sensations in the gut, changes in breathing, ect. The person literally “feels” anxious. If they then withdraw from the anxiety, by whatever means, they cease to process the experience and send it back to memory storage. The lessening of anxiety is experienced as a reward, it feels good to not be anxious. The person can become behaviorally self-conditioned by this reward effect not to integrate the past experience that causes the anxiety.
Ayahuasca offers a way to break this cycle. All sensations, therefore all anxiety, ultimately are brain states. Dopamine is the primary modulator of activity in the pleasure centers of the brain. Almost all addictive drugs act to produce dopamine-like substances that turn on the reward and pleasure centers. Ayahuasca is a dopamine agonist that increases activity in the pleasure centers. The result is a lessening of the ability to respond with physical sensations of anxiety during the same period that the brain in it’s GABA inhibited higher activity level is trying to process and integrate stored experiences. The higher activity levels in the pleasure centers help eliminate the anxiety that caused the person to become behaviorally conditioned . Ayahuasca interrupts the anxiety feedback loop and lessens the chance that the person will enter into the same avoidant conditioned response again. This is in contrast to addictive substances such as the opiates which lessen anxiety by affecting dopamine, but lower serotonin and decrease the brains ability to process and integrate experience, leaving the user worse off than before in terms of their ability to cope with experiences.
There is one last neurotransmitter to add to this mix, acetocholine. ACH is the neurotransmitter the nerves use to tell the muscles to contract. It is the transmitter that allows us to move voluntarily. The increased dopamine and serotonin levels of the ayahuasca effect also cross-regulate ACH. This means the levels of ACH go down. The less ACH available, the harder it is to voluntarily make the muscles move. The result is often a profound lethargy during the ayahuasca experience at the same time the anesthetic effect of dopamine is in play. The result is the person has a lessened ability to create anxiety feedback in the musculature because it is less able to respond. This further interrupts the conditioned anxiety feedback systems that can condition the person to not integrate experiences.
So, with all of this said, lets run through the ayahuasca effect from beginning to end to complete this explanatory fiction. Soon after the tea is ingested the harmine, harmaline and tetrehydroharmine cause monoamine oxidase inhibition in the digestive tract, allowing the DMT, harmine, harmaline and tetrehydroharmine to pass into the blood stream and eventually into the brain. Once there all four act as serotonin agonists to increase the effect of serotonin inhibition of the GABA systems in the brain. Dopamine is elevated as well.
GABA in the prefrontal cortex in inhibited, and as a result prefrontal cortex activity rises. The person’s thought processes become disinhibited, and the ability to judge and repress is inhibited as a direct result. At the same time elevated dopamine levels have inhibited GABA in the limbic and midbrain, causing increased neural activity in the areas of the brain responsible for integration of memory and experiencing emotion.
Experiences comes to conscious awareness because of the disinhabition in the limbic system, which then presents the experiences to the executive functions in the prefrontal cortex for a decision on whether or not to proceed with processing and integration. Normally this area of the brain would look at it’s self concept and view of the world and decide not to proceed because the experience was to discordant and produced unacceptable levels of anxiety as read from the somatic reactions from lower brain function. But now the prefrontal cortex is less able to limit those decisions because GABA has been inhibited, and the processing is not stopped.
In addition, the body is not getting the same somatic anxiety response because the elevated dopamine levels have the pleasure centers more active, and the musculature is somewhat unresponsive due to decreased levels of ACH. The result is the integration and processing goes forward this time, and the person experiences the full emotional experience without the somatic feedback and inhibition that previously stopped the process. Because the level of neurological activity is uniformly higher than normal, the experience is conscious rather than unconscious, allowing full memories to be integrated into present moment conscious experience. Because the person has elevated dopamine and ACH levels, they are not re-traumatized by the experience and the cycle of conditioned avoidance is interrupted. Both personal integration of experience and the making of the unconscious conscious are in this way achieved with the aid of the “ayahuasca effect.”
Anecdotal evidence from users of the tea treating depression suggest it can be effective in treating serotonin based depression, but it is not a magic bullet or cure-all. The tea tends to lift depression, but does not change the underlying personality. If the user was depressed because of trauma or had other personality issues before the depression, these issues will still be present if the tea lifts the depression. I have known people who were depressed with many somatic symptoms, took the tea, and had their aliments and depression replaced by anger. The anger was what the depression was keeping repressed, in some cases the anger was over incest or other traumatic abuses. The people were generally then able to move on into doing the work of healing and restructuring the way they think about their experiences. Ayahuasca gave them the opportunity and ability to do the work, but did not do it for them. My personal experience was the tea broke the cycle of depression and medications that prevented me from moving on to actual healing. Ayahuasca is potentially one of the most powerful antidepressant and psychotherapeutic therapies ever seen. At present the legal issues and lack of medical support and understanding around its use leave much of that potential unexplored. It is my hope that an understanding of the “ayahuasca effect” may someday allow direct research studies to be done of it’s effectiveness as an antidepressant treatment and tool of self awareness.
thanks for this article i am indebted to you for the information provided
with understanding comes power
this is the base for a fine book
Great article indeed. I have travelled to the Amazon and indulged in the brew myself. I have found it to be a immensely profound and informative experience. It certainly leaves one at peace with ones self, enabling us to connect to our subconscious and figure out who we really are. It connects us back to mother nature. Once people begin to realise the potential of this medicine hopefully the legal classification will change.
“The part of the personality that would previously have passed judgment on the incoming experience is no longer as able to perform it’s limiting function.”
Here lies the potential for abuse by those “guiding” this experience in that they can give suggestions during the session that would give them the ability to influence someone and potentially control that person’s thoughts and actions. Why I stick with the curanderos who say little other than to let the medicine do its work, it knows. My first teaching from my first visions was “Avoid theology.”
A very interesting article. I have been trying to find a good breakdown on ayahuasca for a long time and I am now more convinced that doing this will not fry my brain. Something of interest on the subject would be a movie called “Renegade”, directd by Jan Kounen. besides the cheesy title it has great worth. The movie shows something of the power in ayahuasca and what the experience is like. one character in this movie really is a shaman and runs a retreat in the peruvian amazon. His website:
Thank you for a thoughtfully written article addressing the superior benefits of ayahuasca healing versus current allopathic, chemical treatments of depression. Mamacita has assisted in curing my “monkey mind” as well as helping me to make better life choices.
Guillermo Arevalo of Espiritu de Anaconda outside of Iquitos is the shaman you mentioned in “Renegade.” He’s a master and runs a nice, clean center.
Thank you for an amazing article. It is precisely the topic that I am engaged with in my dissertation. I am, in fact studying the impact of ayahuasa on symptoms of depression which have been chronic and resistant to treatment. I only wish I had interviewed you as one of my participants, since your experience was fascinating to read.
That was easily the best article I’ve ever read about Ayahuasca. You explain the neurological and related psychological effects extremely well. Thank you very much.
I found a few typos, I hope you don’t mind me pointing them out.
“Christian based religions in with world wide memberships” (remove “in)
“their nuro activity goes up drastically. Think about the word uninhibited fir a moment.” (should be “neuro”, and “for”)
“it’s sense of the way things should be” (should be “its”)
“Normally this area of the brain would look at it’s self concept” (again, should be “its”)
That was easily the best article I’ve ever read about Ayahuasca. You explain the neurological and related psychological effects extremely well. Thank you very much.
I found a few typos, I hope you don’t mind me pointing them out.
“Christian based religions in with world wide memberships” (remove “in”)
“their nuro activity goes up drastically. Think about the word uninhibited fir a moment.” (should be “neuro”, and “for”)
“it’s sense of the way things should be” (should be “its”)
“Normally this area of the brain would look at it’s self concept” (again, should be “its”)
The most informative article ever about Yage. I also agree with Graccus – Avoid religious settings, they can really wash your brain instead of curing it. Mostly if are trying to rid yourself from those well known religiously imposed personality disfunctions that might as well be causing you a depressive state of mind. There will be a day dream whem psychotherapists will freely be able to use such a great medicine to help people.
Excellent article. Probably the best I’ve read regarding how this compound of plants work.
A thoughtful and thought out explanation. There is a paranormality about this brew. One night a small group of us drank. The next day, a non-drinker joined our group to work on some re-modelling.
Oddly, he suffered the physical symptoms of the ayahuasca. After a couple of hours, we went out to lunch.
He could not eat. He went to the bathroom and vomited. Then after lunch, he came back to work and had
diarrhea. People talk about gateway drugs. Yage is a one of those. It’s a gateway to your higher self.
We have barely scratched the surface. Bring your shovels and dig.
Thanks for the article, very interesting. I am a very depressed person. Nothing has ever help me from antidepressants to talk therapy, cognitive psychology…etc. Most people don’t notice my depression other than I can’t hardly ever sleep so my face looks very distressed. Also I have problems with memory and learning abilities. I am current residing in South America and will travel to the Jungle at the end of this month where their lyes an abundance of Ayahuasca. When I return in the beginning of December, I will return to this site and post for any readers if any improvements have been noticed. Also, I understand that depression is a very complex problem and perhaps my individual case will not provide much information as to the effectiveness of Ayahuasca on people suffering from major depression. At least it will be a cool experiment…and nobody has a clue how much I hope it works. 🙂 Chau
Thanks for the article and profound insights. Plant medicine is powerful and the commections between humans and plant alkaloids is beyond amino acids,indoles and tryptamines. The beta-carbolines have known high therapeutic value on many kinds of cancer. Tetrahydroharmaline can increase the number of neurons at serotonin receptor sites. Teas containing TTH alone can help heal depression . Ayahuasa is a special medicine and its healing powers immense. The sentinent nature of the plants is perceptable to those who open their hearts to it and create the space for the experience.This may reside outside the realm of scientific expanation and validity-a mystical experience . Enjoy and learn from your allies and journies!
Nice informative and speculative article. Thanks for sharing. Seems as though you are interpreting consciousness as merely brain-stuff. The miracle of life is that all the peace and joy are available at every moment as being itself. But we run from being, instead try to be something or someone who does things and controls things. The illusion of control can be surrendered by the will, then the seat of consciousness, I AM remains as formless and unknowable, complete, whole, and lasting eternally.
Identification with the individual ego creates the suffering and pain, thus until it can be left behind, any experience will not be enough. The willingness must come to shine through all experiences as the self evident truth. I AM the way, truth, and the life!
U should see a professional. If something traumtic happens to a child, it is often repressed into the subconscious and can emerge later in life. If you are having hazy memories they could very well be true. Something that was so traumatic for you your brain tried to shut it out to protect you from psychological damage. A psychologist will be able to determine whether your memories are imaginary or real. Yes some people do have false memories but better to be safe than sorry
Excellent article! This is very fascinating to say the least.
Thank you for this genuinely exceptional presentation of the pharmacokinetics and action of Ayahuasca!
I would be very interested to hear from you about how things went for you if/when you discontinued your SSRI. Did you attempt this before your trial of Ayahuasca or did you come off it just afterwards, or quite a long time afterwards?
I spent a month in Peru and drank twelve (12) times. I had pretty strong realisations regarding humanity and became aware of a reality that was beyond my own personal experience, which before drinking was limited to my unique perspective. Since returning to my home in Ireland, I am unable to function. Whilst drinking I had many experiences regarding global issues, which I thought were really outside of my personal reality, bigger than me and my limited influence on those who make decisions regarding humanity. I was shown that I was not motivated by desire, but motivated by fear. This fear is now gone. However, without this motivator, because I have no desire, I am unable to work, I lack ideas of what the future holds. Fortunately, I have enough to live on for a few more months, but I cannot say I am in a better place, psychologically. I struggle with what I perceived from a wider more enlightened perspective under the influence of Ayahuasca, than I had previously perceived from the limitations of my accepted identity. I am not at peace and at times feel I am teetering on the brink of insanity. I was shown or rather it was my perception, that mankind is insane and the patterns of behaviour which we exhibit, the greed, the selfishness, etc. I am really struggling, since drinking.
I had 3 Ayahuasca sessions in Peru, for first time in my life.
I know this won’t mean much to those reading who have not had it yet (just like it didn’t mean much to me before I had it), but: Take it.
You haven’t lived until you’ve had it. Nor will you learn the absolutely CRITICAL, must-know lessons that you NEED to know in order to mature, grow or evolve into a lighter, more integrated, more complete, and wiser human being.
You’ll finally realize (not intellectually, but actually know it) that death and aliveness is EXACTLY the same thing. You’re literally dead right now. But you’re alive also. I know! It doesn’t make sense, because language limits our ability to describe anything.
That’s why people just say “Do it”. Because the experience transcends the human language barrier. It goes beyond the 5-sensory input.
I don’t know if I’m allowed to share the link of the shaman (who took care of us during our Aya experience), but site is: http://shamanic-explorer.com/. He’s name is Edmunds. A truly enlightened human being so you’ll learn TONS just from his presence around you.
Otherwise, he does it every 2-3 months around the world.
And if you’re thinking about the plain ticket cost and cost in total, then do it anyway. Lessons you get from Ayahuasca are priceless. Worth a billion plain tickets, literally. 🙂
my girl firend go to ayawasska ceremony, the family think she lost her mind and they don’t know what to do with her.
they are very nerves of the abuse this “drugs”.
i apprechiate if you can answer me to these follow qestions:
1)is the “ayawasska” legal?
2)can you addict to him?
3)if the girl friend in pregnant, what she needs to do?
4)is it dangerous?
i glade if you can give me more details about the this brew, i don’t know what to ask for relaxing the family.
thank you very mush
I’m wondering if I need to purge myself of the antidepressant that I’m on prior to brewing and consuming Ayahuasca? I understand it, and am drawn to it in spite of no longer being able to handle things like pot, mushrooms, or LSD (my body and mind having rejected my one effort to try LSD). I need to integrate whatever it is that is lurking in my subconscious mind, and in my soul, and so on. This seems to be what I’m pulled to. I mastered dreaming, and lost interest. I found lucidity in life, but lost myself in the woman that I love. I cannot connect with her anymore, nor our 5 month old daughter. I have been taking “Valium” and “Cipralex” for several months now, but it only alleviates the superficial symptoms.
…I know that MAOi’s interact negatively with things like prescription anti-depressants, so I’m considering using Passion Flower instead of the stronger MAOi containing Amazonian plants…
I have a degree in neuroscience, specialized in my own suffering, etc.
Any insight will be greatly appreciated.
I am going to meditate in the woods for one week prior to trying Ayahuasca (also at my camp in the woods), so I hope to get your feedback by next Monday (the 5th of September, 2011).
Thank you and namaste,
Millionth Monkey Music
While we obviously can’t give medical advice here, you are correct that most anti-depressants are strongly contraindicated with ayahuasca, including the one your mention. If you were to drink the tea, you would have to wait a sufficient time for the anti-depressants to leave your body, which in many cases can take several weeks (modern SSRIs have a rather long half-life). And of course one should only do so under a doctor’s supervision, as the withdrawal symptoms can in some cases be very strong.
Passion flower contains some of the same chemicals as the ayahuasca vine, and is not contraindicated.
I drank once almost 12 years ago, but it was not made with Caapi and Viridis, it was made with Rue and Mimosa Hostilis…. I had terrifying experience, albeit in retrospect it was exactly what I needed at the time… Now I’ve come into possession of some made with Caapi and Rue… Problem is even THINKING about using it causes my body to experience extreme anxiety, basically terror…. After reading this, I think I will be OK!
I dont know where to begin with this…….after an adult lifetime plagued with alternate bouts of depression and mania, long-term unemployment, loss of feelings, a lot of anger/frustration/ resentment of my beautiful/patient/ long-suffering wife and children (who is in the process of leaving me), i am desperate for an answer…
I feel i have neglected my gifts and hidden from responsibility etc. by escaping into fantasy and pleasure. I know i have hurt and been destructive with many of those around me while believing i only ever had good intentions.
I am a mean,cruel and selfish person on one hand and an extremely loving, creative, gentle person on the other. Is it the curse of Pisces, am i fundamentally weak and cruel? I dont know but i feel the physical prescence of a virus in my body and a current speeding up of the dieing/living process.
I had a vision 2 years ago that if i didnt change my ways and move towards the light, i would find myself in a hospital hooked up to various machines, dieing of cancer within the next few years . Despite this, through weakness and lack of purpose, i continued with my old life and changed nothing. I truly feel like the vision is becoming reality and i am mentally and physically terrified beyond words.
I have been suicidal in the last few months since finding out my wife was in love with someone else and taking our children to live in a different country and have tried visioning, meditation,homeopathy without any hope.
In a nutshell, i feel hopeless and that im reaping the karmic rewards after a bad-minded,mean and wasteful life and i am terrified.
I came across Ayahuasca through a friend who is an author who wrote a book about the numinous and quoted the plant as being the most profoundly affecting experience of his life. Since then it has been on my radar but i have been too inactive/scared to take it as i can’t get past the belief that my experince will be too negative both physically and mentally for me to come through. I know its very different but i have always had extremely bad reactions to all drugs/stimulants and have been diagnosed in the past with a mild mitral valve prolapse in my heart and damaged adrenals.
I know this all sounds very selfindulgent and hysterical but i’m out of my mind with this. All i want is to heal and use my gifts to the benefit of others but i am literally stuck/rooted in fear and inertia.
Please help/ advise if these are indications that i should DEFINATELY or DEFINATELY NOT drink.
You should definitely drink ayahuasca. You guys seem to be overthinking the whole process that it will somehow make you worse when it actually makes you face your problems head on instead of burying it to cause one to suffer throughout life. If somehow you think it makes you worse afterwards then you really are trying to bury those painful experiences and instead of fixing your mindset you try to avoid the problem that you just faced making it worse for yourself. If you want to be in the same rut for the rest of your life and not face your problems head on to find a solution then don’t drink. If you want to change for the better and are willing to work for seeing things in a different perspective then drink and let the healing process finally begin.
BTW I too have taken ayahausca, a mixture of syrian rue and mimosa hostilis. It made me face the truth without worry or second guessing myself. Totally uninhibited like the writer of the article had mentioned. Never was I so clear minded in my life as well as happy.
Check out this website man. I wish you the best in your search for healing.
[…] http://www.ayahuasca.com/science/the-ayahuasca-effect/ […]
Thanks Kirby for connecting these dots in one place, especially with regards to the physiological effects. Do you or anyone else reading this thread have an explanation for the body’s “heat response”/thermal effects that one may encounter as part of the effect physically after taking the medicine. The only explanation I have seen so far is “DMT intoxication”. Is it just a case of the thermal properties of the herbs in the brew being hot, as in Asian Medicine where some herbs are considered cold, cool, neutral, warm ,hot ( just as an example) ? Is it a case of preparation because the brew is typically cooked for a long time with heat and added smoke? Is it the DMT and/or harmalines ? Thanks.
Hi i am in need of help, I am addicted to seriqil, paxil, and others. I dont belive in the world today and the way docs perscribe there meds. I have read this artical and have a strong fealing that it just may be the cure I need.
I have very little money and am asking for help, please help me!! I have fallen into a dark place and am lossing my desire to go on. I would be greatful for hel and would be willing to do some sort of work or work out a payment plan. JUST PLEASE someone please take a chance on me when I was well I was a great person ,fun, happy, outgoing, firstname.lastname@example.org
Fascinating! This all makes sense- good article. I landed on this site as I felt compelled to learn more about this subject after several recent coincidences. One, I belong to a local church that rents space to a UDV church a couple of times a month. They are very good renters and we are happy to let them share our building. I’m the Social Justice lead person at my church. Soon I will be bringing up for a vote to my congregation to support Repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery and Implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples- a project I started way before I became aware of what the UDV group was. I also just found out yesterday that a relative is going to visit Peru and the Amazon area. I was very surprised to hear about this, actually. Anyway, this is a very relevant topic in many ways. Just like marijuana, anything that may actually have healing properties and not really be very harmful compared to Big Pharma products, will always be desired to be controlled by Big Pharma until we get these profit folks out of the way of actually preventing a healthy society. More sickness actually makes GDP go up and puts tons of cash in non natural healthcare providers pockets. OCCUPY HEALTHCARE until we get health justice, is all I can say. (-;
@ Rockmaster on November 18th, 2008 at 4:34 am:
“it’s sense of the way things should be” (should be “its”)
“it’s sense of the way things should be” is correct, “it’s” is used correctly in this sentence as it is showing possessiveness of one’s senses.
I have never heard of ayahuasca, until recently. One of my friends uses it on a monthly basis and saids it helps heal him. I have lived among tribal people for many years, and all I could see is that they opened a portal hole to destruction. I have never in my life seen such hell. What is has made me realise that the best way to cope with life is to do it straight and have a lot of faith. So many people look for answers but instead they dont do enough questioning, the answer is often right in front of their face but refuse to see it. If someone is suffering from depression, they need support, love and respect not a drug. There are things in peoples lives that are so traumatic it is wrong to say a drug is going to help them. The only ones we have to blame if ourselves we refuse to take responsibility for our actions and when someone disrespect us we put the blame on ourselves. We should look at society as a whole, and understand what is really going on, the reality is that no one really gives a shit and most of all they are pretty much in it for themselves and that is it. We are a very selfish society, and the ones dare to care, love and share are the ones who are getting hurt, being walked on and guess what there is no one who cares. This is what is has come to that we need to take a drug to justify this when pretty much it is the drugs of the world destroying us. All we need to do is start caring and stop being so self centred its ok to love, love yourself first though as that is your first hope, and then who knows there may be someone else out there that wants to share that love, be strong hold your head high and be proud to be a human, we dont need drugs to that…..
does freebase DMT have.the same effect on the brain as far as helping depression like symptoms or you have to have the plant as well. will pharmauasca have the same benefits or not. thanks.
Hi Love your Article;
I’m on my way to Iquitos Peru to experience Aya, heal wounds, connect with nature, and come back a brand new better bigger person.
How long with the benefits last? I don’t ever want to be the person I was before (flat on my face) if you know what I mean.
Thanks Mother Ayahuasca and the Flora of this planet for healing humanity in such loving way.
can ayahuasca be used to enter another person’s energy? It is possible to use it to harm another? I have been under attack from a false spiritual teacher for five years. I knew of several times when she used ayahuasca.
My aim is to send out a press release after I complete my ebook, which is in its draft stage.Sabrina Sabinos recent post ..48Kgs Again!
Does the effect make you more ‘suggestible’ and influencable as a person, open to energies of all others?
How does it affect your ‘aura’?
its awesome, i just came back from peru and its changed things so perfectly. just what was needed.
dont let other peoples fears or experiences decide for you, be your own guide.
if your curious try it!
As we have experienced our ayahuasca ceremonies here in our own country (the Netherlands) with the church of Santo Daime, we are determend to visit Brazil or Peru for a deeper experience with this connection to the plants and nature.
For instance we have made contact with several locations like Casa de la Madre in Pucallpa Peru and CEFLURIS Florianopolis in Brazill. Our plans would be to visit approx. between December 21st and January 3rd.
Will someone help us find our way and stay? Since this would be our first visit.
Warm embrace, Lydia & Frank
My first Aya experience was 2 weeks ago in South America. The only thing that I have been thinking for the last two weeks is “my serotonin has been reset.” Then I find this article today to validate my theory. I’ve been taking all sorts of different anti-depressents my whole life, even Adderrall for ADHD and that non sense. NEVER did I think that one evening at a Aya church ceremony would my life change. I feel like a different person for the better and that my life is about to begin again. I’ve also noticed that my senses appear to have been heightened or re-tuned. My cravings for alcohol have seized so far and the thought of getting drunk doesn’t feel appealing. I had a subtle vision regarding alcohol perhaps caused this shift in attitude. I can’t believe their is a plant on this earth that can have such a positive influence on human life, can’t wait for next weeks ceremony. Thanks for the article, totally validates my self examination for my first experience two weeks ago.
will someone help us find our way and stay? Since this would be our first visit.
Warm embrace, Lydia & Frank
I had my experience at ” the temple way of light” the place is magic and the shaman, the maestros and the mastras are fantastic.
thank you so much for your research and your very thorough and thoughtful contribution to this topic of such great interest. I knew there was hope for all of us. peace
I am looking for a place in the Us that offers ayahuasca ceremony . My husband has been suffering from chronic depression and we would like to try the tea. I am grateful for any information you can provide …
Does the person need to continue taking aya in order to keep sober/depression free or is one 2 week session enough? Also, back to Daniella’s question, are there any centers in the US that provide aya. Thank you, I greatly appreciate the insight.
This was such an amazing article! It gave me so much insight. Im not one to suffer from depression but I do have a lot of panic attacks. I think this might help me in overcoming those uncontrollable fits. Does anyone know where you can get this tea from? Or is there separate ingredients that you can mix yourself? Or am I going to have to travel all the way to Brazil to try this life changing experience? One more thing… Can you take this more then once? Or is this a one time thing? And is there such a thing as “to much Ayahuasca”? Thanks again for this article it has left me with a lot of insite.
I have been suffering from anxiety and depression since 2009. I live in the UK. I need.this tea where can i get it?
Our entire family consisting of myself, husband, transitional daughter and son participated in an Ayahuacsa ceremony a few weeks ago in hopes that it would provided healing and restore balance for us all. Though hard to articulate, the experience was profoundly positive and enlightening for 3 of the 4 of us. My husband had an extremely negative response that rendered him “non-functional” for days after wards. Does anyone have info or have they had a similar response that made their body temperature drop and caused them to be barely able to move? He stated that it was the most terrifying night of his life. Thanks for reply in advance. The rest of us want to return in the spring or summer to continue the journey.
I only got to the point where it said there are only two major neurotransmitters in the brain, gaba and glutamate and just had to make it very clear, dopamine IS number 1. Serotonin is number two and the ones you stated are next. This is coming from an Anhdonic, who literally feels DEAD and halfway UNCONSCIOUS every minute of my life. I have not felt ***any*** pleasure at all for a very long time. Not my favorite song, not the sunshine on a pretty day, not even that little tiny feeling of relief after you’ve done the dishes. I also have a serotonin problem that leaves me with several severe disorders, but Anhedonia is the worst, second only to torture. Life isn’t worth living without dopamine and its receptors.
Thank you very much for this article,
I have been interested in Ayahuasca for some years now and have read a lot of testimonials and informative articles on the subject. This article has however been the most informative that I have encountered so far. The personal encounter feels almost to have been written just for my eyes and the science is explained in a way that I can grasp and easily relate to my own issues. I even find myself referring to your article to give some background as to why I would wish to experience Ayahuasca.
For those of you reading this, be careful. This is the author’s experience, but don’t think that ingesting ayahuasca is some “fly-by-night” “happy-go-lucky” experience. His experience seems like it was very peaceful and profound, but in some cases, the initial feelings are anything but like that. It can be an overwhelming and consuming dark experience. That’s not to say it still isn’t beneficial, but it’s certainly not always flowers and sublime dreams either.
Be careful with the amount you take, and be very very patient with it. I suggest drinking slowly, over the course of 1.5-2 hours. I cannot stress enough that it may show you every dark and nasty thing about yourself. Do not think it is always gentle. It will always teach, but the lesson may be harsher for some.
which plants used in Ayahuasca have the lowest toxicity, like low amounts of atropine? and what site have the better best easiest way of making it and what plant nurseries sell all or most of the needed plants email@example.com
[…] been building is a non-judgemental openness that says, “Hmm, that could be an interesting solution based on science and rationality. There are studies and years of qualitative testimonial. […]
Thank you so much for this highly informative information you have posted here Kirby. I am more convinced now than ever that I want to try this magical substance. Thank you 🙂
It is amazing how eonderful people in the western world appreciates this sacred medicine. My mother as a native colombian healer helps people from all around the world..
I read your story. I totally see your angle and how difficult things were getting for you. I believe, most people can’t understand how complex depression is as a mental illness. My son has been dealing with it for some time now. We would love to hear more directly from you. Thanks for sharing.
First, allow me to applaud your very well written essay (typos, notwithstanding). I was one of the group to whom you sent your Ayahuasca survey/questionnaire packets upon which, I assume, some of this essay was constructed. Although that was some six or seven years ago, I immediately recognized your name when I stumbled onto this essay and knew I was in for a good read.
To those wondering about, or skeptical of, taking the medicine, I will say this: Having taken the tea some twenty to thirty times myself, Ayahuasca is NOT like other psychedelics you may have taken in the past, be they “enlightening” or otherwise. It is a POWERFUL teacher, but like all good teachers, the lessons she will teach you may not always be those you want to learn. In a nutshell (at least in my and my circle’s experiences) it simply shows you all the things about yourself that are bad, be it to yourself, to loved ones, or both, and forces you to look at them without the clouded filter of justifications and rationalizations your ego puts up on a regular basis to defend itself against the way you behave. The beauty of Mother Aya is that in spite of FORCING you to come face to face with all of your shortcomings as a person, she ALSO shows you how to fix them and elevate yourself to a higher level of selflessness and love for those in your life. And, although the voyage lasts mere hours, you awaken from it with the profound memory of what you were taught, and in most cases, a strong desire to act on those lessons.
In short, the experiences may be blissful, they may be terrifying, or both. But, she always, ALWAYS shows you what you needed to see. And, she will NOT allow you to look away; she is a loving, but stern, teacher. She is not the cure, but she IS a powerful tool for use in reaching the cure.
On a side note, she does not take kindly to those exploiting her wisdom simply to “trip” and she will make it very apparent to you in short order that, if that is your primary motivation in coming to her space, you are NOT welcome there – that lesson, one that I was taught by her long ago by her, in the beginning, is NOT a pleasant one.
Thank you for a great explanation of how Ayahuasca works in the brain. I experienced an ayahuasca retreat myself this year in May, having completed much personal research and investigation into the subject. I had Ben suffering with depression on and off for around 15 years. I had tried all kinds if treatments including talk therapies, hypnotherapy, SSRI antidepressants, and CBT, none of which worked for me. I did 3 ayahuasca ceremonies over 4 days, and it completely took my depression away. It was like years if the most effective therapy in just 4 days. 1 month later and I am still integrating what I’ve learnt into my life, and I am getting stronger all the time. It’s incredible to at last feel happy and comfortable in my own skin and be the positive, assertive person that I always wanted to be. Your article has been very helpful in explaining what has happened inside my head. I do feel like I have achieved a new level of consciousness. Thank you for your article. I hope that the western model of medicine invests some time to research and understanding the potential of this medicine.
that explanation is fascinanting, thank you so much! coud you be so kind to publish some bibliography or research articles so i can learn a bit more?
thank you, kind regards
What an informative article … the best that I have read so far regarding what is actually taking place in the brain and body while on Ayahuasca……
I am wondering how certain high blood pressure meds interact with Ayahuasca ….like Lisinipril …..
fabulous informative article! I am a shaman, training and nearing completion of a 21/2 year master shamanic training using NZ plant and Shamanic essences. I am also a qualified plant practitioner using many other essences to shift emotional blockages. These also are very powerful in clearing past painful issues in a gentle yet profound way. By taking different blends you can work on power , heart, mind and soul retrieval loss and so much more. Having not tried ayahuasca however I am very keen to try it for the experience. Thanks for posting this.
My husband and I done ayahuasca ceremonies 9 times now. He suffered from sexual addiction and was tormented for over 55 years. Ayahuasca showed him the source of his addiction. He had been molested by 3 men family members and had it so buried he didn’t even remember. After the 4th ceremony he was completely healed of his addiction. He says he feels clean & whole again. Amazing but he had to do the work. We are so grateful to ayahuasca for showing him the source of his addiction. He found forgiveness to these men. He continues to speak his truth & therefore is helping others with their addictions. All 9 of my ceremonies have been beautiful. Ayahuasca is a healing plant.
I found this article very helpful. I have been on antidepressants off and on for about 20years. I am now 51years old and at my wits end. I need true relief from my depression. I can’t seem to feel anything at all. Good or bad. I’m not living just barely existing. I’m divorced and after years of being a stay at home mom my kids are all grown and off the college. I have lost all my will power to just keep going. I first heard of Ayahuasca about 3 yrs ago. and since then it seems to pop up everywhere. like its calling me or something. I have decided I definitely want to try it but in my research I found that I have to be off my medication for 8weeks at least before investing the tea. Is that that also your understanding? My question is how do I do that? every time I have weened myself off in the past I Have very become very very suicidal. Can someone please advise me? Also I live in Arizona and don’t know where to begin to find a credible organization to administer the tea. Please please advise. I desperately need help.