Safety for the Solitary Drinker
Since the 1980’s, Ayahuasca has become increasing popular in the west. As its popularity grows, it has come under increasing scrutiny from legal and medical authorities. This thread is intended to give tips and suggestions for a safe experience to people who are new to Ayahuasca and drink alone.
Please note that Ayahuasca mixed with the usual admixtures is illegal or of ambiguous legality in many places in the world. It is recommended that individuals check the laws in their locality.
Legal Issues Forum
What plants go into Ayahuasca?
In the Amazon region, the most commonly used combination is Ayahuasca Vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and Chakruna (Psychotria viridis).
The western psychedelic tradition, on the other hand, has in the past few decades developed the custom of using the word “Ayahuasca” for any combination of MAOI plus DMT — most commonly, Peganum harmala (Syrian Rue) plus Mimosa hostilis.
Banisteriopsis Caapi and Peganum harmala are significantly different both chemically and subjectively.
And because of the toxicity of Peganum harmala (Syrian Rue), with a Harmala-based brew one tries to use the bare minimum necessary to potentiate the DMT effect, which is considered the main event. Too much Rue could cause a toxic overdose.
With the Vine, however, there is no overdose level. Increasing the Vine increases the richness and depth and transformative power of the experience. The Vine is also a wise and caring Presence that can guide and help you through difficult experiences.
The Vine and the Leaf are a “sacred synergy,” a “marriage,” to the Santo Daime church.
Here, and on this forum, the term “Ayahuasca” is used as much Ayahuasca-using groups around the world use it — to mean the brew made from the Ayahuasca Vine and, most commonly, the admixtures Psychotria viridis or Diplopterys cabrerana.
Peganum harmala — a sacred plant to people of South and Central Asia and to Persians in particular, who call is Aspand or Esphand — has its own unique identity and deserves full respect for what and who it is. Mimosa-Harmala brew has its own powers, similar in some ways to Aya but also distinct.
The first thing to understand, in approaching Ayahuasca, is that these plants are beings, and you are entering into a relationship with these beings.
Obtaining the plants — keeping your profile low
Purchasing plants online is a common way to obtain Ayahuasca and it’s admixtures. The plants are legal in many places around the world, but for safety sake, it is recommended that you minimize your public exposure. To accomplish this consider doing the following:
1) Obtain the plants from a vendor that is in your country. This will help you avoid customs inspections.
2) Use money orders and order forms instead of using a credit card.
4) Do not order any pre-made Ayahuasca. Importing large amounts of medicine to/from anywhere in the world (especially without a plant importation permit) may attract attention from authorities. Avoid traveling with brewed medicine, especially through airports or other public transportation hubs.
5) Do not distribute any prepared medicine to anyone.
Preparing the medicine
1) Preparing the medicine takes time. Avoid quick preparation methods as much as possible. There are many tecs in the preparations forum:
2) Avoid using advanced techniques (HCL and phosphoric techs) at first, as these methods can produce strong reactions.
3) Do not mix the medicines. Avoid dreaming of ayahuasca with mushrooms, cannabis, or any man made substances. Stick to caapi and one of the usual admixtures.
4) The spiritual energy put into the process of preparation is said to affect the experience. Be attentive to the brew, smudge yourself and the preparation area, inhale the aroma of the brew… charge your brew with your love and gratitude. Do not play television or radio while preparing the brew.
Note: people who are in a long-term relationship with Ayahuasca sometimes report experiencing “olfactory flashbacks” in their daily lives, where the smell of brewing Ayahuasca briefly but vividly returns.
Telling others about it
The experience with Ayahuasca is transformative and naturally, people want to share their experiences with family, friends and coworkers. We know of many people, however, who have lost jobs or had their reputations damaged because they have shared these experiences indiscriminately, as it was viewed as illicit drug use.
Be discreet in sharing this with others.
Preparing yourself for the experience: Physical Safety
Ayahuasca is an MAOI, and, as such, can have interactions with certain foods and medications.
A list of food and drugs that should be avoided for safety reasons can be found in the post below. These foods should be avoided for 24 hours before and after the Ayahuasca journey.
Note that this information is inherited from medical information about pharmaceutical MAOIs. There have been fatal food interactions with pharmaceutical MAOIs, so to avoid lawsuits doctors and pharmaceutical companies issue strongly worded warnings. With Ayahuasca, on the other hand, MAOI interactions with foods are generally not life-threatening — unless you already have dangerously high blood pressure, in which case an MAOI reaction could cause a stroke.
However, an MAOI reaction from Ayahuasca may cause a severe headache (radiating to the front of the head) that may in some cases last for days and be resistant to pain relievers. Other symptoms of MAOI reaction include stiff and/or sore neck, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light, dilated pupils, sweating (sometimes with fever or with cold, clammy skin), chest pain, or heart palpitations.
Another possible consequence of consuming tyramines before drinking Ayahuasca is that that tyramine, as a building block of the amphetamine-like chemical epinephrine, or adrenaline, may exacerbate panic reactions. Anecdotal reports on this forum suggest a correlation between tyramines and panic attack.
Although many people have consumed MAOI-proscribed foods without consequence, anecdotal reports suggest that when MAOI reactions happen, they are often triggered by very small amounts of the proscribed foods. (Aged cheeses, soy sauce, peanut butter, stale nuts, and overripe fruits have all been anecdotally implicated by forum members. On the other hand, bananas, though they appear on some MAOI-proscribed lists, appear to be completely safe as long as they are not at all overripe.)
As a general rule, for 24 hours before and after drinking Ayahuasca, avoid foods that are fermented, aged, cured, pickled, overripe, wilted, past expiration date, or even slightly spoiled; stick to foods that are very fresh.
Fasting at least half a day before an Ayahuasca ceremony and also not drinking much water within a few hours of the ceremony helps minimize the possibility of vomiting prematurely and losing the brew before it takes effect.
Interaction with pharmaceutical medications is a much more serious matter than food interactions. Unlike food interactions, some pharmaceutical interactions can potentially be life-threatening. Pharmaceuticals to be avoided include some OTC pharmaceuticals such as antihistamines, decongestants, and cough medicines, but more dangerous are many antidepressants (including OTCs like St Johns Wort). If you are taking prescription medication (including antibiotics), are subject to high blood pressure, have a heart condition, or are under treatment for any health condition, consult your physician about the use of temporary monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI). Medical consultation is especially important if you are taking Prozac, Paxil, Wellbutrin, Effexor, Zoloft or other antidepressants affecting serotonin levels, i.e. serotonin selective re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI). These medications may require a period of up to six weeks to completely clear the system and must be reduced gradually. Some may clear the system in a shorter period of time. But they still require more lengthy abstention than food. For example, be clear of antidepressents for five weeks (35 days) with SSRIs other than fluoxetine (Prozac), 8 weeks (56 days) with the latter. (Caapi itself is an effective anti-depressant. See Threads on Ayahuasca and Depression.)
Also potentially dangerous combined with Ayahuasca are amphetamines and amphetamine-like substances, including MDMA and ephedrine. (There is one death on record of a young man who combined Syrian Rue/Mimosa with cocaine.) Certain herbs, specifically St. Johns Wort, Ephedra, and Kava, can be dangerous with Ayahuasca. Ginseng and Yohimbine also should be avoided if you are taking Ayahuasca.
These substances need to be clear from your system before Ayahuasca is ingested. Some can be cleared in a few days, others need weeks.
An emergency medication that is given in the case of life-threatening MAOI reactions is Procardia, which is a medicine for angina.
Discussion of the safety diet can be found here:
Foods and Meds to Avoid with MAOIs
Preparing yourself for the experience: Spiritual Preparation
In the Amazon, virtually every known Ayahuasca-using culture — including indigenous cultures, mestizo shamans, syncretic churches, and modern drug therapy centers that use Ayahuasca to treat addiction — incorporate some form of the dieta. (The Spanish word dieta is used here to distinguish from the MAOI safety diet.)
Basically, the common denominator of the dieta is flavorless food (no salt or spices, especially hot peppers, onions, and garlic) and no sexual stimulation. And no pork. Most versions also proscribe alcohol, sugar, and fried or fatty foods.
The dieta is not only about food. It also basically includes relative solitude and minimal talking, especially idle chitchat, and, as mentioned, avoiding sexual stimulation. For people in industrialized countries, a modern dieta would definitely include a fast from television, radio, mass media, advertising. etc. (And internet forums? You will have to follow your own guidance on that.)
Energetically, what is aimed for with dieta is a kind of transparency. Spend the day of the journey and the day after the journey in low stress situations. Walk in the woods, meditate, etc.
Nothing bad will happen to you if you don’t follow dieta. Rather, that just limits the good you can receive. But since Ayahuasca is generally a long-term relationship, many solitary drinkers start drinking Ayahuasca first and then find themselves guided to do dieta as time goes on, in order to deepen the relationship. At the very least, diet colors the Ayahuasca experience.
There are many variations on the details of the dieta. They vary not only from culture to culture, but according to the purpose of the dieta — a ceremony, a specific healing, a shamanic apprenticeship. The dieta cleanses the body of “subtle phlegm,” helps you become more sensitive to the Plant’s energies, and makes you more transparent to her healing.
The longer you remain on dieta after an Ayahuasca ceremony, the longer her healing can work.
An introduction to dieta:
Dieta and the Plant World
A more detailed discussion of dieta:
The Spiritual Dieta.
There are many people who dream in an urban setting or indoors. Dedicated a space in your home to dreaming and meditation. Smudging and energetically clearing the space before dreaming will help you feel safe, handled and ready for the experience. Darkness can help to facilitate the journey. (In the Amazon, ceremonies are traditionally held at night.)
It is suggested that, even if you are dreaming indoors, to have plants with you accompanying you on the journey. Even potted house plants. One of Aya’s traditional roles in the Amazon is to help humans and plants communicate with each other. A plant you live with daily is best.
Increasing numbers of people are going to South America to drink Ayahuasca under the guidance of traditionally trained shamans, who may may help you to navigate the difficult psycho-spiritual depths in the realms and assist the healing processes of the Vine. But this is not feasible for everyone.
If you have never drunk Ayahuasca before, and you are drinking alone, you may consider having a sitter. It is not necessary to have a sitter. Ayahuasca is not dangerous. The role of the sitter would simply be to provide support in case of panic.
Assuming that the physical environment is hazard-free, and precautions against food and medication interactions have been followed, there are no physical dangers with Ayahuasca. Ayahuasca (traditional brew with no other additives) has a disaster-free record. There are not even reports of allergic reactions. The Brazilian government did a series of in-depth studies of Ayahuasca use, totalling eight years, and concluded that the greatest physical danger posed by Ayahuasca was of stumbling and falling when one tries to walk.
Nevertheless, a person in a very deep Ayahuasca journey may sometimes believe they are dying, and, especially if they are drinking Ayahuasca alone, this might cause them to panic. So the sitter may be called upon to reassure the person, and to keep reminding them, as often as necessary, that no one has ever died from drinking Ayahuasca (Caapi + Chacruna) brew.
(This does not mean that people who are prone to panic attacks should necessarily avoid Ayahuasca; on the contrary, Ayahuasca has been known to help heal people from panic attacks, by helping them to get a sense of detachment from the experience that enables a better control of the panic reaction.)
The sitter’s main emergency role, then, may be to be calming and reassuring if the person has a panic attack. A hot bath may help if, as common, the panicking person feels cold. Panic attack can be exacerbated by a reaction to food tyramines, so following the safety diet beforehand helps to minimize the chance of panic reaction. Panic attack is more likely with Harmala-based brews than with Vine-based brews; and with Ayahuasca (Vine-based brew) there is, commonly, the sense of a caring Presence, helping and guiding.
These are not “bad trips.” There are no “bad” Ayahuasca experiences, even though things may become difficult and challenging. Ultimately, even the most difficult of Ayahuasca experiences can become part of the larger healing process as it is integrated. So a sitter who is supporting someone through a panic attack should not approach it as “something gone wrong.” Being calm and positive is the best way to be supportive. Exploring the sensation that one is “dying” can be an important part of the Ayahuasca experience. (See “It feels like dying”)
This thread contains a link to a video, in which, from 15:54 to 18:40, one can see a person on Ayahuasca undergoing panic and believing she is dying, and being handled by an experienced sitter who knows this is a normal part of the process:
For information on Ayahuasca and panic:
The sitter need not be physically present with the person on Ayahuasca, if that person prefers solitude. It is enough to be nearby and summonable if help is needed. If no in-person sitter is available, arrange with a trusted friend to have them stay near the phone, so that they can talk to you if you begin to panic. (Program their number on speed-dial if possible, because it may be hard to dial the phone.) Have them review these guidelines beforehand.
A second role of the sitter may be physical support, in case the person needs to walk. A person under Ayahuasca is as physically uncoordinated as a drunk. If the person needs to get up to go to the bathroom or get up and walk for another reason, they may require physical assistance.
If you are going to sit for another person, or if you are considering dreaming together with other solitary drinkers, please read
If a human sitter is not available (or even if they are) it is suggested to have a plant sit with you during the journey.
It is best to remain in a sitting or upright position while in an Aya dream (rather than lying down), particularly when alone. There are several reasons for this, but one important safety consideration is that if you fall asleep, it is possible to vomit in one’s sleep, and if you are lying down, there could be danger of suffocation. Leaning against a back support or lying in a hammock are both fine and accepted in Amazonian practice as well.
An Ayahuasca dream is more effective if you are alert and not sleepy, so it is best to be well-rested when undertaking Aya.
The Purge is an important, almost legendary, part of the Ayahuasca experience, yet not everyone purges. (See The Purge.)
The Purge usually takes the form of vomiting, but may sometimes take the form of diarrhea. The Purge is a spiritual cleansing and can help to remove deep spiritual and emotional blockages and toxins. Many people purge strongly in their earlier Ayahuasca experiences, and move into deeper spiritual experience as these blockages are removed. Other people experience the reverse: non-purging experiences early on, moving into cleansing purges in later experiences.
The Purge should not be confused with ordinary vomiting to relieve simple gastro-intestinal distress or nausea. If one feels nauseated, one may be tempted to induce vomiting to relieve the nausea, but if one resists the temptation and allows the brew to decide when the Purge should happen, then deep spiritual toxins may be released along with the physical matter.
However, there is a danger of vomiting too early, before the brew is completely absorbed, and losing the effects. This is a simple physical reaction. One should resist vomiting for at least the first half-hour. Nausea can be effectively relieved with Peppermint or Ginger (the Purge may happen later with little or no accompanying nausea). Also, avoiding drinking water or eating for several hours before the journey reduces the possibility of premature vomiting.
If you are dreaming indoors, keep a receptacle nearby for purging. Some people dispose of the purge ceremonially the next day by giving it back to the Earth, and smudging themselves.
Many people create a ceremony before dreaming with Ayahuasca, with prayers for protection and statement of an intention. A ceremony helps to keep the mind grounded and focused. A closing ceremony, the next day gives the dreamer closure as well as a time and place to talk about and express his journey. Closing ceremonies also bring new insights to the experience, in the light of day.
There is a question about how much medicine to drink. There is no real answer because various factors come into play including the strength of the plants, brewing techniques, body weight and emotional state.
Because of this, we suggest the following:
For beginners combine 50g of Caapi and 50g Chacruna/Chaliponga into one drink. Do not drink this all at once. Start with 1/2 of the drink, wait for 45 minutes and add as necessary. Any leftover brew can be stored for you next journey
Following a routine from obtaining the plants, preparing the brew, preparing yourself and creating a ceremony during your experience will maximize the chances for a positive, healing and enlightening experience.
Recommended threads to read in preparation for embarking on a relationship with Ayahuasca: