Ayahuasca – A healing experience for the soul?




Many people seek out Ayahuasca as a gateway to higher consciousness and personal growth. Hopeful to find a shortcut to psychological healing from past trauma, addictions, or anxieties, they often turn to the plant, with an earnest desire to find a panacea for their internal wounds, and achieve ultimate release from all mental suffering… 


Are we to trust the many anecdotal stories about healing of the disquieted souls from unbroken oppressive emotions, commonly coined as depression and anxiety; or doubt the effects as simple means to a short-term escape from reality? Should we also stay vigilant to the potential accentuation of painful trauma for people with mental health illnesses and beware of the risks for people with undiagnosed medical conditions? In this overview, we inquire to find out more about the real holistic potential of Ayahuasca and explore the uses of the psychoactive brew through time.


The Ayahuasca “trip” varies from one person to another. A lot of people swear to the healing powers of the hallucinogenic drug and describe their experiences as life-transformative and completely enlightening. The preparation of the brew, the surroundings, and the guidance that the person receives during a ceremony are decisive to the intensity of the trip and the much wished-for spiritual awakening of the soul. To get a better idea of how these three variables make up a wholesome Ayahuasca experience, it’s important to understand how the substance has been used by others in the timeline of its existence, as well as the imminent and everlasting effects of the concoction on one’s psyche.


Ayahuasca brew


The Ayahuasca revolution


The first evidence of indigenous people using Ayahuasca came from missionaries traveling South America in the 16th century. On their return back, colonies described their encounter with the plant and the shamanic cultures as ‘devil’s work’. The esoteric properties of the plant did not garner so much public interest until around the 1950s when the famous writer at the time William Burroughs went to seek it as medicine for his opiate addiction. Afterward, the surreal account of experimenting with Ayahuasca and the effects of the psychoactive ingredient on the mind were explicitly described in a book called “True Hallucinations” by the American botanist Terence McKenna.



Shamanic visions


Long before the psychedelic plant attracted the interest of Westerners; it had been used by traditional cultures during ceremonial practices to open the communication of the man with their nature. Everyone attending these ceremonies is conceived to participate in the collective experience by singing, chanting icaros, and taking from the Ayahuasca potion. In the present day, the plant has grown in popularity and uses way beyond the continent of its origin, all the way to the US and Europe. Travelers to Brazil, Columbia, Peru, or other South American countries have carried the tradition to the old continent by becoming indoctrinated with the indigenous cultures, their shamanic rituals, and healing guidance practices.


Attempting to experiment with Ayahuasca under the supervision of untaught or self-taught shamans (or none at all), can have serious consequences for the person under the influence of the drug, and also in the aftermath of the trip.


Ayahuasca tea potion


What should you expect from the brew?


The name Ayahuasca is often translated as ‘liana of the soul’ or ‘spirit liana’. It is also referred to as ‘la purge’ due to the common belief that the plant can heal the soul and allow the person to examine their thought and emotions from an entirely different perspective. It is traditionally prepared as a brew (tea) from two plant species: Banisteriopsis Caapi vine and Psychotria Viridis, which are both native to the Amazon forest. The ingredients are only to be found within the basin of the forest and nowhere else. The potion itself looks brown and contains the right proportion of the two plants that would allow one of them (Psychotria Viridis) to work as the psychoactive constituent (DMT) and the other plant (Banisteriopsis Caapi) as the potentiator of the psychedelic effect- via biological reactions with molecules in the brain, called MAOs. Without one or the other ingredients, the effect will not be complete and immersive. DMT has a lasting effect of 20 minutes while the Ayahuasca brew can take you on a trip for several hours.


Banisteriopsis Caapi vine and Psychotria Viridis


The effect of Ayahuasca on the brain


A recent study by the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte described the effects of Ayahuasca on the brain after a panel of participants ingested around 200mL of the potion. The brain scans from this study paint a bigger picture from what we already know about a psychoactive substance by word of mouth. It tells us where and how it acts on the brain so that we can relate this directly to the spiritually intense experiences of the mind and body. According to the study by the Institute, the biggest increase in activity was observed in the occipital, frontal, and temporal cortical areas in the brain. The occipital area is responsible for vision, giving us a hint into why imagery under the influence of Ayahuasca is so vivid even when the eyes are closed. The temporal activation of the brain can be related to sporadic memories and contextual associations 40 minutes after the intake of the brew. What the scientists also discovered within the scope of this study is the activation of the frontal lobe after imagery was shown to the group of subjects. Responsible for cognitive control, emotion, and judgment, the brain was certainly activated to experience sensations beyond imagination, and potentially ones spinning from the metaphysical realms of the person’s subconscious.



 Brain activation - Artwork by Jean Francois Podevin


Best way to do Ayahuasca


The effects of Ayahuasca take over the mind and the body all at once…

This experience can most accurately be described as a purgatory transcendence that cleanses the soul from all the stagnant emotions and our ego. The best way to do the journey is by doing several days of detox from smoking, drinking, meat, dairy, and intimacies with a partner. By doing so, you are guaranteed to make the most of your experience and achieve the composite of effects that the healing plant has to offer. Another important tip to remember is never to attempt the substance without skilled guided mentoring. This is a crucial precondition to a soulfully intense and awakening Ayahuasca trip if you consider yourself being ready for one.



What to expect from the experience?


Since we’ve made a clear point already that Ayahuasca is all about the spiritual cleaning and introspective journey of the soul, it’s important to mention the physical effects that are also relevant to the whole experience. The majority of people taking the substance have felt nausea, followed by vomiting and diarrhea. Even though it may sound a bit off-putting at first, these are actually an important part of the journey to thorough soulful liberation away from the destructive forces, bounds, and emotions over a person’s life. Ayahuasca is also not for the faint-hearted. People with low or high blood pressure and medical conditions of the heart are not recommended to attempt the brew. Dizziness and agitation are also expected, along with intense visions of colors, hearing of esoteric sounds in waves of fear and dismay. Powerful emotions from laughter or crying are also commonly experienced by participants in Ayahuasca retreats.


Ayahuasca is a deeply personal experience that can range give people a whole palette of sensations and realizations that are entirely different for each person, every time around. This is what makes the powerful psychedelic potion so unique and the journey absolutely unmatched by any other hallucinogenic substance.


Ayahuasca retreat


Can Ayahuasca heal the soul?


Certainly, so far as many people say. Whether or not you decide to take the lessons home and learn from the ancient wisdom plant is up to you. The power of the brew is profound for those who have the strength of the spirit to dare and see the effects for themselves. It also takes eagerness to learn about the limitations of the mind, the ego, and your position in relation to the surrounding world, without the constraints of social and societal pressures. Ayahuasca needs to be taken with caution and is not recommended for people with a predisposition to mental health illness or health conditions of the heart.


Should you do Ayahuasca? There is not a simple yes or no answer to this question. If you look for a deeper understanding and awakening of the soul, then this could be one of your answers…


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