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Can you heal from PTSD with Ayahuasca?

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In this blog we dive into why and how our bodies experience trauma and how something such as an Ayahuasca Retreat may be the key to unlock these stored traumas from our bodies.

While we understand that trauma and PTSD are obstacles we want to quickly shed from our lives,  we ask and insist that you still do your research when moving forward with an alternative medicine path such as Ayahuasca. We strongly urge the safety and precaution one should show when choosing an Ayahuasca Retreat and we encourage you to continue this journey with an open heart and educated eyes.

From emotional challenges to clinically diagnosed post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), we all are confronted with adversity at some point in our lives. Ayahuasca has emerged in recent years as the go-to option for those looking to heal from a variety of traumas, from childhood neglect to combat trauma amongst the military veteran community, as in the case of the Heroic Hearts project. For many, a sacred Ayahuasca experience (preferably in the form of a proper and legal retreat) holds the key to moving beyond and breaking free from the debilitating symptoms that can accompany PTSD and into a breakout life of wellbeing and true healing.

What is trauma?

In order to understand the connection between Ayahuasca and PTSD, we must first understand trauma.  A trauma is any event or situation that creates an intense sense of loss of control [1].  As living things, our ability to act freely in the world is crucial to our survival.  When our agency is threatened, our brain takes notice and produces a dramatic stress signal that allows us to respond to the situation [2]. Fight, flight, or freeze responses are common during traumatic experiences [3].  These are sensible, healthy reactions to danger and when they are initiated, the body stores energy in our muscles so we are ready to act to protect ourselves [4].  Ideally, we find our way to safety after such an event and have the opportunity to release the built up stress from the body [5].  When this happens we can learn from the experience and move on from it.  When this kind of resolution does not occur, however, the stress response is not discharged and continues to play out in the body [6].

PTSD symptoms

The embodied stress response that can occur after a traumatic event can continue to produce unpleasant effects long after the traumatic event has passed [7].  In cases of PTSD, this can manifest as flashbacks, disturbed sleep, hyper vigilance, concentration issues, and emotional numbing [8].  The brain, in its relentless pursuit of closure, subjects the trauma survivor to harrowing replays of the event, and a perpetual reproduction of the associated emotions [9].  People with PTSD can try to address these symptoms via two approaches, by suppressing the symptoms or by trying to heal the root trauma.

Current treatments

The most common method of symptom management for PTSD is antidepressant medication, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) [10].  Some forms of talk therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) [11], are also prescribed to help with symptom management, while others, such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) [12], aim to resolve the traumatic material that lies at the root of the symptoms.  Despite the number of treatment options available, there are many who find little benefit in these approaches [13].

Is Ayahuasca an options for healing PTSD?

Among the constellation of psychedelic drugs being investigated for their potential in PTSD treatment, including psilocybin and MDMA [14], one particular substance has captured significant attention: Ayahuasca. Originating from the Amazon rainforest, Ayahuasca is a potent brew made from the combination of the nn-dimethyltryptamine(DMT)-containing ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and the harmala alkaloid-containing leaves of the chacruna plant (Psychotria viridis). Its ceremonial and traditional use by indigenous cultures for spiritual and healing purposes has led to interest amongst researchers looking for treatments for PTSD [15].  A prominent organization bringing Ayahuasca to PTSD sufferers is the Heroic Hearts project, which connects veterans with Ayahuasca Retreats, often with life-saving results [16].

You may read a more in-depth dive into the Ayahuasca, Psilocybin, and Bufo substance.

The Ayahuasca Experience 

Ayahuasca’s combination of psychological, emotional, and spiritual effects can provide a fertile ground for individuals to confront and integrate their traumatic experiences [17].  An ayahuasca ceremony offers a unique opportunity for trauma survivors to delve deep into the recesses of their consciousness and confront the challenging emotional memories that lie at the core of their PTSD [18].  Within the altered state induced by Ayahuasca, the brew's potent effects can bring clarity to the intricate layers of trauma, allowing individuals to navigate their emotions, memories, and perceptions in a profound and transformative manner.

One of the remarkable aspects of the Ayahuasca journey is its ability to dissolve the barriers that often separate individuals from their traumatic memories. In the midst of the psychedelic experience, participants may find themselves immersed in vivid recollections, re-experiencing the trauma so that it may be processed and healed [19].  By bringing these memories into awareness, individuals have the opportunity to confront and engage with them, often leading to a deeper understanding of the underlying emotional challenges and how they can be resolved.


During the Ayahuasca Experience, emotions are often intensified, heightened, and released [20]. The brew has the capacity to unlock suppressed emotions that may have been buried deep within, leading to a release of pent-up grief, fear, anger, and sadness associated with the traumatic experiences. This emotional catharsis can bring a sense of relief, liberation, and a renewed connection to oneself [21].

The body can play a significant role in trauma healing, especially with ayahuasca.  By allowing one to come into contact with previously overwhelming feelings in the body, the ayahuasca experience allows the individual to feel and come to terms with these embodied reactions to the trauma, and to resolve them in a safe and supportive environment.  The purgative effects of ayahuasca can help with this psychological resolution through a corresponding process of physical release [22].

Spiritual Experiences

Ayahuasca's profound effects on perception and cognition can also facilitate a shift in perspective, enabling individuals to reinterpret their traumatic experiences from a new vantage point [23]. In this altered state, long-held beliefs and patterns of thinking can be challenged and reevaluated, allowing for the possibility of profound insights and breakthroughs [24]. Participants may gain a fresh understanding of the events that led to their trauma, recognizing the multifaceted nature of their experiences and the complex interplay of factors that contributed to these events.

Additionally, ayahuasca can promote a heightened capacity for mindfulness, which can lead to greater body awareness [25]. Many individuals report feeling more connected to their bodies and having a deeper appreciation for the embodied nature of their day to day experience [22]. This increased body awareness can be instrumental in trauma healing, as it allows individuals to develop a more attuned relationship with their bodies and the emotions they feel there [26].

The introspective and visionary nature of the ayahuasca experience can also unveil new insights and perspectives on the self, identity, and the interconnectedness of all things [27]. Participants may gain a heightened sense of compassion, empathy, and connection with the world around them [28]. This expanded awareness and sense of unity can be instrumental in fostering self-compassion, forgiveness, and acceptance, which are crucial components of the healing process for individuals with PTSD [29].

Effects on the brain

Like other psychedelics, such as psilocybin, Ayahuasca suppresses our usual internal dialogue, stories, and narratives that we use to structure our lives, allowing us to explore parts of ourselves that usually get suppressed [24].  These psychedelic effects occur as a result of the inhibition of brain activity in a constellation of brain structures known as the Default Mode Network (DMN) [30].  The DMN is responsible for self-referential thinking, introspection, and mind-wandering [31]. By quieting this network, ayahuasca opens up a space for individuals to explore all aspects of who they are.

In addition to modulating the DMN, ayahuasca also affects brain areas involved in emotional processing, such as the amygdala, insula and anterior cingulate cortex [32].  These brain areas are thought to contribute to the emotional processing of traumatic material that can occur during the ceremony.  By activating these emotional processing regions, ayahuasca may facilitate the exploration and integration of traumatic memories and emotions in a healing context.

Another aspect of ayahuasca's impact on the brain is its potential to promote neuroplasticity [33]. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections between neurons [34]. Research suggests that psychedelics like ayahuasca may enhance this important capacity, which could have important implications for trauma healing [35]. In individuals with PTSD, traumatic experiences can lead to potentially maladaptive patterns of neural connectivity [36]. By promoting neuroplasticity, ayahuasca may help rewire these neural networks, allowing for the creation of new, healthier connections and facilitating the resolution of trauma-related symptoms.

Unlike other psychedelics, the DMT in ayahuasca activates the sigma-1 receptor [37].  When activated, this receptor triggers a process inside neurons that combats inflammation and oxidative stress in these brain cells [38], a process that may encourage recovery from trauma by promoting the physiological health of brain cells [39].  The harmala alkaloids too may help with trauma recovery, as they have been found to have psychotherapeutic effects [40].


It is very common for trauma survivors to have other mental health issues, such as substance use problems or anxiety and depression [41].  Due to this overlap between PTSD and other mental health challenges, researchers have investigated whether the trauma-healing power of ayahuasca can be used to address these related issues [42].  Evidence for ayahuasca being a powerful treatment for addiction issues comes from observations that certain communities that regularly drink ayahuasca show decreased levels of alcohol [43] and cocaine consumption [44].

Anxiety and Depression

Researchers first noticed lower levels of depression in members of the Santo Diame church following their first ayahuasca experience [45].  They also found that members of this church, and the União do Vegetal, showed higher levels of vivacity and joy after drinking ayahuasca.  These observational findings were followed up with studies with patients suffering from clinical depression, who showed reductions of up to 82% in their depressive symptoms following a single ayahuasca experience [46].

For those suffering with clinically-diagnosed PTSD, it is important to choose a retreat that can support the specific needs of this kind of person.  Veterans with PTSD are encouraged to contact Heroic Hearts to find the right ayahuasca retreat for them.


In coming years we are likely to see psychedelic therapy going mainstream for mental health issues such as PTSD.  Today, psychedelic drugs like psilocybin and ayahuasca are currently available at legal retreats.  Ayahuasca in particular holds tremendous promise as a therapeutic tool for individuals seeking healing from trauma, including those suffering from PTSD. Its unique chemical composition and profound effects on perception, cognition, and emotions offer a transformative journey within the mind. By suppressing the default mode network, activating emotional processing regions, and promoting neuroplasticity, ayahuasca creates an environment that allows individuals to confront and integrate their traumatic experiences.

The somatic experiences and bodily awareness facilitated by ayahuasca also play a significant role in trauma healing. The release of stored tension and purging effects can lead to a profoundly healing experience. Increased body awareness and mindfulness foster a compassionate and attuned relationship with one's physical being, aiding in the processing of deeply ingrained trauma.

By quieting our usual stories and narratives, ayahuasca opens up a space for exploration and introspection, allowing individuals to delve into suppressed parts of themselves and gain new perspectives on their identity and their interconnectedness with the world.  This renewed sense of connection can be extremely powerful for individuals seeking to overcome the burdens of trauma, and for many it can be accessed through ayahuasca.

If you are ready to begin your holistic journey towards healing and regaining control over your life, we are here to guide and answer any questions you may have. Click below to answer a few questions after-which you will be directed to a meeting link that will be a complementary discovery call between you and our plant medicine guide.

We are here every step of the way.



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