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We are often asked the question, is an Ayahuasca ceremony safe?
Depends on how you go about using it.
People often tell us about their psychedelic friend-of-a-friend hosting an Ayahuasca ceremony, in their basement apartment in the city for the night, with a 'self-proclaimed' Shaman. They don't follow any dietary or energetic guidelines, and are not asked about their previous mental health conditions, medications, family history, or traumas. After the ceremony they drive home and continue life as if nothing happened.
Well the answer to the question "Is Ayahuasca Safe" in this circumstance, is a hard NO.
Ayahuasca is a powerful tool, and should not be used lightly.
The main risks of Ayahuasca present themselves in people diagnosed with, or with a family history of psychosis, bipolar, or schizophrenia, as well as those with specific physiological/medical conditions, addictions, or are taking certain medications, such as SSRI's.
When planning to journey in an Ayahuasca ceremony it is essential that you are screened by a medical or psychological professional by the retreat center. In addition to your personal condition and history, serious complications and dangers can arise if you are not aware of the contraindications with certain medications, supplements, foods, drinks, and recreational drugs. There is a strict protocol to follow weeks (even months) before and after a ceremony.
Now, let's say you have been thoroughly screened, and have followed proper dietary, medical, and energetic protocols, there are other factors to consider;
What is in the Ayahuasca brew itself?
While the standard Ayahuasca tea typically consists of the Ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis Caapi vine)and the leaves of the Chacruna plant, the composition of each brew differs based on the Shaman at the retreat. While some substitutes and additions are considered safe - many are not, and can fundamentally alter the experience. We have come across many Ayahuasca healing retreat centers mixing in an additional psychedelic substance and plants to appeal to the Western audience - a recipe for disaster.
What about the environment? The Shaman? What types of things are moving energetically? Are there measures being taken to protect your energetic field? Are there enough experienced and educated staff on retreat to facilitate the ceremony? What other healing modalities are being used? Is this a safe environment for you emotionally?
These factors play a massive role in an Ayahuasca retreat center and should be evaluated with care. Furthermore, trained and experienced psychedelic facilitators on retreat can help to prevent any sort of accident during the ceremony while participants are in a vulnerable state, and from participants negatively affecting each other.
These elements will impact both the physical and psychological safety in participants during a retreat. Additionally, there are risks associated with lack of mental preparation and integration with guidance from an expert. Ayahuasca is often reported to bring up past traumas and can amplify emotions and situations that are currently being dealt with by participants. Working with an expert coach or therapist beforehand can help with identifying triggers, letting go of negative and limiting thought patterns, emotions, and beliefs, acquiring mindful and resourceful tools for certain states of awareness, managing expectations, and setting clear intentions. Additionally, after a psychedelic retreat, a retreat participant can have urges to make massive life decisions (like quitting their job or confronting someone who abused them), are unable to make sense of their experience, or can even be traumatized. Again, this is why having the proper support and guidance is extremely important to help people work through their experiences, integrate them into their lives, accelerate their healing, and avoid making any rash decisions.
So you've made it this far, and now maybe you're wondering why you ever even thought a retreat was a good idea in the first place.
Here is the good news! When taken seriously and done with precaution, an Ayahuasca experience can be one of the most life-changing ones of your life, with many people reporting a spiritual awakening after journeying with this sacred plant.
So, do your research and ask all of the questions. Find people who are experienced and educated in this field to help guide you in your preparation, ceremony, and integration work. When you are in good hands and respect the medicine, the benefits are countless and the risks are very low.
In fact, Ayahuasca healing has been studied by many top universities and does not appear to have a negative impact on the body, there are studies showing the positive effects not only on the mental state of participants but also the physical state. "Existing research indicates that long-term use of ayahuasca is not associated with a loss of cognitive functioning or negative mental health outcomes." (Source)
In this study, long-term users showed lower depression scores, and higher scores for self-transcendence and quality of life. It has a positive impact on psychological, psychospiritual, and psychosocial functioning in individuals, and has been shown to heal those with addictions and PTSD. You can read our article on how Ayahuasca positively impacts the brain here.
In one study, Ayahuasca was shown to play a role in modulating the immune system, decreasing the inflammatory processes in the body, and having a positive impact on the gut microbiome. Inflammation is widely known to be linked to Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, major depression, chronic pain disorders, autoimmune disorders and more. The study also shows how Ayahuasca exhibits neuroprotective and neurorestorative qualities, which are beneficial for preventing and treating neurodegenerative diseases.
Let's return to the question, is an Ayahuasca retreat safe?
Yes, it can be. And it can be extraordinarily beneficial for your body, mind, and spirit.
But it can also be dangerous.
At Behold Retreats we take the utmost duty of care with our clients, ensuring top-class medical and psychological screening, expert practitioners with decades of experience with sacred plant medicine, and a world-class program to ensure you are supported along the way. Our clients are like Family to us, and we take the time to get to know each individual before recommending ANY retreat experience.
Our next Ayahuasca Retreat is in the amazon rainforest of Costa Rica on April 24th. We also have retreats at our Ayahuasca center in the Sacred Valley of Peru. Find out more and book consultation with us to see if we're a good fit for each other here.
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