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How to have a Safe Ayahuasca Experience

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If you’re like many people interested in Ayahuasca, you have very specific reasons for it. Perhaps you’re looking for an effective way to overcome a powerful trauma or an emotional roadblock in your life. You might be looking to connect with yourself on a deeper level, or maybe you’ve simply always wanted to see beyond the immediate surface of the world around you.

Ayahuasca can help you experience all of those things and more. However, as exciting as the possibilities can be, it’s only natural to have some questions, as well. For example, is ayahuasca safe and legal? What should you know before using ayahuasca for the first time, and how can you ensure your experience is everything you’d like it to be?

Here we’ll go over a bit of everything you need to know to make a positive decision you’ll be happy with, including the safety of ayahuasca and a few tips for facilitating a safe, soulful experience on every level.

What Is Ayahuasca?

Ayahuasca is a concoction made from a combination of two different plants –the Psychotria viridis shrub and Banisteriopsis caapi vine.(In some cases, additional ingredients or plants may also be added.)Traditionally, the ancient tribes of the Amazon considered it a sacred drink, using it for important religious purposes. It is still used today by several spiritual communities throughout the Americas.

In most cases, people consume ayahuasca as part of a communal ceremony led by a curandero or other experienced healer. The healer tears the Psychotriaviridis leaves and combines them with cleaned, pulverized stalks from the Banisteriopsiscaapi vine, boiling them together in water to create a powerful brew.

Once the preparer is satisfied that the medicinal properties of the plants have been sufficiently extracted and infused into the brew, the plant matter is removed. They then continue to reduce the brew until it’s quite concentrated, straining it one last time before consumption to help rid it of any remaining impurities.

You may also have heard ayahuasca referred to by other names or terms, including but not limited to "yagé" and "the medicine".

How Does Ayahuasca Work?

Both P. viridis and B. caapi have potentially transformative hallucinogenic properties. However, each serves a unique purpose as a component in an ayahuasca brew.

The psychedelic effects of ayahuasca come from the N, N-dimethyltryptamine(DMT) in the P. viridis. But compounds called monoamine oxidases(MAOs) produced by your liver and intestines typically combine with additional enzymes to break down the DMT quickly, preventing it from fully taking effect.

However, B. caapi contains natural MAO inhibitors (MAOIs) that make it possible for your system to fully experience the DMT as intended – the reason ayahuasca brew always contains both plants.

When brought together, they can facilitate powerful altered states. Some experience these states as profound euphoria, colorful visions, visits with ancestors or spiritual entities, or past life memories. Others may witness darker, heavier visions or perhaps even experience nothing out of the ordinary at all.

An ayahuasca experience will naturally be different for everyone, and it's never possible to predict. This is because the medicine doesn't necessarily give you what you want or expect. However, it always gives you what you need.

How Do Most People Use Ayahuasca?

Like other psychedelic substances, ayahuasca is best taken as part of a supervised group experience. It produces an altered consciousness that often goes on for hours, so it’s advisable to have someone nearby (preferably a shaman or other experienced facilitator) who can effectively look after those taking the trip.

For this reason, an immersive, fully guided ayahuasca retreat is really the most beneficial, rewarding way to experience this magical brew, especially when doing so for the first time. However, the DMT contained in ayahuasca is illegal in many countries, including the United States and Canada. For that reason, top retreats most often occur in countries like Costa Rica, Peru, or Brazil where legality isn’t an issue.


How Safe Is Ayahuasca?

Generally speaking, ayahuasca is safe to consume when mindfully taken in an appropriate setting under the watchful eye of an experienced facilitator after thorough preparation. However, it should absolutely be seen and treated as medicine, meaning it should be taken with care. Here are some factors to consider when deciding whether ayahuasca is right for you.

Potential medication interactions

As ayahuasca is a psychoactive substance, it can interact in potentially hazardous ways with similar substances. These include but are not limited to:

  • Antidepressants
  • Psychiatric medications
  • Parkinson’s medications
  • Weight loss aids and     medications
  • Cough medicines
  • Antidepressants

So, if you’re currently on any medications, make sure ayahuasca is safe to take alongside them before moving ahead with your plans.

Physical ailments and conditions

If you suffer from certain medical conditions, it’s important to approach a potential ayahuasca experience with caution. For example, the psychoactive effects of ayahuasca can aggravate schizophrenia or similar psychiatric disorders.

It’s also important to note that ayahuasca can increase blood pressure and heart rate, so proceed with care if you have heart issues or hypertension.

Potential side effects

You may have heard that those taking ayahuasca should be prepared to experience certain side effects. This is because the brew is purgative in nature, meaning it can (and often does) cause temporary vomiting, diarrhea, or both. Some people may also experience a passing sense of panic or paranoia.

There’s also no way to know in advance how your unique mind will react to taking the brew, especially for the first time. Although most people have euphoric, pleasant, enlightening experiences, bad trips are always possible when taking any psychedelic. However, taking care to participate in retreats and ceremonies that are fully guided by qualified experts can help ensure a safe, meaningful experience for all involved.

So, all things considered, ayahuasca doesn't always deliver an easy experience. However, taking it can be a profoundly healing, positive experience. It can benefit brain health, improve your psychological well-being, help heal the effects of emotional trauma, and even assist in the overcoming of addiction. It’s also generally safe to take and legal in countries known for hosting retreats.

However, it’s also a powerful medicinal substance. Approach it with care, fully aware of any potential side effects or drug interactions. And always take it under the supervision of someone experienced and properly qualified, as they’ll be the one responsible for brewing the ayahuasca and monitoring you for possible problems once you’ve taken it.

How Should You Prepare for an Ayahuasca Ceremony?

Upon choosing and signing up for an ayahuasca Costa Rica retreat or other experience, you’ll likely be advised as to how to prepare. Generally speaking, those thinking about taking ayahuasca should purify themselves beforehand to ensure as positive an experience as possible.

The specific protocol may vary from one operation to another, as well. However, examples like the following are common.

Dietary preparation

Ayahuasca Dieta

The more you can simplify your diet before attending an Ayahuasca experience, the better. Not only will it make the actual ceremony more enjoyable, but it will take the edge off any travel-related issues like jet lag, as well. Some ways to do this include:

  • Temporarily cutting animal products out of your diet, including meat (switching to a fully vegan/plant-based diet is ideal)
  • Nixing preservatives, processed foods, and similar items
  • Cutting back or eliminating any foods that are very spicy, sugary, salty, etc.
  • Eliminating any and all addictive substances, including alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and recreational drugs

You should ideally begin preparations like the above at least a couple of months prior to your trip. However, they become extra important in the two weeks before the ceremony itself.


Spiritual preparation

The prep period preceding an ayahuasca retreat is also a good time to sit with yourself and consider what you’re hoping to get out of the experience.

Are you hoping for spiritual healing, an inside glimpse into the larger universe, or something else entirely? Consider embracing mindfulness practices like meditation or journaling to help you get to the bottom of these motivations and any complicated feelings that might be attached to them.

This is also the time to work on clearing as much negative energy from your life as you can. Consider stepping away from social media, television, Netflix, video games, and anything else distracting that requires a lot of screen time.

Try spending some time out in nature instead to help ground you and reconnect you to the earth’s natural energy. An extended trip to the woods or a national park is ideal, but even spending more time at local parks or natural areas can help immensely.

Lifestyle preparation

In some cases, your retreat leader may also suggest certain lifestyle changes in the weeks leading up to your ceremony. In addition to abstaining from alcohol, drugs, and tobacco, you may be asked to abstain from sexual activity (solo and otherwise).

Sexual activity has much to do with the exchange and release of energy that would otherwise be applied to the healing attached to an ayahuasca ceremony. Temporarily abstaining (usually for a week or two, both preceding and following the ceremony) ensures your ability to dive deeply into your unique experience and get the most out of it.

Before taking the next steps, it’s a good idea to accept that every experience with ayahuasca is completely unique. Even if you’ve experienced the brew before, your next trip could be very different from your past ones. So, for the most positive experience possible, make wise choices leading up to your experience. Then relax and let go, opening yourself up to all possibilities.

What Should I Consider When Choosing an Ayahuasca Retreat?

Where you go to experience ayahuasca (especially for the first time) is really just as important as whether to take it in the first place. Not all retreats are the same, and neither are all ceremonies, so it’s important to evaluate your choices for the best possible experience. Here are some things to consider.

Legality of ayahuasca

Remember, ayahuasca isn’t legal everywhere, so keep that in mind when checking out the possibilities. For example, DMT is illegal in the United States, so any ayahuasca retreat USA options you stumble across are more likely to be underground operations.

It’s not that you can’t choose such an operation to trust with your experience. However, it’s important to proceed with extreme caution when supporting any operation that’s technically illegal.

For example, it’s crucial to fully understand the energy surrounding the shaman or curandero you’ll be working with during your ceremony. Even events led by very capable shamans can attract sub-optimal energy when they take place illegally, leading to experiences that aren’t everything they otherwise could be.

Ideal location

Although it takes a bit more planning and forethought, traveling to a beautiful foreign destination is often part of the spiritual experience the right retreat brings to the table. That said, consider choosing someplace where ayahuasca is legal and that speaks to you on a personal level.

Have you always felt called to Central America on some level? An ayahuasca retreat Costa Rica destination may be in order. Maybe you’ve always wanted to see Machu Picchu in person. If so, then an ayahuasca retreat Peru option might be the perfect fit. Locations like Mexico or Portugal can be incredible destinations for a retreat, as well.

Staff training

The team in charge of a particular retreat and the curandero in charge of your ceremony can literally make or break your experience, so choose wisely. It’s crucial that ceremonies are held by experienced, trained guides who not only understand how to hold the space for the group but who know what to do if anything goes wrong.

That said, look for retreat options that emphasize the training of the staff there. Many of the best retreats will have a lot to say about their curandero’s lineage and overall expertise, as well as that of the staff in charge of the actual center.

Thorough onboarding process

Responsible retreat centers care deeply about offering participants quality experiences and keeping them mentally, physically, and spiritually safe from start to finish. Prioritize options with thorough onboarding processes that include medical surveys and screening protocol. Positive experiences often depend on all members of a group being in the right headspace and physical state.

If you’re inexperienced with ayahuasca, you may also want to prioritize retreat options with a full multi-day preparation process leading up to the actual ceremony followed by an additional integration period afterward. This gives participants a chance to fully prepare for the ceremony, as well as adequately process anything that happens during it, before returning to everyday life.

At Behold Retreats, we’re all about providing participants with the strongest possible foundation for a meaningful, rewarding ayahuasca experience. This includes stellar coaching programs and comprehensive guided integration practices, all hosted by knowledgeable, experienced guides who can help you maximize your experience.

Ultimately, saying that the right ayahuasca retreat can be groundbreaking is a real understatement. Many people just like you find the experience to be positively life-changing, and with good reason.

Ayahuasca can help people move past trauma they’ve been carrying around their whole lives. It can help you manage your mental health, as well as potentially overcome addiction. Many people also leave retreats feeling more mindful, hopeful, positive, and empowered overall – ready to face life and engage with it on an entirely new level.

But thorough, proper preparation and understanding are key parts of having a positive experience you’ll fondly remember for the rest of your life. Consider your options wisely and choose accordingly. You’ll be glad you did.



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