A BRIEF COMMENTARY ON AYAHUASCA
HOW TO TRAVERSE THE COSMOS ON THE VINE OF THE DEAD…SHOES OPTIONAL
WHAT IS AYAHUASCA?
Ayahuasca or Ayawaska (UK: /ˌaɪ(j)əˈwæskə/; US: /-ˈwɑːskə/) is a South American entheogenic brew made out of Banisteriopsis caapi vine and other ingredients. The brew is used as a traditional spiritual medicine in ceremonies among the Amazon basin. Traditional ayahuasca brews are usually made up of B. caapi as an MAOI, while dimethyltryptamine (DMT) sources and other admixtures vary from region to region. There are several varieties of caapi, often known as different “colors”, with varying effects, potencies, and uses.
- Also known as Ayaguasca (Hispanicized spellings), Aioasca (Brazilian Portuguese spelling), Ayawaska (from Quechua), Yagé (/jɑːˈheɪ, jæ-/).
Literal Meaning: aya means “spirit, soul”, “corpse, dead body”, and waska means “rope” and “woody vine”. The word Ayahuasca has been variously translated as “liana of the soul”, “liana of the dead”, and “spirit liana.”
Harmala alkaloids are MAO-inhibiting beta-carbolines. The three most studied harmala alkaloids in the B. caapi vine are harmine (molecular structure, left), harmaline, and tetrahydro harmine. Harmine and harmaline are selective and reversible inhibitors of monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A), while tetrahydroharmine is a weak serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SRI).
This inhibition of MAO-A allows DMT to diffuse unmetabolized past the membranes in the stomach and small intestine, and eventually cross the blood-brain barrier to activate receptor sites in the brain. Without RIMAs or the non-selective, nonreversible monoamine oxidase inhibition by drugs like phenelzine and tranylcypromine, DMT would be oxidized (and thus rendered biologically inactive) by monoamine oxidase enzymes in the digestive tract.
The tryptamine N,N-dimethyltryptamine found in Ayahuasca has been shown to be immunoregulatory by preventing severe hypoxia and oxidative stress in vitro macrophages, cortical neurons, and dendritic cells by binding to the Sigma-1 receptor. In vitro co-treatment of monocyte-derived dendritic cells with N,N-DMT and 5-MeO-DMT inhibited the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-1β, IL-6, TNFα, and the chemokine IL-8, while increased the secretion of the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10 by activating the Sigma-1 receptor.
In lamens terms, the Chacruna leaves contain the DMT molecule that sets your brain on a fantastical journey. However, without the MAO-inhibiting Caapi vine, the DMT would be metabolized in the stomach quickly after ingesting, thus having zero psychoactive effect. With both plants combined, the metabolization is slowed down enough to have a 5-7 hour journey. And you could possibly have what many coined as “ten years of therapy in one night.”
CULTIVATING THE “BREW”
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to South America for a 9-day ayahuasca retreat. Not only did we get to drink the plant medicine, but we were allowed to be a part of the cultivating and prepping process before it was brewed. First, we were guided on a plant walk where we were shown how and where the plants were grown. Then we were led to a large tarp in the center of
the commune where we shucked the vine by scrubbing off the outer bark and smashed the vine until it splintered. After that, we were given the chacruna leaves in large buckets to rinse off any dirt and bugs. Once that was finished, we handed over both vines and leaves to a staff member to begin cooking in a large cauldron over an open fire.
For 3 days and 3 nights the staff member watched the brew boil down, then they would add more water. Watch it simmer down again just to add more water. At the end of the 3-day brew-a-thon, what was left was then filtered through a cheesecloth, then set aside to cool. The final result is a thick, molasses-like brown “tea” ready to send you into another dimension.
PREPARATION AND INTENTIONS
The Importance of Dieta
Preparing for a ceremony is a fully encompassing ordeal starting with a Dieta. These meals, similar to an elimination diet, consists of eating whole foods, poultry, nuts, and some grains. The reason for this diet is to mimic the eating habits of the shaman, or “one who knows.” It’s believed that the clarity during the ceremony is best reached when eating cleaner foods without chemicals, additives, or preservatives, and allows the plant medicines to properly digest during the journey.
Some foods to eliminate are red meat, pork, refined sugars, caffeine, oily/fried foods, dairy products, spicy foods, fermented foods, alcohol, recreational drugs, and abstaining from any sexual activities. The duration of the Dieta varies from place to place, depending on the shaman or facilitator, so this a great question to ask before committing to the ceremony.
Medications to Avoid
Equally as important as the Dieta is stopping the consumption of certain medicines, especially SSRIs, barbiturates, prescription opioids, and some herbal supplements. You can find a complete list of medications to avoid before your next ceremony HERE.
Set and Setting
Your set and setting are essential for a day or evening full of psychedelic journeying. On the day of the ceremony, I personally like to set my mood by canceling any work or social plans. This is because I like to spend the day in deep meditation without distractions, for that evening, I will be traversing the cosmos.
Some essential items to bring to a ceremony:
- Comfortable Clothing
- Yoga Mat
- Eye Mask
- Water Bottle
Some items I like to bring for personal comfort:
- Hoody and socks (for extra warmth and coziness)
- Crystals or talisman for grounding or to be blessed on the altar
- A pillow (if not already provided)
[Read a more in-depth guide to my personal ceremony prep in a later blog post, coming soon.]
UNDER THE INFLUENCE
Some people who have consumed ayahuasca in a ceremonial setting report having mystical experiences and spiritual revelations, including deep insight into becoming their best selves. This is viewed by many as a spiritual rebirth. It is also often reported that individuals feel they gain access to higher dimensions and make contact with various spiritual, extra-dimensional, or even extra-terrestrial beings. Yes, you read that right. Aliens.
But not all experience this awakening. It’s not uncommon for one or more participants in a group to have very little, or no visual effects at all. The speculation surrounding this phenomenon is usually chalked up to tolerance levels, expectations, or from a mystical standpoint, a conscious intentional effect of the medicine itself.
“[Ayahuasca is] ten years of therapy in one night.”
Following the ingestion of ayahuasca, an experience called purging usually follows. This purging may include vomiting, diarrhea, expelling gas, yawning, crying, or other forms of release, and is an essential part of the experience. This is believed to represent the release of negative energy and emotions built up over the course of one’s life. There’s also a chance there will be no purging as the experience is different from person to person.
Depending on the dosage, other temporary non-psychological effects of ayahuasca can include tremors, hot/cold flashes, nausea, autonomic instability, hyperthermia, sweating, motor function impairment, sedation, relaxation, vertigo, dizziness, and muscle spasms. Some positive effects can also include euphoria, better self-confidence, optimism, camaraderie with fellow participants, and a new lease on life.
LIFE AFTER THE JOURNEY
The ingestion of ayahuasca can cause significant but temporary emotional and psychological distress. Common triggers from the experience could be prompted by recounting past trauma, being visited by a dead relative or significant other, receiving rapid indecipherable messages from interplanetary beings, or by other mentally jarring or emotional encounters.
For some, these invasive experiences can leave us questioning our very existence. And because of these difficult moments, it’s important to speak with someone who can support you in integrating this new knowledge. The most customary form of this support is an integration circle. The integration circle usually happens the morning after a ceremony where the participants sit in a circle and share their journeys with one another, allowing an open dialogue of the experience. For me, the mental health benefits of an integration circle have been profound. And I would encourage every journeyer to participate in them.
Another form of support is to meet with the shaman or trained facilitator of that ceremony one-on-one. There are also integration specialists but are limited in availability depending on your area. These specialists usually have some psychotherapy knowledge and have chosen to use this knowledge in the non-traditional setting of psychedelics or entheogens.
DEATHS AND PRECAUTIONS
Unfortunately, there have been several deaths linked to ayahuasca ceremonies. The common link between the deaths has been a product of “ayahuasca tourism”, where bargain ayahuasca experiences are peddled and safety precautions are an afterthought. Read a more in-depth article covering these deaths and HERE.
Below is a personal account of my very first Ayahuasca ceremony in 2015. For more personal stories on psychedelics and their consciousness-altering effects, subscribe to our Youtube Channel!
– Note from the Founder –
Psychedelics and Entheogens have become a very important part of my life. And even though I have experienced tremendous healing, personal insights, and growth from my journeys, I also understand that psychedelics are not for everyone. I will never claim psychedelics to be 100% safe or beneficial over medical treatments, prescription medicines, or a substitute for psychotherapy. The anecdotes above are of my own and I’ve written these blog posts for those who’ve made the choice on their own accord to further educate themselves.
Furthermore, we do not promote the buying or selling of illegal substances, nor do we encourage the unsafe use of such substances. We simply wish to inform those seeking knowledge.
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Tags: #ayahuasca #dmt