It all began with my three times rule: If I get turned on to something “kooky” by way of three or more independent personal interactions (not including anyone who is trying to sell me something), it just might be something worth looking into. And so it was with this thing called Ayahuasca.
Ayahuasca… a word I had never heard before and one that took me some time to spell and pronounce correctly… enthusiastically recommended to me by three seemingly reasonable souls who claimed profoundly positive and enduring life-changing effects.
My curiosity piqued, I read Rick Strassman’s “DMT, The Spirit Molecule” and poked around the internet… Wikipedia, YouTube, Joe Rogan’s Podcast… along with a handful of first-hand accounts shared on personal blogs.
I needed to know: What is Ayahuasca? What are its claims to fame? Where does it come from? How available is it? How illegal is it? Is it dangerous, toxic, or addictive?
Here’s what I discovered…
Ayahuasca is a “shamanic medicine” originating in the Amazon rain forest, brewed from several legally-available plants into a liquid that one drinks as part of an elaborate “ceremony”. The active ingredient, DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine), produces a spectrum of intense physical, cognitive, and emotional effects that begin tens of minutes after ingestion and typically last for many hours.
Commonly-reported Physical Effects while under the influence include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sedation, body aches, sweats and chills, distorted vision, physical awkwardness, poor hand-eye coordination… not unlike being very drunk. Recovery time is typically on the order of a few hours with no lasting unpleasant effects.
Commonly-reported Positive Cognitive-Emotional Effects while under the influence include euphoria, tranquility, ego loss, feelings of oneness with the universe, strong feelings of affection for loved ones, empathy for all living things. Enduring effects after recovery include ego loss, empathy, self-acceptance, crystal clarity of thought, bullshit detection, and reduction of anxiety and depression.
Commonly-reported Negative Cognitive-Emotional Effects while under the influence include anxiety and paranoia. Recovery time is typically on the order of a few hours with no long-term effects.
Commonly-reported Perceptual Effects while under the influence include visual and auditory hallucinations and an altered sense of space and time. Recovery time is typically on the order of a few hours with no long-term effects.
Health & Safety. Except for a handful of apocryphal horror stories, my research found nothing to suggest any risk of dangerous or destructive behavior towards oneself or towards others while under the influence. Importantly, there is no evidence to suggest that Ayahuasca/DMT is addictive or that there is any risk of long-term adverse physical or mental health effects.
Availability & Legality. While Ayahuasca/DMT is illegal in most places, reputable ceremony providers are not hard to find. A casual internet search allows you to discreetly connect with local or international providers that suit your personal tastes and circumstances.
Frank’s Informal Risk/Reward Assessment. Although peer-reviewed research to date is very limited and mostly anecdotal (due to the illegality of DMT), I was impressed by the consistency of so many first-hand accounts regarding the immediate experience and enduring effects. In summary, the more I looked, the more intrigued I became, and I concluded two things:
- There is reasonable evidence that Ayahuasca/DMT has significant therapeutic value.
- The risk of “doing the experiment” was no worse than the risk of eating a bad oyster.
At that point, I had no choice. I had to give Ayahuasca/DMT a go, knowing that not doing so would be a major death bed regret.