Dangers of Ayahuasca

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The use of ayahuasca, a naturally existing drug with strong hallucinogenic properties, is on the rise, especially in the United States. The herb has been known to South American communities for centuries, and the natives still use it under the supervision of Amazonian shamans for spiritual healing and strengthening. Because of its potent effects on the mind, some experts have also speculated its use for managing certain mental health issues; however, the claims still need verification from large-scale studies for its therapeutic potential and safety.

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The strong psychoactive effects of the ayahuasca plant are attributed to the high levels of DMT. The presence of this psychedelic substance can make its use extremely dangerous and potentially fatal. Moreover, the use of ayahuasca can also lead to a host of unpleasant effects, such as anxiety, paranoia, or hallucinations. People intending to use this psychoactive plant for any reason must familiarize themselves with the potential dangers of ayahuasca to ensure they know what they are getting involved in and what to expect following its use.

An Overview of Ayahuasca and its Use

Ayahuasca comes from a plant called Banisteriopsis caapi. This plant is native to the Amazonian region and carries strong psychoactive properties with the potential to alter the level of consciousness. The consumption of ayahuasca can lead to dramatic effects that may vary from one person to another. For instance, some people find it somewhat stimulating, whereas others may report experiencing visions following the use.

The use of ayahuasca is extensive among the South American communities that brew the plant into a drink and use it as a common part of their routine ceremonies and traditional medicine practices. More recently, the use of ayahuasca has been expanding to other parts of the world for various mental health purposes, personal growth, and spiritual healing. However, experts largely classify it as a hallucinogenic, with many believing that it affects the brain similarly to LSD or other substances.

The main ingredients of an ayahuasca brew include the stalks of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and the leaves of the Psychotria Viridis shrub. These stalks and leaves contain different types of chemicals, the most prominent of which is DMT, found in the latter. As a strong hallucinogenic chemical, DMT easily breaks down in the body by the liver enzymes called monoamine oxidases (MAOs). Hence, to make the drug more effective, most people combine it with other substances that can stop the action of MAOs and prolong the presence of ayahuasca. Fortunately, the Banisteriopsis caapi vine naturally acts as MAO inhibitor and can greatly amplify the overall effects of the brew by making it stay in the body for prolonged periods for out-of-body experiences, hallucinations, and strong euphoria.

List of Common Side Effects of Ayahuasca

Despite the long history of use among the natives, ayahuasca still carries a high risk of causing various side effects, especially in people who use it unsupervised or without any previous experience. These side effects can be categorized into the following two types:

Psychological Side Effects

In addition to the physical side effects of ayahuasca, it may also cause multiple psychological impacts. Many people experience hallucinations with this substance, as with other types of psychedelics. Some consider these hallucinations a part of the healing or spiritual experience; however, this side effect can be highly unpredictable and may quickly turn dangerous. Moreover, there is a high element of uncertainty and unpredictability when it comes to the psychological side effects of ayahuasca, as different people may have different experiences with it. Some common psychological side effects of using ayahuasca include the following:

  • Distorted hearing
  • Difficulty reading and concentrating
  • Having color and size confusion
  • Depersonalization
  • Hallucinations
  • Seeing geometric shapes and patterns
  • Altered sense of time
  • Seeing flashes of color
  • Seeing halos around objects
  • Seeing images within images

Physical Side Effects

One of the most noticeable side effects of using ayahuasca is diarrhea, with or without vomiting. Many people welcome this side effect, believing it cleanses their aura and body while purging negatively from their lives. These side effects can be highly uncomfortable and lead to many complications, like dehydration. Other physical side effects of ayahuasca, primarily due to its DMT component, may include the following:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Agitation
  • Dizziness
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Chest pain
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Involuntary rapid eye movements
  • Seizures
  • Muscular incoordination

Dangers of Ayahuasca: Long-Term Risks to Consider

In addition to causing various acute side effects, ayahuasca can also put a person at risk of experiencing long-term side effects, especially if they continue using it. These long-term risks include the following:


Over time, using ayahuasca as an adult or teen can put a person at risk of psychosis, a mental health condition characterized by frequent hallucinations and flashbacks. These symptoms may persist for months or years following the use of this drug, a condition known as persistent psychosis. The risk of experiencing psychosis following ayahuasca consumption is particularly higher in people with a pre-existing history of mental illness; however, the problem can hit anyone even after a single exposure.

Mentioned below are some symptoms of persistent psychosis secondary to ayahuasca use:

  • Visual disturbances
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Mood disorders
  • Ongoing, persistent paranoia

Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder

Hallucinogen-persisting perception disorder (HPPD) is a mental health illness linked with the frequent use of hallucinogenic substances, such as ayahuasca. Its prevalence is also common in people with a history of mental illness, and its common symptoms include the following:

  • Hallucinations
  • Symptoms resembling those of a neurological disorder, such as brain tumor and stroke
  • Other visual disturbances, such as trails or halos attached to moving objects

Drug Interactions

People who use ayahuasca with other drugs or medications, including both prescribed or over-the-counter medications, are at risk of developing dangerous, unpredictable, and highly dangerous interactions. Because of the way ayahuasca affects the serotonin receptors in the brain, it may not be safe to use alongside the following:

  • ADHD Medications: Drugs used to control attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can lead to elevated heartbeat and body temperature when used with ayahuasca.
  • SSRIs and MAOIs: Both SSRIs and MAOIs are two different antidepressant medication classes that one must never combine with ayahuasca. The combined use can lead to serotonin syndrome, a condition characterized by life-threatening seizures.

Tolerance and Dependence

Ayahuasca contains DMT, a substance with strong psychedelic properties. Many people who incidentally try it as a part of a ritual or religious ceremony may become fond of these effects and experience cravings for them every day. These cravings typically lead to continued use, and dependence may eventually set in. This dependence can very quickly lead to addiction, forcing individuals to source DMT illegally, along with other side effects:

  • Broken relationships
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Neglecting daily responsibilities
  • Deteriorating mental and physical health
  • Experiencing dangerous withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit

Minimizing Ayahuasca Side Effects: Health and Safety Measures

Experts are of the opinion that there is no safe way to consume psychedelic drugs, including ayahuasca. People who decide to use it must consider the following tips and tricks in mind to make their experience safer and anticipate what may happen next:

  • It is hard to predict the real strength and effects of ayahuasca. Different people may face completely varying experiences on different occasions, even with the same dose of this substance.
  • Taking ayahuasca in a safe environment where a user feels comfortable and secure may reduce the risk of experiencing unpleasant emotional effects. However, this does not completely exclude the possibility of having a bad trip.
  • The market contains different formulations of ayahuasca, some containing impurities while others are wrongly labeled; hence, it is better to observe caution and source it through trustworthy vendors.
  • Individuals with a personal or family history of mental health disorders should avoid using ayahuasca as its use can exacerbate these conditions.

Using ayahuasca may become particularly dangerous in certain situations. These situations may include the following:

  • When a person is taking ayahuasca in combination with other drugs or alcohol
  • When the user has co-existing mental health issues
  • When a user is taking the drug alone without any assistance or supervision
  • When the user has to immediately drive, operate heavy machinery, or participate in an activity that involves motor coordination or judgment


Is ayahuasca legal?

Many people raise questions regarding the legal status of ayahuasca, especially because of its similarities with the notorious psychedelic drugs. Moreover, it also contains DMT, a substance that has been banned and termed illegal in most parts of the world. However, since there are no bans on its plant sources, many people resort to purchasing these plants, which does not technically count as an illegal activity. DMT became illegal under the Controlled Substance Act in 1971 in the United States. It is currently a Schedule I drug, meaning consuming or possessing it is highly illegal and may land a person in trouble with the law. Remember that certain religious organizations have been permitted to use this drug and its brews as a part of their practicing faith. Hence, people who are members of certain tribes or churches can use ayahuasca without any legal implications as far as their intentions are religious.

How long do the effects of ayahuasca last?

The effects of ayahuasca typically last for five hours. The body breaks the substance down in different ways, depending on which plant was used to make the substance. Depending on the breakdown mechanism, the effects’ duration may differ slightly.

What are ayahuasca retreats?

Many people from Western countries continue to travel to the Amazon to participate in ayahuasca ceremonies in hopes of experiencing ayahuasca-related psychological healing. These ceremonies can continue for days where traditional shamans from indigenous cultures supervise people as they experience the effects of these herbal brews. These leaders have varying degrees of experience when it comes to handling and consuming ayahuasca. Hence, the retreats can sometimes become dangerous and even deadly.

Is ayahuasca dangerous? Can you die from it?

Consuming ayahuasca with certain antidepressant drugs can lead to possibly fatal consequences. Additionally, multiple deaths have been reported related to ayahuasca use for unexplained reasons. For instance, an 18-year-old adult died in 2012 while participating in a Peruvian ayahuasca ceremony, whereas another British teenager died in the Columbian rainforest in a similar ceremony after experiencing a reaction to this herbal brew. While scientists continue to explore the causes of these mortalities, the risk of death lingers with ayahuasca use, hence, it is wise to observe caution if you are using it.

How is ayahuasca different from DMT?

The main difference between ayahuasca and DMT is that it is possible to synthesize the latter synthetically out of the ayahuasca plant. DMT remains the main psychoactive substance naturally present in the ayahuasca plant; however, scientists now know how to artificially create it in laboratory settings in the form of a white, crystalline powder. Subsequently, users can smoke, snort, or inject this powder by mixing it in water to experience similar effects. In terms of effects, ayahuasca consumption can cause much longer trips than synthetic DMT. This is in addition to other physical side effects, such as vomiting and nausea, that people relying on DMT may not experience.

Can I have an ayahuasca bad experience or trip?

Some people may undergo negative experiences while consuming psychedelics, such as ayahuasca. These negative experiences can include the following:

  • Intense fear and paranoia
  • Confronting or frightening hallucinations
  • Confusion and high anxiety levels

Remember that different people may interpret these experiences differently in a ritual or traditional context. For instance, some individuals view them as a part of the healing or spiritual journey instead of being negative.

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