The Dangerous Side of Ayahuasca

If you’re reading this you’ve probably heard of ayahuasca.

Ayahuasca is a sacred plant used by indigenous people in the Amazon to seek spiritual awakening and connect to a higher consciousness.

In recent years Ayahuasca has become increasingly popular in the western world. Stories have been published in the Huffington Post, National Geographic, Discovery Channel and many other well known news outlets about the wonders of Ayahuasca.

It has been taken by many people as a short cut to spiritual enlightenment and a source to infinite knowledge about one’s true self. Spiritual and pseudo spiritual groups are taking this drug as part of their spiritual path. However, people tend to forget that in tribes from the Amazon, ayahuasca is not drunk by the entire tribe, only the shaman drinks it and shares his/her experiences with the tribe. It takes shamans years of discipline and study to prepare their bodies and minds for the savage effects of ayahuasca.

In western society anyone with a one week or one month diet is told that he/she is ready for the drug. People are not screened physically or psychologically to see if they’re fit for such an experience. In the best case scenario that they are indeed physically healthy to take it, it is imposible to know the spiritual effect that the experience can have on the fragile human psyche.

Nevertheless it is important to fully comprehend that Ayahuasca is NOT a recreational drug and that there could be negative side effects that are not widely reported by the media. It’s not all fun and games and wonderful stories.

Many people have used it in hopes of improving their lives and for many it has been life changing. However, there are many stories that don’t make it to National Geographic and other news outlets, where lives changed for the worst.

It is extremely important to understand that every person, every body, every mind and every soul is different. So there’s really no telling how each person will react to the drug. Wikipedia might say that long-lasting effects are not known, however, this doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. 

Before you embark to Peru to do an Ayahuasca retreat make sure that you are willing to take full responsibility of the possible side effects that could come with taking this plant.

The web is full of testimonies of people seeking help after enduring long-lasting effects from Ayahuasca that go from persistent hallucinations, depression, anxiety, panic attacks and depersonalization disorder. Shamans and curanderos attribute this to prolonged teachings and lessons from the plant for people who refuse to face a certain issue and are lingering with “pressure” to face their inner demons. These side effects may continue even after the effects of DMT (the active ingredient in Ayahuasca that causes the mind altering trip) have worn off.

Psychologically, the drug can have ravaging effects on the human psyche, altering one’s sense of the self and identity, amongst many other reported effects.

Physically, the drug can alter the brain chemistry and cause a long list of mental disorders like the ones mentioned before.

 In a study performed by the Institute of Psychiatry and Mental Health of the Universidad Complutense in Madrid, Spain, they exposed the negative psychiatric effects that such an exceptional level of consciousness can have on the human mind.

In the study they exposed the case of a 19-year-old boy and 28-year-old man who had to deal with psychotic outbreaks after the use of Ayahuasca.  A side effect to the higher state of consciousness that they had received through their journey with the drug  and that their human minds couldn’t comprehend in a HUMAN way, as a consequence it drove them to a complete neurotic and psychiatric breakdown . 

In another study performed by researcher  Sarah Lewis from Columbia University, she exposes the case of three people who had adverse effects to ayahuasca, their symptoms ranging from depression, to anxiety, psychotic breaks and a highly altered psyche.

Ayahuasca has changed many lives for the better, but has also deteriorated others. The truth is that there’s no way of knowing which way each experience will go. But it is important to be aware of the other side that is not being advertised by the media.

Ayahuasca might seem like an easy, quick fix to one’s problems, but the long-lasting effects can be brutal. If you are seeking to achieve a higher level of consciousness but don’t wish to deal with negative effects there’s always the long way, that it is also the safe way: Meditation, yoga, healthy eating, positive thinking and breathing exercises. It might take you longer to achieve a higher level of consciousness but it will also help you to assimilate it in a healthier way.

Make sure before you take this drug to thoughtfully understand the price you might be paying.

Feature Image Source: sciencemag.org


  • It’s Thursday, August 4th, 2016. I just stumbled upon this site and perused it’s pages and articles. Well done! I’ll even add a “kudos” for the quality of writing despite that English is not the native language of the writer/owner. I can only comment on my personal experiences with mother Ayahuasca. There have been quite a few now and no two the same; some horrific, some beautiful, some just odd. Some filled with an ear to ear grin that you couldn’t wipe from my face and some filled with deep pain and suffering. Personally I’ve found value in each and every one. I’ve felt at times like I was able to enter a “program mode” and access the programs deep in my subconscious that control behavior and reactions to situations in life. To see which beliefs serve me and which should be left behind. I’ve seen many others re-live old, perhaps traumatic events from earlier in life and many of those people were then able to make effective change from seeing this old event in a new perspective. I’ve also at times felt like the boundaries that keep me human have been lifted for a temporary period. That I knew things from a higher conscious perspective.
    I’ve been lucky in that I’ve found some of the most intelligent, skilled, caring and compassionate purveyors of medicine and for this I am very grateful. I was called to this back in 2011 and the call was deep and profound. Why was I on a plane to Peru? Because I had to go. It was as if someone activated a homing beacon within my spirit. No, this is not for everyone, but I can say personally it’s something I’d never go back and “undo.” I feel that psychedelic experiences are not just good for us humans, but that we may be wired so that regular experiences help keep us balanced and vibrating at a higher frequency. I’ve left retreats where my priorities, clarity, awareness and mindfulness were elevated for months. What drags me back down eventually? Immersion into a culture and society that is highly manipulated. Where you’re educated (programmed) to exist in a certain way, to believe certain things. To go out and fill a role in this manipulated society like being a CPA, lawyer, bus driver, whatever. Does that bring you fulfillment?
    When the events of life have filled up your nervous system and you need to “empty your personal trash can”, mother Ayahusaca can refresh and bring back balance…

    • Hi Tom,

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience and insight, I really appreciate it. I agree with you that ayahuasca can be amazingly mind opening and bring on spiritually awakening. I have to admit that ayahuasca did hep me make sense of all the teachings I had been studying for years, Nevertheless, I also experience some after effects that were pretty bas. After doing a lot of research and getting in contact with hundreds of people and experts on the subject I came to realize that even if I had bad after effects I was one of the lucky, I met several people who suffered devastating effects after ayahuasca. I understood that taking ayahuasca was like going from kindergarten to a post-doctorate degree. Some psyches can´t take it. In other cases it was simply that DMT caused biochemical imbalance in the brain. I learned a lot about ayahuasca and its effects and I think is something that should not be taken by western society, it comes from the Amazon and it should stay there. Yes!!! It does help in terms of spiritual awakening but at what cost? and should we really be tempering with something so advanced?
      At the ashram were I stayed for a month we were told that there were advance breathing exercises that we shouldn’t practice because they required a deeper discipline, diet and other practices to cleanse the mind, body and soul.They required a deep commitment from the yogui. Ayahuasca is like those breathing exercises, yes there´s a diet but come on! a one month diet isn’t exactly deep commitment. Ayahuasca is instant gratification for the masses. My personal belief is that one should take the long road, which is also the harder road, it takes years of commitment discipline, engagement and practice to achieve the connection and spiritual awakening that ayahuasca achieves in a couple of hours.

      I´m actually happy to read that you had a positive experience and that it has helped you a lot. But we must remember that just like any medicine it can have side effects.

      • Hi Caroline,
        Thank you as well for the discussion. I understand your opinion, I don’t fully agree, but I do understand.
        My coming to Ayahuasca was a true calling. I have often described it as if a homing device were switched on deep inside my being. I was drawn then to one particular “signal” if you will, a purveyor of medicine in Peru’s Sacred Valley. Walking this medicine path has since taken me to many new places, eventually a new medicine family and to profound changes in my life and the way I participate in our human family. My question then; should I have been denied the experience and resulting changes to my life because others felt this should remain for the sole use of indigenous? I do agree that years of discipline with yoga, meditation & other spiritual practices are a safer and more gradual road to awareness, but would I have found myself engaging in and deepening such practices without first having had an awakening with Ayahuasca? I doubt it very much.
        My current medicine family are mentored by an indigenous tribe deep in the Brazilian Amazon that have no contact with any other outsiders except those brought by my family. These Yawanawa and also the Siecopai from Ecuador feel that it is time for such medicines to reach the “developed” world. The time is upon us for healing and awakening, for the spreading of awareness. Doctors such as Gabor Mate and Jacques Mabit have documented many successes with patients using Ayahuasca as treatment for breaking addictions, dissolving destructive neural pathways while creating and strengthening new ones. There are always those people in our world that may attempt advanced levels of anything without proper preparation but again each individual should always have freedom of choice. I too have done my homework regarding Ayahuasca and have been interviewed by an academic researcher. This is not something new to me or something I take lightly, I approach all plant medicines with a deep respect and gratitude. I never use plant medicines outside of a ceremonial context. I know where my medicines originate. The Ayahuasca I drink has been made with the utmost care and love. These would be good steps of advice for anyone considering any plant medicines. I remind people often that these are plants from nature, they are tools here for humanity and in the long run, far safer than any pharma synthesized in a lab. I totally respect your opinion, but I believe deeply that great healing and awakening for humanity lie in the use of plant medicines. Not everyone is ready, but I feel strongly that each individual should do their own research and be able to make their own decision to move forward or to back away. Thanks for the great website too!

        • Hi Tom,

          Glad to see you came back 🙂 Even after it took me so long to reply. I have a working laptop now 🙂

          I agree with you that prohibition is definitely not the answer, I would never think of prohibiting ayahuasca to anyone, I do however would encourage a better informed decision of whether is a road to walk. There are many roads to spiritual awakening, you´ve found yours and that is truly marvelous. But there are other roads as well, for other people who might think that ayahuasca is the easy road. It´s not the easy road.

          On the other hand I´ve noticed that ayahuasca has become so mainstream that has also opened the door to many pseudo shamans to perform ayahuasca ceremonies, this can bring on devastating effects since it takes a knowledgable shaman to also screen the person to notice if it is suitable to them. Ayahuasca has become a business for many, and when money is involved it takes the sanctity away from it.

          I´m from Mexico, where indigenous tribes use sacred plants to get in touch with a higher power and deeper understanding of life and the spirit. Peyote and something called Sapito are the two most common drugs used from their ritual. These are taken in a sacred form and are not for recreational use. I can´t imagine someone in Europe (for an example) taking these plants out of their environment, profit from them and practice with them something that it´s so sacred to our indigenous tribes. I’ve never taken these plants and I wouldn’t dare touch them, because at least for me I can now say that that is not my road. I personally prefer the long road and would encourage others to double think their decision of taking ayahuasca, not creating prohibition but creating a better informed decision.

          • Thanks Caroline. I’ve enjoyed our banter regarding the use of plant medicines. In the end, we’re both correct. The plant medicines have had such a positive impact on my life, that of course I’m eager to share that with others who I sense are ready. You are right that there are now a confusing array of places to partake in a ceremony and many of them are poor or worse. The origin and quality of the medicine is a huge factor and many who sit to drink have no idea of where the medicine came from. The growing network of ceremonial circles I hope will have a far more positive effect on humanity than it does negative. In my working world, I tell each of my clients that my goal is to provide them with accurate and thorough information from which they can always make an informed decision and I fully agree with you in that respect. I have used Peyote with 2 different Native American Churches and this holy sacrament is another teacher and guiding light of awakening that I am grateful for. In the end, choice is important and doing one’s homework to make a good decision even more so. So much fun chatting, keep up the good work on Wanderside!

  • Ayahuasca/DMT gave me a psychotic breakdown, PTSD, anxiety and panic attacks. It’s been 6 months and I am still recovering.

    I published a website to make sure people are aware of the HUGE risks involved in taking Ayahuasca and DMT:

    Please spread the word – thanks!

    • Hi Nick,

      I am truly sorry to hear that you’re suffering from negative side-effects caused my ayahuasca. You’re actually not the first person to contact me regarding adverse effects. I’ve received tens of emails of people who have the same side effects.

      Wishing you a quick and full recovery.

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