Aya-Whatta? Was probably what you’d have said a few years ago when reading this, but this previously mysterious Amazonian plant medicine known as Ayahuasca has, in the past few years, hit the mainstream hard. Until pretty recently, this off-beat beverage seemed appealing only to a few brave anthropologists, psychedelic explorers such as the McKenna brothers, and a few pioneering individuals who, for whatever reason, fumbled and stumbled their way into the path of a Shaman in the jungles of Peru, Brazil or Equador. But not anymore.

Nowadays, conversations about Ayahuasca can be overheard everywhere.

In restaurants, particularly those serving vegan, vegetarian food or green juice and featuring a heavy dose of ‘blessings’ on the menu. In boardrooms, especially in the tech industry where those who seek to be one step ahead of the masses tend to preside. In bathrooms. Yep, hang out in the toilette at a yoga studio, Daybreaker venue, alternative, healing, yoga or music festival, and guaranteed you’ll hear the A-word, countless times. In shopping malls. On public transport. In coffee shops. And, if you happen to be on the spiritual travel tourism circuit a.k.a. Bali, India, Nepal, Thailand, Australia, Peru, Guatemala, Equador, then you’ve probably already had it and most definitely heard about it from practically everyone you’ve met.

One Shaman (who shall remain nameless) who’d spent a year training in the Peruvian jungle, who now holds discreet ceremonies back in the USA told me that there are up to 40 plus ceremonies where between 10–20 people drink Ayahuasca every weekend in New York. He added, “It’s pretty much the same in every major city.” So, you might ask, why on earth are hundreds, if not thousands of people sitting in the dark to drink a sticky, reddish brown tea made from a plant known by the Ayahuascaro’s — those who’ve trained, often for lifetimes to work with the ‘medicine’ — as the ‘Vine of Death’ each weekend?

Most arrive at the feet of the Shaman to knock-back the less than tasty shot of liquid for varied reasons. Spiritual Seeker. Trend Setter. Psychedelic Joyrider. Traumatized. At a Crossroads. Sick with a Disease. Stuck in a Deadend Job. Lost. Divorcee. Heard About it and Decided to Dabble. The reasons are as varied as the subsequent journey’s these ‘pasajeros’ embark on once the drink has made its way into their insides.

What many don’t realize is that a little like Adam’s bite from the apple, once you’ve taken a sip of Ayahuasca, there’s no going back. There is a reason that those trying to explain the inexplicable experience they’ve had to friends and family will simply give up and say ‘it’s life-changing’. But, do they mean in a good way?
Ayahuasca, the hallucinogenic, healing brew of the Amazon.

Having worked alongside many individuals who took the leap into the world of plant medicine, while working in a center in Peru, and as a trauma specialist, who has been both personally and professionally fascinated by the possibility of healing past experiences that tend to leave deep trauma imprints in our psyche and cells, who has consumed a number of cups of the dark and sticky stuff that illuminates far more than I’d perhaps bargained for. These are the ways I’ve witnessed Ayahuasca ruin people’s lives. My own included:

1. Sex.

I’m not just talking about the temporary abstinence that a well-trained Shaman or centre will require of you, typically for a week or two prior to the Ayahuasca ceremony. Nope. I’m talking about long terms shifts in your sexuality. If you’ve been pondering for half your life whether or not you have a penchant for the rainbow flag and all it symbolizes. You’ll soon know. If you’ve been trying every flavor at the candy store, but from a place of unresolved trauma or lack of self-worth. Chances are you’ll find yourself going celibate for a while to clean-up your destructive and potentially dissociated behavior.

Whereas, if sex has been missing, or something you’ve been struggling to enjoy, the plant has a way of showing you what’s at the bottom of this lack of lust and helping you to overcome your avoidance of pleasure. One ‘psychonaut’ I know was guided by La Medicina (as Ayahuasca is also known) to buy a vibrator and some Indica Cannabis spray to work on her tolerance for pleasure. Not such a terrible homework assignment.

2. Drugs.

Again, this isn’t about the required avoidance of recreational drugs for a period of time both before and after the ceremony, during what is known as the ‘dieta’ to prepare and begin to clean the body in preparation for drinking Ayahuasca. No. Many, many folk arrive in ceremony with a ‘weed’ addiction, or worse, and find that La Madre — this psychedelic plant is also given the title of Mother due to her sometimes firm or loving guidance — shows you how you are using as a way to avoid dealing with past unresolved emotional pains or to step fully into your purpose.

It’s been a joy to witness many, particularly young guys, walk out of ceremonies knowing what they came here for, and instead of sitting on the couch getting baked, to launch incredible enterprises, get fit, contribute to their communities and make positive, if not radical changes in their lives. The irony is that so many people, frequently uneducated in the matter of plant medicine, refer to Ayahuasca as a drug, failing to understand the entheogenic nature of this concoction and the intelligence and guidance it offers, helping people to ‘see’ their truth, rather than simply get high.

3. Alcohol.

Similarly to recreational drugs, no alcohol consumption both prior to and following ceremonies is a requirement. However, once the ceremony ends, many people seem to find that their desire for this substance evaporates. Alcohol tends to have a numbing effect. The majority of us are wandering around with suppressed and pressed emotions that, in our fast-paced world, we’ve either had no time or support to process. It’s much easier to kick back and grab an ice cold tin or knock back a glass of vino than it is to sit with a box of Kleenex and go deep into our pain.

Once the plants have cleaned you up; in the Icaro’s — songs that the Shaman’s sing during a ceremony — you’ll often hear the words ‘limpia, limpia’ which means to clean. The Shaman is working with the plant to clear-up the emotional, physical and spiritual blockages that you’ve acquired during your lifetime. Once this en masse cleansing has occurred a lot of people find that their desire to ‘numb out’ has disappeared along with the spirit soap bubbles that burst in the process. Just like those who find it’s time to put down the bong, a large percentage find that rather than hit the bar after work for a few, they’d rather go for a run, join a fun class, get into a deep conversation, have meaningful sex, create a piece of artwork or do something else that results in potentially strange feelings of joy, vitality and fun.

4. Friendships.

Thankfully, these are not a required substance to refrain from during the pre-ceremony ‘dieta.’ However, as you can imagine from the potential changes due to one’s interests, as outlined above, many people discover post-ceremonia that they just don’t resonate with certain comrades anymore. Now, this may seem like a bad thing. But, if you’ve had that niggly feeling in your belly for a while that the people you are hanging out with are a little bit stuck, not supporting your dreams, tearing you down, keeping you stuck in the muck, or in a kind of co-dependent addiction to something, then chances are you’re in need of this kind of butt-kicking to propel you into a new sphere. And, for those who struggle with weak boundaries, or people-pleasing and are (be honest) fed up to the back teeth with putting up with others people’s brown stuff, you may well be singing ‘Praise the Lord’ as Ayahuasca shows you how to get fierce, claim back your power, and put up some healthy walls around your time, resources and heart.

5. Food.

You may be inclined to think that Ayahuasca has already ruined your life when you embark on the ‘dieta’ to prepare, as it involves abstaining from sugar, salt, dairy, red meat and pretty much all things delicious. The good news is the period of suffering is typically only for about a week, although if you’re heading into an Ayahuasca retreat, this may be extended from anything to two to three weeks, depending on the retreat duration. The best part is that once you’ve completed the ‘dieta’ food has never tasted so good and your tastebuds do a previously unknown happy dance.

However, (here she goes again I hear you say) once you’ve returned to reality, whether its the close of the retreat or the weekend ceremony coming to a close, a bizarre event may occur. Your tastebuds, having developed the ability to dance, may also acquire a more selective palate. Turning down junk food, candy, soda, anything that has practically zero nutritional value. And, be warned, all those weird hippie foods, such as spirulina, goji berries, tempeh, bliss bowls, vegetables, water, green juice, may suddenly be more attractive than a glazed Turkey on Christmas day.

6. Lying.

No, of course, you don’t lie. So, this one doesn’t apply to you, right? Mmmmm. The thing is, we all tell little porky’s once in a while. But, that’s not what I’m talking about. Ayahuasca will not stop you from telling little white lies, here and there, it’s part of our social construct to maintain the peace in certain situations.

However, many of us are taught to lie to ourselves. We are programmed by our parents, teachers, society into what appears to be the right path, relationship, religion, career for us. And then we find that in our mid 20’s or mid 30’s were depressed. Anxiety has set in and we’re self-medicating or suffering through ‘it’ like it’s an endurance race, rather than a pleasurable journey with miracles and surprises at every turn. Then you find yourself called to Ayahuasca and that dream job you’d just been offered appears as a nightmare of constriction of your creative abilities. Your emotionally abusive partner that you’ve been putting up with for years gets revealed as the parasite they truly are and you suddenly feel the courage to quit cold turkey. You discover that while you thought you were a ‘nice’ person, that actually the unresolved trauma from your past has been making you a self-absorbed narcissist. Or maybe, as you soften into the psychedelic realms and experience the visuals which reveal the interconnectedness of you and the earth, animals, plants, and spirit world, directly, without approval or performing some kind of ritual for the bearded old white guy, you realize that your religion isn’t quite what you’d previously perceived it to be.

7. Ego.

Ego is important. It’s essential actually, to our survival. What is not good, however, is an over-inflated ego or one that is driving a false-self created as a means of protection during painful circumstances. There’s a fun meme knocking about the internet with a picture of two Sumo wrestlers that reads: “Psychedelics” over the larger and taller wrestler and “Ego” over the smaller guy who is being lifted off the ground by his waistband by the former. Which pretty much sums up the experience of ego destruction that can occur when drinking Ayahuasca. There is, after all a reason they call it the ‘Vine of Death’ which doesn’t mean you actually die, rather, your excess or protective, controlling ego does. Sounds painful? It is.

And this is where Ayahuasca really can truly ruin your life. Without the right therapeutic support to integrate the lost parts of your past, wounded inner child, abandoned self, or neglected parts that your parents or carers failed to recognize, the journey can get pretty bumpy. Particularly if life is already a little unstable, i.e. you’re jobless, homeless, community-less, purpose-less. Unfortunately, this is where people can become casualties. Resulting in nervous breakdowns, psychosis or even suicidality, as the frozen and fragmented parts of our psyche and soul vie for attention and true acknowledgment in amongst the crumbling parts of our less authentic ego parts.

Without real support from trained therapists during the integration phase of working with plant medicine, this messy moment can spill out into all manner of bizarre and inexplicable behaviors and take us far away from the ultimate goal of working with plant medicine; inner peace. It definitely helps to understand that you may, particularly if you have a lot of unresolved trauma from childhood — abusive, neglectful or addict parents, or a family history of psychosis or severe depression — benefit immensely from setting yourself up with a good therapist before you begin your journey into the potentially dark underworld to your shadow self with Ayahuasca.

Whatever happens, enjoy the ride. As the Haddaway song, frequently played at Tony Robbins transformational events infers, “Life will never be the same.”

Author's Bio: 

By Gemini Adams, trauma specialist, author and founder of Womb * Sense, a women’s wellbeing community, exploring issues affecting the feminine and sharing powerful ways to #HealMeToo.