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AYAHUASCA RETREAT VS psilocybin retreat: A comparison


Ayahuasca is one of the most commonly known classic psychedelic substances, and its popularity in the west has been rising over the last decades. Everyone who explores the realm of psychedelics, will have heard of it. Unfortunately this has also caused some myths and misinformation to circulate. 

The historical significance of Ayahuasca

In this article, we will explore the historical significance of Ayahuasca, how it’s made and how it works and how it may be applied as a tool for personal growth. We’ll discuss the effects, the differences with psilocybin, some safety concerns and the importance of responsible and ethical use. 

As Ayahuasca is one of the most powerful known psychedelic substances, it is essential to inform yourself well and to consult multiple sources of information. Please keep in mind that we do not recommend seeking an Ayahuasca induced experience to anyone. 

What is Ayahuasca?

The word Ayahuasca translates to ‘vine of the soul’ in the Quechua language. For more than a thousand years, indigenous peoples from Peru, Ecuador, and other communities along the Amazon have used it for medicinal, spiritual, and ceremonial purposes. It is commonly used in ceremonial settings under the guidance of experienced shamans or healers. Ethnological research into the subject has been published by Evgenia Fotiou in 2016, showing that Ayahuasca is used in a ceremonial context throughout western Amazonia. 

The Ayahuasca brew is usually prepared by a shaman who macerates and boils the stems of the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and mixes this with leaves from the chacruna shrub (Psychotria viridis). This process can take several hours and results in a bitter brew, which can vary in taste and potency based on the skill of the shaman. 

DMT: the active ingredient in ayahuasca

The active ingredient responsible for its psychedelic effects is DMT (dimethyltryptamine) which is derived from the Psychotria viridis leaves. When ingested, DMT normally gets broken down by the body before it reaches the brain. When inhaled, DMT can induce  a short yet intense psychedelic experience. Please read our article on DMT to dive deeper into this. The effects of DMT in Ayahuasca are enabled by the MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor) properties of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine.  

Also see the article “Toxicological Aspects and Determination of the Main Components of Ayahuasca: A Critical Review” published in 2019 in Medicines, to learn more about the ayahuasca brew and its toxicology.

What are the effects of Ayahuasca?

A journey with Ayahuasca is often described as life changing and eye opening. Ayahuasca ceremonies are known for their intense and often transformative nature. The psychedelic journey lasts several hours and offers profound insights, emotional and psychological healing, and a sense of connection to the spiritual or metaphysical realms. The experience can be quite challenging, both physically and emotionally. 

Vomit as a from of cleansing and liberating

Ayahuasca can induce significant physiological effects. These effects can vary from person to person and can be influenced by diet, individual health, medications, or other substances. What often happens is that some participants will need to vomit, although this is viewed as cleansing and liberating. It is a natural part of the ceremony. Some people may have to deal with diarrhoea.

Other physical effects of Ayahuasca include increased heart rate and blood pressure, buzzing or humming in the ears, cold flashes, dizziness, and sweating. Some people experience vibrations through the body or are immersed in complete silence. 

Ayahuasca brew

The effects manifest within 30 to 60 minutes after drinking the Ayahuasca brew. The experience reaches its peak after 1 to 2 hours and continue to last for 5 to 9 hours. Interesting research into the effects of Ayahuasca has been published in 2021 in Springer, with the title: “A placebo-controlled study of the effects of ayahuasca, set and setting on mental health of participants in ayahuasca group retreats

What are the different effects of Ayahuasca and Psilocybin?

Ayahuasca and Psilocybin each have distinct characteristics and are applied for different purposes. While both Ayahuasca and Psilocybin are naturally occurring substances, psilocybin is found in fungi, such as magic mushrooms and truffles, and Ayahuasca is a brew that combines two species of plants, as explained in the ‘What is Ayahuasca’ section above. 

The effects of psilocybin vary depending on the dosage, set (mental state), and setting (environment). However, it can be perceived as a more gentle experience, with minimal physical effects. A psychedelic retreat with psilocybin is generally shorter in duration in comparison to Ayahuasca and typically lasts around 4 to 6 hours. 

Is ayahuasca safe to use?

While Ayahuasca has a long history of traditional use and is generally considered safe when used in an appropriate setting, under the guidance of an experienced shaman and with proper preparation, there are several serious safety concerns to consider.

As Ayahuasca is one of the most powerful  psychedelic substances known to mankind, it is essential to inform yourself well and to consult multiple sources of information. Please keep in mind that we do not recommend seeking an Ayahuasca induced experience to anyone. 

Ayahuasca can induce intense psychological and emotional experiences, which may be challenging for some people. It can bring to the surface deeply buried emotions, traumatic memories, or other psychological issues. These experiences can be potentially overwhelming and require proper psychological support. 

Another important fact to keep in mind is that Ayahuasca contains MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine. This substance can also interact with medications. MAOIs inhibit the breakdown of certain compounds, including some antidepressants, stimulants, and certain foods. This can lead to potentially dangerous interactions. It’s crucial to share your medications and health conditions before considering partaking in an Ayahuasca ceremony. Always seek advise from a medical professional.  

People with a history of mental health conditions such as psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or severe anxiety should approach Ayahuasca with extra caution. Ayahuasca can potentially exacerbate these conditions or trigger adverse reactions. 

Pre-screening and proper assessment by experienced professionals are important to ensure the safety of people with mental health vulnerabilities. Always share any questions and concerns you may have with a medical professional. 

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Scientific research ayahuasca

Ayahuasca is being increasingly explored for its potential therapeutic benefits. Research suggests that it may positively affect mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders.  While research on Ayahuasca’s therapeutic potential is still in its early stages, there have been a few clinical studies that have shown promising results.

A study conducted by the University of São Paulo in Brazil, published in the journal Psychological Medicine in 2015, examined the effects of Ayahuasca in patients with treatment-resistant depression. The results showed significant reductions in their symptoms after a single Ayahuasca session, with the effects lasting for up to three weeks. See the full article on 

Several studies have explored the use of Ayahuasca in treating addiction and substance abuse. For example, a study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology in 2018 examined the effects of Ayahuasca-assisted therapy. The findings suggested that Ayahuasca may help reduce substance abuse and improve psychological well-being.

The Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology reported of a study published in 2010, which investigated the effects of Ayahuasca on people with generalized anxiety disorder. The results demonstrated significant reductions in anxiety symptoms. Additionally, ongoing research is exploring the potential benefits of Ayahuasca in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Please note that these studies represent only a fraction of the available research, and more rigorous clinical trials are needed to further explore the therapeutic effects, optimal dosing, long-term safety, and potential risks. The field of psychedelic research is rapidly evolving, and ongoing studies are expanding our understanding of Ayahuasca’s therapeutic potential. See also:

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