Is Ayahuasca safe?
Ayahuasca has a long history of use, with very few reported incidents of harm. Clinical studies (both animal and human) indicate it to be extremely safe when appropriate dosage, setting and supervision is applied. There is very little risk of toxicity, as is the case with most of the classical psychedelic drugs. The most frequently reported adverse event is an intense, challenging experience that can be emotionally difficult. For some, prior traumas can be revisited, and sometimes painful emotions require processing. Usually, this is temporarily unpleasant and causes no lasting harm.
As with all substances, there is risk around the composition of the preparation. Toxicological studies of ayahuasca ‘brews’ have revealed that concentrations of both DMT and the β-carboline MAOIs vary substantially across preparations. Many different types of additional plant matter have been reported, some of which may pose risk of interaction or potentiation. Storage duration and transport conditions have also been shown to affect composition, with significant changes observed to the harmala alkaloids (present in the MAOI).
Caution is also advised in any setting where usual decision-making and awareness may be compromised. The risk of sexual assault and accidental injury or death is higher where psychoactive substances are used.
Can you Ayahuasca mixed with other drugs?
Ayahuasca should not be consumed together with alcohol or other drugs. In particular, amphetamines should be avoided, due to their hypertensive action which when combined with a MAOI could prove fatal. Although, this particular drug interaction does not appear to be documented with ayahuasca. Detailed information on drug interactions can be found here.
Ayahuasca is commonly used in traditional settings with other ethnobotanical or otherwise naturally derived psychoactive substances. These include:
- Tobacco (rapé; mapacho)
- Kambo (from the Kambo frog)
- 5-MeO-DMT (from the Bufo Alvarus toad)
- Peyote (mescaline cactus)
- Psilocybin (from certain types of mushroom)
- Yopo (N,N-DMT, 5-MeO-DMT and Bufotenine containing seeds).
Caution should be exercised even if these options are presented as a usual part of the programme. Although there is little anecdotal evidence of adverse effect, few studies have looked at the clinical implications of taking these substances in close proximity.
Can it be addictive?
Ayahuasca, like the other classical psychedelic drugs, is not addictive. Despite the documented (and further anecdotal) benefits, the trip process can be unpleasant and difficult, and therefore does not lend itself to regular use. Psychedelics in general also demonstrate a pharmacological mechanism of short-term reduced efficacy (tolerance) which inhibits their prolonged or frequent use. In fact, ayahuasca is valued for its anti-addictive properties and its potential role in supporting those with dependency on other substances is being explored.
The myth and misunderstanding
Ayahuasca is hailed by some proponents as an all-round panacea for physical and mental health. While there are many interesting research avenues being/to be explored, it is dangerous to assume that any one substance can ‘cure’ ailments for which we do not (yet) have an evidence base for. This particularly applies to any choices one may make about rejecting or discontinuing mainstream medical accompaniment. Prescription medication should not be suspended to take part in, or as a result of, an ayahuasca experience without medical guidance.
It would be a harmful misconception for ayahuasca to be viewed as a recreational drug, or for ceremonies and other organised settings to be viewed as ‘drug-fuelled’ gatherings. On the contrary, the taking of ayahuasca is often referred to as trabajo (‘work’) in traditional contexts; from the nausea and vomiting, to the solitary introspection and the potentially challenging emotional experiences, it is not considered an easy or reliably pleasant activity. It is not therefore used as a recreational substance and is rarely taken at parties, festivals and nightclubs.
Is Ayahuasca Right For You?
Study shows that people taking ayahuasca began to notice negative patterns that fed into their addictions. This was during ayahuasca sessions, so researchers highlighted that these insights are linked to reduced substance use and cravings.
There is evidence illustrating how ayahuasca tea may be helpful in the treatment of various mental health conditions. However, a psychedelic like ayahuasca might not mix well with all mental issues.