Ayahuasca is a well-known psychedelic that has been around for centuries. You’ve likely heard of it, and maybe you’ve even tried it. There’s a great deal to learn about ayahuasca. There are even potential health benefits to consuming the brew.
Mixed into a liquid to drink, you consume ayahuasca during a ceremony led by a shaman to experience an ayahuasca “trip.” You can travel to retreats and other destinations to curate the experience in a controlled and meditative setting. Some people experience life-changing hallucinations, and many believe they are connecting with the divine.
Today, we will take a closer look at ayahuasca and its potential health benefits.
What is Ayahuasca, and Why is it Used?
You might have heard of ayahuasca as the tea, the vine, or even la purga. The psychedelic brew is commonly made by mixing together the leaves of the Psychotria Viridis shrub with the stalks of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine. Sometimes other plants and ingredients are added as well.
Ancient Amazonian tribes used ayahuasca for spiritual and religious purposes, and some religious communities in Brazil and North America still use it as such today.
When you pursue a trip, a shaman, or curandero, or an experienced healer, leads your ceremony. They prepare the brew by bowling the torn leaves of the Psychotria Viridis shrub and the stalks of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine with water.
The shaman cleans the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and smashes it before boiling it. This action helps increase the extraction of the ective ingredients of the plant. The shaman reduces the brew to their liking, and strains the water. This leaves the plant material behind. The shaman will repeat this process until they create a highly concentrated liquid. They cool the brew, and then strain it again to remove any impurities.
How Does Ayahuasca Work?
The Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria Viridis plants have psychedelic properties. The Psychotria Viridis contains N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which is a hallucinogenic chemical that occurs naturally within the plant.
A powerful psychedelic and a chemical naturally made by the body, DMT gets broken down by enzymes quickly by monoamine oxidases (MAOs) in your liver and gastrointestinal tract, making its bioavailability slim. This is why it needs to be combined with something containing MAO inhibitors, or MAOIs). They allow the DMT effects to linger around for longer. This is what the Banisteriopsis caapi is for, along with its own psychedelic properties.
What Happens During an Ayahuasca Ceremony?
Ceremonies are generally held at night, and last until the effects end. The shaman blesses the space for the ceremony, and then you consume the brew in several small doses.
Typically, you experience the effects within 20-60 minutes. The trip generally lasts 2-6 hours. You may experience some vomiting, diarrhea, euphoria, vivid auditory and visual hallucinations, mild altering effects, paranoia, and even fear.
Everyone reacts differently to the experience, and the shaman guides you through the process the entire time. Sometimes people will have ceremonies several nights in a row. Each time you consume ayahuasca, you will have a different experience.
How Can Ayahuasca Benefit Your Health?
While both pleasant and unpleasant experiences can occur during an ayahuasca trip, many have experienced long-term, positive, life-altering changes. This could be related to ayahuasca’s effect on the neurological system.
Research has shown that ayahuasca can benefit your health, especially your brain health, in many ways.
Brain Health and Ayahuasca
The primary ingredients in ayahuasca can benefit neuroprotective and neurorestorative qualities. DMT activates your sigma-1 receptor (Sig-1R), a protein that blocks neurodegeneration and regulates how you produce antioxidant compounds that aid in protecting your brain cells.
In a test tube study, DMT prevented damage to brain cells caused by lack of oxygen, and cell survival was increased. Marimine, the primary B-carboline in ayahuasca, has properties that are neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, and improved memory in both test tube and animal studies.
Your levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is a protein that aids in nerve cell growth and promotes cell survival, can increase.
Another test-tube study showed harmine improved the growth of human neural progenitor cells by more than 70% in four days. These cells initiate the growth of new neural brain cells.
Your Psychological Well-Being and Ayahuasca
Consuming ayahuasca has been shown to increase the capacity for mindfulness, and improve your psychological well-being.
One small study of 20 people showed that taking ayahuasca once a week for four weeks was just as effective as an eight-week mindfulness program for increasing acceptance—one of the primary elements of mindfulness.
Other studies state that ayahuasca can enhance mood, mindfulness and emotional regulation.
One study of 57 people showed that depression ratings and stress were largely decreased right after the users consumed ayahuasca. The effects were checked after four weeks, and were still the same.
Other Psychological Issues and Ayahuasca
Issues such as addiction, PTSD, anxiety, and treatment-resistant depression have all been shown to be subject to improvement after using ayahuasca.
One study of 29 people with treatment-resistant depression showed that just a single dose exhibited antidepressant significant effects. Other studies show major antidepressant effects resulting from ayahuasca use as well.
Several studies indicate healing effects for those with addictions to various substances.
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