AYAHUASCA: How To Have a Safe, Rewarding Experience

As Ayahuasca Retreats Surge in Popularity, Many Wonder, “is Ayahuasca Safe?”

The Answer is Yes – If Done Right. 

WHAT: Experience Ayahuasca Safely

Imagine yourself at an ayahuasca retreat, lying on the floor of a rustic hut in the remote Peruvian Amazon jungle. The only light is the intermittent glow of shamans smoking mapacho cigarettes. The only sounds are groaning, vomiting, jungle creature noises, and ‘icaros’ – power songs taught to ayahuasca shamans by plants, sung to invite the good spirits, thwart the bad ones, and initiate and guide the visions.

Moments ago, you felt nothing. You questioned whether this pilgrimage into the muggy depths of South America was a fool’s errand. Before long, you’re shaking, vomiting, fluctuating between confusion and horror, and terrified you won’t survive the night. You begin to wonder whether ayahuasca is even safe? This isn’t what you ordered. Where is the healing? Where is the divine union? Why drop good money to travel to a far-flung backwater hut, swig back a shot of liquid schizophrenia, and spend the night fighting a losing battle with fluorescent serpents and other incredulous phantasms?

Beyond Space and Time

Soon enough, the DMT (ayahuasca’s chief psychedelic compound) swamps the neocortex (the part of the brain that processes our experience of time and space). As the neocortex waves a white flag, seconds may seem like hours, and hours may feel like days. It’s impossible to tell because your sense of time has abandoned you. Consequently, it’s impossible to recall how long it’s been since you choked back the small cup of repugnant, dirt-brown gloop handed to you by the ayahuasca shaman.


A cup being handed over
Photo Credit: Iceers.org


The Peruvian ayahuasca Shaman approaches. Too exhausted to be afraid, you inform him you’re about to die. With a knowing grin, he begins chanting the soundtrack to your journey into the void. As you relinquish your grasp on life, you surrender everything you thought you knew about death. After that, the lights go out,  the fireworks begin, and “The Vine of the Soul” begins to reveal its mysteries.


An ayahuasca ceremony
Photo Credit: Temple of the inner way of light

What is Ayahuasca?

‘Ayahuasca,’ AKA the “vine of the soul,” is an ultra-powerful psychedelic liquid brewed by indigenous Amazonian ayahuasca shamans from a delicate mixture of jungle plants. Ayahuasca use was traditionally reserved for the shaman. However, things are changing.

Why is Ayahuasca Becoming More Popular?

In a modern world crying out for a sense of meaning, more and more Westerners are journeying to South America to partake in ayahuasca retreats. In recent years, word of ayahuasca’s healing properties has spread far and wide. Consequently, ayahuasca retreats in the USA, Europe, and beyond are surging in popularity, even though it remains an illegal, schedule one substance.

Ayahuasca is a Soul Journey

What motivates these individuals to seek out a serious hallucinogenic ordeal that shows them their own mortality and the darkest corners of their souls? Usually, the answer alludes to spiritual rejuvenation, self-knowledge, and mental and physical healing. Ayahuasca has the power to grant all of these things. If done right.


A Pan of liquid



“Well, why can’t I just chug ayahuasca home alone on my sofa and heal, rejuvenate, and wise up from there?”

It’s a fair question, and the answer is twofold. Firstly, because ayahuasca is probably illegal in your country. Secondly, and more importantly, is because of the presence, or lack thereof, of a qualified shaman. And not the white guy who breezes up after a week-long training course wearing eagle feathers and banging a djembe.

Ayahuasca will shatter you in places you didn’t know existed. It may make you believe you’re a monkey, or snake, or frog, or alien. Meanwhile, it will murder your ego a million times over, then make you believe it has murdered your body. The last thing you need to worry about during this journey is who’s watching your back.

Beware False Prophets

As affluent ayahuasca seekers increase in number, so do charlatans seeking to rinse a quick buck from wide-eyed westerners. As you’re writhing around in a pool of your own vomit, they’re looking at the clock, mildly concerned whether your condition was brought on by the semi-psychedelic jungle moonshine they got for a steal at the village market. When things inevitably turn weird, a novice or fake shaman may well panic, or even just bale. These people are dangerous, deceitful, and serve to cheapen ayahuasca’s reputation.


ayahuasca Market in Peru
Photo Credit: Greg Goodman

Is Ayahuasca Safe?

In contrast, an experienced shaman has seen it all before and can respond appropriately. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of genuine, ethical, experienced ayahuasca shamans in the Amazon region. These individuals have spent their lives in service to the plant. As a result, they offer ayahuasca ceremonies in a safe space, often a retreat center, built out of love and care. These shamans should be sought out as if your sanity depended on it. Which it well might.

Do Your Ayahuasca Research

Often, the best journeys begin by reading books or talking to others who have visited those centers or that shaman. Ask them:

  • How was their overall experience?
  • Did they feel secure and watched over?
  • How were the facilities and the staff?
  • Above all, ask them would they do it again? Many seekers choose to experience ayahuasca not once but multiple times.

The most rewarding place to experience ayahuasca is the regions where it grows natively, with the indigenous peoples who have revered and consumed the plants for thousands of years. Ceremonies take place in many parts of South America. However, Peru is generally considered the epicenter of ayahuasca use. Specifically, in and around the cities of Iquitos, Puerto Maldonado, Tarapoto, and Cusco.  Likewise, these locations are also great starting points for those seeking to journey into more remote regions.


Candles at an ayahuasca ceremony
Photo Credit: Creative Commons

If you are interested in the experience, you are probably wondering whether ayahuasca is safe. The answer is yes. That said, anyone suffering from certain mental or physical issues should check in advance whether ayahuasca could worsen their condition. Likewise, individuals with conditions requiring SSRI medications should check with ayahuasca retreat centers in advance.


If done right, an ayahuasca retreat can yield overwhelmingly positive, lasting results. These include physical and emotional healing, paradigm-shifting self-reflection, and a renewed sense of purpose.


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