Ayahuasca is an Amazonian plant brew which has been used for millennia by the indigenous people of the Amazon basin for healing purposes and for spiritual exploration. It is an extremely powerful infusion that gives visions and insights. It can be made of several different plants, but generally two main ingredients are used. One is a bush called Psychotria Viridis (or Chacruna, in the Peruvian Amazon). The leaves of this bush contain a substance called dimethyltryptamine, DMT, which is the hallucinogenic substance that induces visions and it is curiously also produced by the human brain. But this hallucinogenic substance is not effective when ingested orally because we have an enzyme in our stomach called monoamine oxidase, which inactivates the DMT. So, you can boil the leaves of the bush and make a tea and drink it, and even though it's full of this dimethyltryptamine, you will not experience any hallucinations or visions.
The shamans in the Amazon figured out a long time ago that you can combine these leaves with a jungle vine called ayahuasca (the scientific name is Banisteriopsis caapi), which has the same name as the mixture. The bark of this vine contains several substances that inactivate the stomach enzyme. This allows the hallucinogenic substances contained in the brew to get through the gut into the blood, and from there up into the brain. It is remarkable to notice how out of the something like 250,000 different plant species, the Amazonian people managed to single out this specific vine with supposedly no chemistry knowledge at all, and also the fact that when you drink this plant mixture you are not actually exposing your brain to anything that is not produced in it already. You are altering the ratio, certainly, but in fact the hallucinogenic substance, DMT, is naturally produced in the pineal gland.
Having an ayahuasca ceremony is a very serious matter in the Amazon, and nobody, nobody considers ayahuasca as a recreational drug there. People have a profound respect and reverence for it, and whether you are part of an indigenous tribe or a westerner you are going to have a sometimes dreadful, intense, ecstatic life changing experience. With ayahuasca you can heal physical illness, psychological illness, and have insights that can change the way you see life and this universe forever, and for the better, and all of this is very far from simply sitting down drinking an hallucinogenic brew or having a psychedelic experience of some sort. As a matter of fact that is exactly what a true psychedelic experience is. Serious spiritual stuff, and not exactly fun.
Every ayahuasca ceremony is accompanied by the icaros, the songs that the ayahuaschero sings and that are taught to the shamans by the spirits of the plants. Their purpose is to synergize with the ayahuasca to heal and also to provoke certain kinds of visual displays or visions from which you gain knowledge and strength during the experience.
The shaman will always protect you when you are inside your visions and through the icaros and his own visions he will give you courage and direction when you feel scared or lost.
The so called ‘purging’ effect of ayahuasca has to be mentioned, and the physical purging is seen by the Amazonian tribes as a spiritual purging as well, in the sense that through that there is the elimination of all negativity.
And here is where the whole concept of Ayahuasca gets much more complex than a simple hallucinogenic plants brew. It is a plant mixture that gives visions, but getting knowledge and healing from ayahuasca visions involves more than just swallowing ayahuasca.
Ayahuasca healing has a very holistic approach to illness. For a shaman, most of our diseases, whether you talk about physical, mental or emotional states, there is no distinction among the three, they all stem from a dis-ease, an uneasiness, an imbalance in the wholeness of our being, which is made up of the three energies strictly interconnected. In order to cure, then, the aim is to re- establish balance in the person considered as a unity, not to try and sort out the problem from a physical, mental or emotional point of view. That is why in this kind of medicine, the curanderismo, miracles happen, and they are not even considered as miracles, actually. They are just the result of a natural process of healing. There have been accounts of cure of illnesses like cancer, depression, diabetes, alcoholism. In most of these accounts during the Ayahuasca ceremony the people managed somehow to understand why they had their illness, and through a process of acceptance and choice they were able to heal themselves with their own energy and the energy of Nature, by recreating the balance in the subtle energies circulating in their whole being.
Ayahuasca ceremonies always take place at night time because the darkness helps the visions to be clearer.
At the beginning of the ceremony the shaman sets the ceremonial space by blowing tobacco and stating his own intention.
A purpose- built 'maloca' (circular house on stilts) is generally used.
The participants sit in a circle, leaving the centre free for the spirit healing forces to work on. The ritual usually starts at 8pm and lasts 4-5 hours.
The participants fast for a few hours before the ceremony. They usually have a light lunch and then nothing else until the next day. The purpose is to try and make your body and your spirit as pure as possible in order to receive "la medicina".
Certain foods and especially certain prescription drugs have to be avoided because they could chemically interact with ayahuasca (see Diet). As a general guideline salt, fat. sugar, spices, anything fermented or smoked and alcohol should be avoided before and after the ceremony to give the chance to body and spirit to absorb the properties of the plants in full.
After all the participants have taken the ayahuasca brew, the shaman starts singing the icaros. These songs come directly from the plant spirits, and are used by the shaman to deliver spiritual healing and energy. The icaros provoke the mareacion
(the visionary state), they can heal, they guide the mind during the visions, they can become visions themselves.
The effect of ayahuasca can be different from person to person, but in general an ayahuasca ceremony is a deep cleansing process, at every level: physical, emotional and psychological.
Physically it is common to experience vomiting and diarrhea. Emotionally, you can experience the release of trapped emotions, which are at the root of every emotional imbalance. Psychologically, you can have insights and the release of trauma.
It is important to say that the ceremony is a safe and healthy environment where to release all the things that are keeping us trapped somehow, and that this process of cleansing at every level is what allows us to wake up the next day feeling incredibly empowered and able to see our life in a different light.
It is quite normal to feel fear at times during the ceremony. Fear is at the root of every illness for the shaman, and only by going through the fear can you manage to transcend it.
Javier will always help you in moments of difficulty or fear. Sometimes by playing the shakapa, sometimes by spraying perfumed essences, sometimes by singing an icaro, he will always guard over you during the ceremony.
Here is Javier singing one of his icaros before the ceremony
When you talk about Ayahuasca diet you may refer to two different things. One is what in Spanish is known as dieta, and that is the diet that is followed by the shamans and the vegetalistas in order to learn their healing powers from the teaching plants (plantas maestras).
The necessity of a diet, discipline, and sexual abstinence is fundamental in their training, and it is only in this way that the icaros (power songs) are revealed to the shaman by the teacher spirits of the plants.
During their learning period, which often includes years of isolation in the rainforest, as it happened to Javier, they only eat fish, plantains and rice without salt, and only twice a day.
The dieta also includes the daily ingestion of theaching plants, such as bobinsana, brugmansia, ciric sanango, and of course Ayahuasca.
In this process the apprentice shaman develops an attunement with the world of Spirit and the world of Nature, and learns to detach from the material world. For many indigenous tries of the Amazon this is "the only path to knowledge"
The other meaning is the restriction of certain kinds of foods beverages and prescription drugs that should be followed when somebody wants to experience an ayahuasca ceremony (in case of prescription drugs it MUST be followed, because their combination with the chemicals of Ayahuasca can be lethal).
The following is an exhaustive list published by www.ayahuasca.com, one of the most reliable sources of information about ayahuasca, to which we invite you for further information about scientifical, artistic, spiritual and sociological aspects of Ayahuasca. The aim of this long list is NOT to scare you or put you off the experience, but to INFORM you so that your experience can be fully conscious and responsible.
Which foods should be avoided?
Basically foods that are aged, preserved, dried, fermented, pickled, cured (meats), rancid, old, outdated, overripe, or even slightly spoiled.The following foods are recommended to be avoided with MAOIs:
Meat that is not fresh, especially unfresh liver (fresh meat and fresh liver are safe)
Smoked, fermented, pickled (herring) and otherwise aged or dried fish, lox; any fish that is not fresh
Sausage, bologna, pepperoni, salami, corned beef
Aged cheeses (cottage cheese and cream cheese are safe)
Liquid and powdered protein dietary supplements
Brewer’s yeast, yeast vitamin supplements, or yeast extracts
Fermented tofu, fermented bean curd, fermented soybean paste, soy sauce
Canned soups, or soups made with protein extracts or bouillon
Miso soup (contains fermented bean curd)
Fruits that are bruised or even slightly overripe, especially bananas and apples; raisins and other dried fruits, fig newtons, etc (banana peels also should be avoided — as though you’d eat them anyway)
Avocados, if ripe or overripe (slightly underripe avocados are fine in moderation). Guacamole should be avoided.
Red wine, especially Chianti; sherry, vermouth, champagne, brandy; beers and ales, including nonalcoholic; whiskey and liqueurs such as Drambuie and Chartreuse
Dairy products that are close to the expiration date or that have been unrefrigerated (fresh yogurt is safe)
Fava beans, especially if overripe
Peanuts – in large quantities
Raspberries – in large quantities
Spinach, New Zealand prickly or hot weather – in large quantities
Chocolate – in large quantities
Caffeine in large quantities (note: in a few rare individuals, there may be a severe interaction with even small amounts of caffeine)
How long do they need to be avoided? 24 hours before and after drinking Ayahuasca should be sufficient.
Is it really important to avoid those foods? The warnings about tyramine interaction sound very serious, because they are adapted from warnings about interactions with pharmaceutical MAOIs.
However, food interaction with Ayahuasca is frankly not as serious a matter as it is with pharmaceutical MAOIs. However, while there are no reports of fatalities from food interactions with Ayahuasca, food interactions could conceivably be life-threatening for a person with severe high blood pressure or serious heart disease. People with these conditions, therefore, should follow the MAOI safety diet very strictly when taking Ayahuasca. Please note: Peganum harmala (Syrian rue) is a stronger MAOI than Banisteriopsis (Ayahuasca vine) and has potentially more serious interactions. What can I eat? In terms of the MAOI safety diet, basically foods that are as fresh as possible and not overripe, preserved, or spoiled in any way.
Is it really dangerous to combine some pharmaceutical drugs with Ayahuasca?YES. Unlike food interactions, whose consequences are unlikely to be serious, interaction with pharmaceutical drugs and meds (including some over-the-counter drugs and certain herbs) can be potentially life-threatening.
Which drugs are dangerous with Ayahuasca? A list of meds to be careful of with MAOIs:
SSRI’s (any selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor)
amphetamines (meth-, dex-, amphetamine)
antihypertensives (high blood pressure medicine)
appetite suppressants (diet pills)
medicine for asthma, bronchitis, or other breathing problems
antihistamines, medicines for colds, sinus problems, hay fever, or allergies (Actifed DM, Benadryl, Benylin, Chlor-Trimeton, Compoz, etc.)
CNS (central nervous system) depressants
Some specific drugs that should not be combined with MAOIs:
Actifed, Amantadine hydrochloride (Symmetrel) , Amoxapine (Asendin) Benadryl, Benyl , Bupropion (Wellbutrin), Buspirone (BuSpar), Carbamazepine (Tegretol, Epitol), Chlor-Trimeton,Clomipramine (Anafranil), Cocaine,Cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril), Cyclizine (Marezine), Desipramine (Pertofrane), Dextromethorphan (DXM), Disopyramide (Norpace), Doxepin (Sinequan), Ephedrine, Flavoxate Hydrochloride (Urispas), Fluoxetine (Prozac), Imipramine (Tofranil), Isocarboxazid (Marplan), Levodopa (Dopar, Larodopa, Loratadine (Claritin), Maprotiline (Ludiomil), Meperidine (Demerol),Methylphenidate (Ritalin), Nortriptyline (Aventyl) , Oxybutynin chloride (Ditropan),Orphenadrine (Norflex), Parnate, Paroxetine (Paxil), Phenergen, Phenelzine (Nardil),Procainamide (Pronestyl), Protriptyline (Vivactil), Pseudoephedrine,Quinidine (Quinidex),Salbutemol,Salmeterol,Selegiline (Eldepryl), Sertraline (Zoloft), Tegretol, Temaril, Tranylcypromine (Parnate), Tricyclic antidepressants (Amitriptyline, Elavil), Trimipramine (Surmontil), Yohimbine
Also avoid the following herbs:
St. Johns Wort, Kava, Ephedra, Ginseng, Yohimbe, Sinicuichi
Using Tricyclic antidepressants within two weeks of taking MAOIs may cause serious side effects including sudden fever, extremely high blood pressure, convulsions, and death. Using Fluoxetine (Prozac) within five weeks of taking MAOIs may cause high fever, rigidity, high blood pressure, mental changes, confusion and hypomania.Using Meperidine (Demerol) with pharmaceutical MAOIs has resulted in deaths from a single dose. Using cocaine with MAOIs may cause a severe increase in blood pressure, increasing the chances for stroke and cerebral hemorrhage and making it possible to overdose on a relatively small amount of cocaine. (A fatality has been recorded involving combining Peganum harmala and cocaine.) Using Bupropion (Wellbutrin) within two weeks of taking MAOIs may cause serious side effects such as seizures. Using Buspirone (Buspar) with MAOIs may cause high blood pressure. Using Carbamazepine (Tegretol) with MAOIs may increase seizures. Using CNS depressants with MAOIs may increase the depressanteffects. Using Dextromethorphan with MAOIs may cause excitement, high blood pressure, and fever, or brief episodes of psychosis. Using Tryptophan with MAOIs may cause disorientation, confusion, amnesia, delirium agitation, hypomanic signs, shivering. Using alcohol with MAOIs may cause side effects like angina (chest pain) or headaches. The headache may mask or be mistaken for hypertensive crisis caused by MAOI interaction. Using Kava with MAOIs may result in hypotensive crisis (severe blood pressure drop). Using Temaril with MAOIs may increase chance of side effects. Special note to diabetics: MAOIs may change the amount of insulin or oral antidiabetic medication that you need.
How long do you have to stay off them before and after an Ayahuasca ceremony? Depends on the drug. May be 24 hours, may be six months. Two to six weeks is typical, but do not guess. Find out for sure from your doctor.