The dangers of practicing plant medicine with poor supervision

Ayahuasca, iowaska, or yagé, is an entheogenic brew made out of Banisteriopsis caapi vine and other ingredients. The brew is used as a traditional spiritual medicine in ceremonies among the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin.

From a science perspective, Ayahuasca shuts down one of the processes in the intestinal tract (it’s an MAOI) so that the DMT in the brew is actually absorbed. affects the human consciousness for less than six hours, beginning half an hour after consumption and peaking after two hours. MAOIs are used in modern psychiatry, and come with a lot of dietary restrictions.

I and a number of my colleagues have seen a surge in the number of clients seeking assistance post-Ayahuasca ceremony. Some people even come to us shattered; they present as stuck in trauma trance, and their energy looks like broken mirror shards. Most, but not all, have done ceremony in Southern California. Sometimes they’ve gone overseas.

My assessment of the situation is that the people guiding ceremony are not well trained enough to help their clients find a place of resolution and closure before releasing them back into the world. Ayahuasca is a potent mix of plants that takes the participant into their innermost psyche, and brings up trauma and disordered thoughts. The idea behind this ceremony is to help people process their past challenges more rapidly and deeply, creating a sort of Shamanic Death; it is truly Soul work and requires the assistance of a highly skilled shaman, or a depth psychologist.

A word for the people deciding to go to South America for ceremony, because it’s even more problematic. Drug tourism, and that is what this is, is not sacred. It damages the indigenous culture, it’s doing a number on the environment, and it dishonors the plants. There are many people who are trying to cash in on Ayahuasca’s popularity, and not only may they not be properly trained, but there are reports of robbery, rape, and murder stemming from drug tourism.

If a significant portion of people running ceremony in South America aren’t qualified, what does that mean for facilitators in the United States? And how do you even vett them?

In addition to local facilitators not having the psychological skills to help participants process, if they haven’t been properly trained, the plants themselves may turn on them (and, by extension, you). Preparation, from harvest to presentation, is a sacred process. The plant is going to be your inner guide for this journey, its energy is important. In order to form an alliance, the shaman will have to have trained in plant medicine for years with their mentor.

You can have a similar journey of self discovery through Breathwork or Shamanic Journeying. It’s not going to get you as high, and it’s not as easy as drinking some tea, but you’re also not going to purge from both ends, and the dangers are markedly fewer. Your pineal gland produces DMT all on its own – you can learn how to access that without the assistance of a drug.

If you are still looking to do an Ayahuasca ceremony, these should be some of the questions you ask when choosing a facilitator:

  • How long did the shaman study with a mentor, and what is the mentor’s background?
  • Do they have a degree in Depth Psychology, or do they have someone on staff who does? Where did they get their degree?
  • How long have been actively facilitating ceremony?
  • How much preparation will they take you through prior to ceremony? A three day workshop, with the ceremony on the thurd day, followed by additional processing is best.
  • Do they suggest you fast or at least modify your diet prior to ceremony? In the traditional cultures for whom this is sacred, they abstain from spicy and heavily seasoned foods, excess fat, salt, caffeine, acidic foods (such as citrus) and sex before, after, or during a ceremony.
  • What components do they use in making the brew? Does it include Ayahuma bark, which is helpful in avoiding shattering?
  • Do they ask you your medical history and what medications you’re taking? If they don’t, they do not care about your well being.
  • If you have participated in an Ayahuasca Ceremony, and you don’t feel okay, please seek healing from a Shaman who can do soul retrieval, regression therapy, and counseling. Let’s get you put back together.

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