You’ve probably heard the story: a friend goes travelling to South America and visits the
Amazon rainforest. While there, they try ayahuasca, a psychoactive drug and centrepiece of
traditional Amazonian ceremonies. The experience they have while on the drug helps to
change their perspective on life and they return a kinder, more spiritual being.
However, although you might hear about nauseousness and vomiting shortly after ingesting
ayahuasca, the real dangers of taking the drug are rarely reported. These range from
extreme visions and seizures, to allergic reactions and even death.
What is ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca (also known as yage) is a psychoactive brew found among the indiginous people
of the Amazon rainforest. Made from a blend of two plants – the Banisteriopsis caapi vine
and the Psychotria viridis shrub – it is typically prepared in a tea, which causes an altered
state of consciousness, hallucinations, and warped perceptions of reality when consumed.
In recent years, ayahuasca has become increasingly popular among Western backpackers,
who view the experience of taking the drug as a “rite of passage”. However, because
ayahuasca contains the hallucinogenic drug dimethyltryptamine (DMT), it is illegal in both
the UK and the US.
Ayahuasca as a so-called medicine
In South America, ayahuasca forms an essential part of some tribal societies and, in Peru, it
is widely recognised as one of the basic pillars of the identity of the Amazon peoples.
One of the reasons for this is its perceived medicinal benefits: Peru's government claimed
that consumption of the & "teacher" or & "wisdom" plant "constitutes the gateway to the spiritual
world and its secrets.
This notion has caught on among many Westerners, who seek a way of opening their minds,
healing their past traumas, and transforming themselves into better people. The presence of
a shaman – a spiritual leader who oversees the ceremony – is believed to aid the healing
Among the people who claim to have benefitted from taking ayahuasca is British comedian
Simon Amstel, who says that a series of experiences on the drug helped to change him for
the better, as well as “learning how to feel”.
However, scientific evidence of ayahuasca’s clinical benefits is limited.
What are the dangers of ayahuasca?
Despite the occasional anecdote of a “life-changing experience”, taking ayahuasca as a form
of self-medication (or indeed any other purpose) carries a number of serious, and potentially
deadly, side effects. Each person reacts differently to the drug and, as such, it is impossible
to predict the outcome of an ayahuasca trip, both on physical and mental health.
Most of the dangers are linked to DMT, a powerful hallucinogenic that can produce a very
intense trip in the individual. As well as triggering mental health problems in those who are
predisposed to them, it can interact dangerously with medications, including
antidepressants, cough medicines, weight loss medications, and more.
Healthline states that those with a history of psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia
and psychosis, should avoid ayahuasca completely. This is because taking it can potentially
worsen psychiatric symptoms and result in mania. It can raise heart rate and blood pressure,
which can result in life-threatening side effects for those with pre-existing heart conditions.
Although rare, deaths as a result of ayahuasca consumption have been reported, including
from cardiac arrest.
Treatment for psychological disorders of any kind should only be offered by medical
professionals. While it may seem tempting to self-medicate with the help of ayahuasca, the
side effects are unpredictable and could lead to a worsening of symptoms.
At Phillipe Jacquet & Associates, we offer a range of psychological treatments grounded in
safe, professional practices, from art therapy to Jungian shadow work.
Our approach not only offers long-term benefits, but also caters to the specific needs of each
individual. Located on the world-famous Harley Street in Mayfair, London, we are backed up
by years of experience that we can apply to help clients work through problems effectively.