9 Misconceptions about Ayahuasca –
Updated: May 10, 2019
With the growing popularity of ayahuasca, misinformation is prevalent and there are many common misconceptions regarding the ancient visionary plant. Here we have listed 9 of the most frequent misconceptions about ayahuasca.
1. Ayahuasca is a drug –
Many misinformed or uneducated members of the general public still hold the misconception that ayahuasca is a drug - so much so that many of our retreat participants have admitted they were unable to tell their families, friends, work or significant others that they were going to Costa Rica to drink ayahausca because ‘they just wouldn’t understand’. When I say ‘drug’ I am referring to what the word brings to mind. For many the word ‘drug’ is associated with addictive and harmful substances like cocaine and heroin. Ayahuasca is a natural psychoactive medicine that can increase quality of life. It can change your perceptive and help you move toward a healthier and happier future. Misconceptions like this one are holding back the progress of psychedelic therapy. The stigma surrounding the use of ayahuasca is still prevalent but ayahuasca is most certainly not a drug.
2. It’s all love and light
Ayahuasca is often described as beautiful and loving, like a ‘warm hug’. People are quick to share their visions of nature and recount communicating with gods or aliens but rarely do we address the dark and painful side of ayahuasca. Real growth comes from confronting and understanding the darkest aspects of ourselves. It is only in this way that we can appreciate and embrace the light. This is what ayahuasca shows us – the duality of life. Sometimes it can be physically and emotionally painful so if you are interested in ayahuasca you should be prepared for both.
3. Ayahuasca is Addictive
One questions people ask about ayahuasca is ‘can it be addictive’? If you ask that question to anyone who has ever drank ayahuasca, the answer will always be a resounding NO! While ayahuasca is a psychedelic that can be blissful and beautiful at times, it almost always has elements of darkness and pain as well. These dark periods can be quite uncomfortable but can lead to a cathartic release. Most often these are the experiences that push us toward change. In fact, ayahuasca is often a tool that is used to address other harmful addictions as it allows us to see our lives and behaviors from a new perspective and move toward a healthier lifestyle.
4. It can cure addictions
Speaking of addictions, with the growing popularity of ayahuasca, some centers are making outlandish claims about what ayahuasca can treat. Many say that ayahuasca can cure addiction but its not quite that simple. You might be saying to yourself ‘but didn’t you just say…’ yes, ayahuasca can be a valuable tool for addressing addictions, but it does not cure them! Making changes requires a lot of work, you have to be willing to put in a lot of effort. Being a former addict myself, I know that I was always looking for the easy way out and it seems that many other addicts also want to be magically cured without taking responsibility and action. For those that are ready and willing to put in the work required to move on from from addiction, ayahuasca can help kick-start the journey. The bottom line is, ayahuasca can offer an opportunity learn, grow and change, but it will not cure you.
5. Shaman must be indigenous
Unfortunately, there still seems to be a fairly common belief that to be a good/qualified shaman one must be indigenous to the Amazon. Experience is experience, regardless of where an individual comes from. Learning to be an ayahuasquero is about developing a relationship with plants and the spirit of ayahuasca. The best way to do this is to drink ayahuasca many many many times and complete plant dietas. An inexperienced indigenous man can dress the part and a claim to be a shaman without a second guess, and with the growing popularity of ayahuasca tourism to poor countries, they often do! Its hard to research ayahuasca without seeing the warnings of these false shamans and charlatans. On the other hand, a Western’s qualifications are always under scrutiny, whether they’ve been working with ayahuasca for 5 years or 30, there are always those that will questions their capability and experience. This means that most westerns have to work harder to be respected and taken seriously. The notion that anyone needs to be of a specific skin tone or origin to be capable of developing a skill in any area of study is outdated and detrimental to the progress of humanity as whole.
6. You always have visions
Ayahuasca is an ancient medicinal brew and although having visions is fairly common, it is not unusual for some participants not to see anything at all. Ayahuasca works on a deeply intuitive level and will give each participant exactly what they need. Sometimes the process is purely emotional, sometimes it’s just a subtle shift in thoughts, some participants don't feel anything at all. There are all types of experiences for all types of people. Visions do not equal a therapeutic experience. You can still have a deeply profound experience from ayahuasca without the psychedelic or visionary aspect.
7. It's like 10 years of therapy in a single session
Let’s be clear, ayahuasca can be like many years of therapy in a single night. A single session can leave a person feeling new, unburdened and with fresh perspective and direction. The problem is, these kinds of break through experiences rarely happen the first, second, or even third time you drink ayahuasca. It can happen, and we have seen it happen, but many times working with ayahuasca is a journey and it can take many ceremonies to reach those kinds of profound experiences. Every time you drink ayahuasca is an opportunity to learn. Some may never experience that pinnacle ‘ah-ha’ moment, but instead just take little lessons from every ceremony and apply them to their lives to make big change. Everyone is different. Expectation management is something we, as providers, struggle with on a regular basis. Try not to expect that you are going to come out of your first ceremony a completely different person than you were before. If it happens, amazing, wonderful, great! But if it doesn’t, don’t be discouraged. Growing through ayahuasca can take time, be patient and keep an open heart.
8. You always vomit and/or have diarrhea
Vomiting and/or having diarrhea are typical during ayahuasca ceremonies but not always guaranteed. There is, however, almost always some kind of purge with ayahuasca. The purging process is actually an extremely valuable aspect of the whole experience and is a way to cleanse the body physically and emotionally. The purge can come in a variety of forms such as: crying, yawning, sweating, laughing, moaning, shaking etc. Vomiting and diarrhea are just two of the most common ways that people experience the purge so it’s still a good to prepare yourself for the probability of them, but know that you many not always experience the purge int that form and it will also be different time you drink.
9. Ayahuasca can be deadly
On its own, when prepared properly and given to a healthy individual, ayahuasca can not kill you. The problem is when ayahuasca is combined with certain prescription medications or preexisting medical conditions that the results could be fatal. One of the biggest concerns in regard to ayahuasca safety is ‘serotonin syndrome’ which can occur when antidepressants (SSRI, SSNI’s and MAOI’s) are combined with ayahuasca. Serotonin syndrome can be extremely uncomfortable and best and fatal at worst so it is paramount that you are honest with your ayahuasca retreat facilitators about any and all medications you may be taking. Another factor that can make ayahuasca deadly is when other plants are added to the brew making it extremely important that you know what is in the medicine you are going to consume and where it came from.