KEY POINTS

  • Ayahuasca was used for spiritual and religious purposes by ancient Amazonian tribes
  • The brew may lead to an altered level of consciousness due to psychoactive substances in the ingredients
  • It also has serious side effects, including diarrhea, paranoia and panic

Ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic brew, has a number of negative effects, but scientists have also uncovered some health benefits of taking it. But what exactly is ayahuasca?

Ayahuasca is a brew made by heating or boiling the leaves of the Psychotria viridis shrub with the stalks of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, although other plants can be added as well, according to Healthline

The brew was traditionally used for spiritual and religious purposes by ancient Amazonian tribes and is still considered a sacred beverage by some religious communities in Brazil and North America. In ayahuasca ceremonies, a shaman or curandero makes the brew and offers it to participants, who are asked to abstain from drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and having sex to purify their bodies before taking the concoction.

The plants used to make ayahuasca both have hallucinogenic properties. Psychedelic substance dimethyltryptamine (DMT) in Psychotria viridis combines with the MAO inhibitors in Banisteriopsis caapi to produce a powerful psychedelic brew that affects the central nervous system.

Its ability to bring a drinker to an altered state of consciousness is one of the reasons why it is highly sought after. 

Though there is insufficient evidence to scientifically prove the many effects of ayahuasca, thousands of people around the world still travel to countries like Peru, Brazil and Costa Rica to get a taste of the brew. Many have claimed that ayahuasca is able to cause out-of-body experiences and euphoria, while some report that hallucinations and paranoia are common effects of the drink.

One benefit ayahuasca is said to have is its antidepressant effect. According to a study on 29 people, researchers found that a single dose of ayahuasca led to significant improvements in the severity of depression in participants compared with a placebo.

Other studies support this claim, saying that the brew has the ability to improve symptoms of depression within 80 minutes of drinking it, with effects lasting up to three weeks.

Ayahuasca has also been found to have beneficial effects on anxiety, mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and drug dependence.

Due to its positive effects on mental health, ayahuasca has been associated with the ability to improve a person's overall well-being. Research suggested that the drink can improve the mindfulness capacity of the brain, thereby playing a huge role in one's psychological health.

Despite these reported benefits, however, experts warn of the serious and possibly even deadly side effects associated with ayahuasca. When taken by mouth, the drink can cause hallucinations, increased blood pressure, tremors, vomiting and dilated pupils, according to WebMD. Other side effects of the brew include diarrhea, panic, nausea and increased heart rate and blood pressure.

Some people report having miserable experiences with ayahuasca. It's also possible that one will not react favorably to the brew. Ayahuasca may interact dangerously with certain medications and worsen the psychiatric symptoms of people with a history of schizophrenia and other disorders.

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