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What To Expect On An Ayahuasca Retreat

4 min
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Ayahuasca is a brew of great spiritual importance to the cultures that discovered it. It produces powerful psychoactive effects, taking people on a journey of intense introspection and connection with the world. If the few authentic Amazonian tribes who use it accept you for an ayahuasca retreat, here's what you can expect.

Word is spreading about one of the most controversial substances in the world. Tied in so closely with long-standing traditions of Amazonian tribes, ayahuasca is a powerful brew to ingest. It is not to be taken lightly. It is, in fact, revered by certain indigenous peoples of the Andes, who use it as a sacrament in special ceremonies. It is increasingly common for outsiders, even tourists, to be invited to participate in this ceremony. This involves taking the concoction known as ayahuasca and riding its trip for several hours. This has reportedly left a dramatic impact on the lives of participants, and there is still much mystery surrounding this substance. As best we can, here is our guide to understanding ayahuasca, and what would happen if you attended an ayahuasca retreat.


What Is Ayahuasca

DMT is known as a powerful entheogen that triggers intense hallucinations. Usually, it is broken down quickly by the digestive system so the highs do not last long. Pairing DMT with an MAOI, however, will allow the experience to last for several hours. This is because the MAOI will temporarily alter the digestive system to allow the psychoactive compounds to sustain their full impact. Living in the rainforests of the Andes, there are tribes who source a naturally-occuring MAOI in the Banisteriopsis caapi vine. They also found Psychotria viridis, which contains DMT. When caapi and P. viridis are combined, they form the base components of the legendary "ayawaska".

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Of course, these tribes did not conduct academic study on these plants to discover the potential of the ayahuasca brew. They discovered the impact of this combination long before any historical record penned by a Westerner. It's hard to imagine the mindset of people discovering a plant's psychedelic properties. What Peruvian tribes like the Urarina realised, is that this mixture acted as a gateway. It would open up the mind to receive sensations beyond human comprehension or explanation. Science is now trying to piece together the chemical process that happens within the brain. Today, tribes continue to hold solemn ceremonies surrounding its ingestion.

In tribal life, the ayahuasca ceremony is an important form of treatment, but also a rite of passage in self-development. The trip from ayahuasca heightens sensitivity to everything in the outside world and in the subconscious mind. Over the course of many hours, the body experiences wild shifts in temperature, mild shaking, and the integral aspect of the cleanse: vomiting and diarrhea. This indicates that ayahuasca is detoxifying the body. This is practically important for cleansing oneself of parasites in the rainforest; spiritually, it is a transformative experience sometimes compared to rebirth. The mental impact ayahuasca can have is not to be underestimated.


The Experience Of Ayahuasca

This ceremony developed as a rite of passage comparable to the “vision quest” of other First Nations cultures. Participants taking ayahuasca experience audio-visual hallucinations, time distortion, and even "ego death". This is when a psychoactive experience is so powerful, there is a sense of forgetting one's identity and focussing purely on sensory and/or neurological input. Essentially, the sounds and colours of everything around you could become much more visceral. Or, you could imagine yourself in any real or imaginary place and believe yourself to be there.

Riding the ayahuasca trip with trust in its benefits is crucial, as it is supposed to be a strengthening exercise in self-reflexivity. Taking ayahuasca has been compared to disassembling one's mind, seeing what lies beneath it all, and putting it back together.


Why Would You Go On An Ayahuasca Retreat

With the right preparation and surroundings, ayahuasca can detoxify the mind, as well as the body. There can be rapid emotional processing of latent insecurities. There can be healing of painful traumas. There can be a stark revelation of self-defeating habits and behaviour. There can be a sensation of blending with the universe. There can also be alienation from reality, where the universe is seemingly split into artificial components. Going through this process could trigger profound emotional changes that gear you towards living your best life. These changes could be drastic, but if you feel it's time for a change or there's unresolved issues to deal with, then this ceremony could be a leap of faith worth taking.


Where To Take This Trip

If you are spiritually-inclined, this is said to be a profound spiritual awakening. If you are more scientifically-minded, it could be worth ten years of therapy. It is important, however, to give serious consideration to where you will go through with this ceremony. Ayahuasca retreats have sprung up, offering tourists access to the ceremony.

The real ones are guided by experienced shaman, in ceremonies where all observers wear white and maintain a dignified silence. The silence may be broken by traditional chants, which are believed to reinforce positive thinking in the participants’ minds. This is to avoid a bad trip from a negative thought spiral or fearful panic brought on by depression, anxiety, or other issues.

Video: Ayahuasca Myths Debunked!

During the ceremony itself, you need observers to not interfere with you or touch you in anyway. Only experienced shaman may touch you in an emergency, but otherwise, you are not allowed to leave the ceremony until the trip has subsided. Hucksters have posed as fake shaman, recreating the ceremony for nefarious purposes. Ceremonies are offered outside the Andes, even across Europe—and some of these are suspect. Your safest bet is to research the options thoroughly and not just go for the most convenient or cheapest option.



You could attend an authentic ayahuasca retreat with a genuine Andean tribe. Aside from supporting indigenous peoples’ communities, you will be experiencing their culture first-hand. It is an important tradition for them, which they have had to fight to maintain. Most jurisdictions heavily criminalise DMT. In some jurisdictions, however, they recognise that ayahuasca has a specific cultural and spiritual relevance that must be maintained.

That is why the potential secularising and reappropriation of ayahuasca is some cause for concern. Yes, there could potentially be incredible psychological applications for some form of ayahuasca therapy; at the same time, it is part of a long-standing and long-oppressed culture that has developed specific rituals around it. Since they discovered it, show them respect. Do not treat this as some wild party high. This is a potentially mind-altering, life-changing experience, best taken in a way that honours the people who pioneered it.

A place to start might be with Michael Stevens, the presenter of Vsauce, a hugely popular science channel on YouTube. His YouTube Red series Mind Field features an episode where he takes part in an ayahuasca retreat. Hear him talk about his experience.

Video: Vsauce Recalls Taking Ayahuasca


Written by: Zamnesia
Zamnesia has spent years honing its products, ranges, and knowledge of all things psychedelic. Driven by the spirit of Zammi, Zamnesia strives to bring you accurate, factual, and informative content.

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