Ayahuasca is an entheogenic, or psychedelic, plant medicine that has been described as the ultimate feminine, yin energy; dark, mysterious, spooky and introspective.

Within holistic communities the spirit of ayahuasca is commonly referred to as the “Grandmother”, to denote reverence and respect.

Ayahuasca is an extract from the Amazonian vine Banisteriopsiscaapi. Some groups also add the Psychotriaviridis plant.

The word “ayahuasca” is a Quechua word: aya, which means “corpse, dead, dead human body” and waskha, which means “rope, cord, braided or twisted wire.” The word has commonly been translated into English as “the vine of the dead” or “the rope of the dead.” 

The origins of the use of ayahuasca are unknown. Unlike other plant medicines or entheogens, such as psilocybin mushrooms, datura, peyote, psychoactive rapés or ololiuqui seeds, there are no archaeological remains that demonstrate the existence its ancient historical use. The first scientific report of the use of ayahuasca was in 1851, in which Richard Spruce documented using it in Brazil

Ayahuasca is usually administered in varying quantities, the concentrations vary widely. Different recipes exist for its preparation. Ingredients vary according to the region in which it is prepared, the curandero (Hispanic healer who makes use of plant medicine and rituals) that cooks it and the effects that are desired. In many instances, other plants are added to the brew.  

The following are some of the plants that may be added to ayahuasca and their main alkaloids:

Nicotiana rustica: the tobacco plant, with purgative and psychoactive effects. Contains nicotine. Tobacco is explicitly dangerous. Nicotine is one of the most dangerous chemicals on the planet. Some people are proclaimed experts on administering tobacco, but this is impossible to verify. 

Brugmansiasuaveolens: known as toé or floripondioContains tropane alkaloids, such as scopolamine and hyoscyamine, that have hallucinogenic effects with dangerous toxicity. Toe is intense and dangerous if not administered safely by an expert.

Brunfelsiagrandiflora: known as chiricsanango. Used as a medicinal plant in the Peruvian vegetalista tradition and as a plant used for “dietas.” 

Some providers are offering coadministration of ayahuasca and Bufo alvarius. Ayahuasca is usually ingested a few hours before or after smoking this toad poison, which containsbufotenin and 5-MeO-DMT. This combination carries certain risks that must be considered to avoid adverse reactions and it is recommended to wait 24 hours between the use of each substance.  

Key points:

  • The difference between a medicine and a poison is largely related to the dose.

  • A good curandero won’t be insulted by you asking what is in their brew. If they are insulted, it isprobably a red flag that there is something in there that you wouldn’t want in your body.

  • You have a right to know what you’re putting in your body.




Ayahuasca is a powerful visionary substance due to its alkaloids – dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and beta-carbolines. The visions are, for most people, light on a dark background.

Some of the effects of ayahuasca are:

  • Visions with both eyes open and closed

  • Kaleidoscopic imagery

  • An immersive and expansive experience

  • Altered perception of time

  • Altered sensory perception

  • Spiritual and transcendent experiences

  • Contact with spirits and entities

  • Spiritual awakening

  • Introspection

  • Recollecting and reliving (often forgotten or repressed) autobiographical and childhood memories

  • Mood elevation

  • Anxiety and fear

  • Synaestesia (blending of the senses e.g., seeing sound, tasting colour)

  • Interoception (sensing internal signals from your body)

  • Increase in associative thinking

  • New insights and understandings about self

  • Feelings of great love for self, others, spiritual entities, Gods and Goddesses, the Earth, the universe

  • Different experiences of consciousness, including “oneness” with the universe

  • Cognitive changes

  • Dizziness

  • Diarrhoea and vomiting

  • Physical unease

  • Seizures (rarely)

Some of the physical risks of ayahuasca are related to its interaction with certain foods containing high amounts of tyramine and its combination with certain medications or drugs, which can involve significant risks.

The combination of MAOIs with SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), other antidepressants, or tryptophan beforehand could produce a serotonergic crisis called serotonin syndrome. For the same reason, combining of ayahuasca with ginseng, hypericum or with drugs and medications such as dextromethorphan, amphetamines and MDMA can be potentially dangerous and should be avoided. 

For comprehensive advice on psychedelics, medicines and pharmacology please visit this website: 

The occurrence of a difficult psychological reaction is the main risk associated with the use of ayahuasca.

The psychedelic effects of ayahuasca can be very intense, therefore it is not uncommon for reactions of fear and unrest to occur.

Reactions can include panic attacks, fear of dying or going crazy, terrifying encounters with entities/spirits and in some cases symptoms of psychosis. These situations are usually transient and resolve themselves during the experience.

People with a family history of psychotic episodes however, or with diagnosed mental disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression with psychotic symptoms are at higher risk of suffering such adverse reactions and it is recommended that they do not take ayahuasca.  

In order to minimise risk, it is important to choose an appropriate place and setting, as well as feeling confident and safe with the person that will lead the ceremony.

Ayahuasca is usually administered within ritualized contexts. The person facilitating the session can have a powerful influence on how the experience unfolds, the dynamics generated by the group, safety, as well as the maintenance of ethical and responsible boundaries with participants.

The reports of malpractice by facilitators of ceremonies are unfortunately growing, due to lack of knowledge, experience and training, as well as a lack of ethical and respectful interactions with participants. This is of particular concern in places like Peru, where the culture is very different. It is not a good idea to go into the jungles of Peru alone, especially for women, try to travel with others. 

To maintain safety; ask questions about the group, the format of the ceremonies, the number of participants and assistants, as well as asking about the training, experience and references of the person who will guide the ceremony. Due diligence is really important; find people who have been there and even if you think you have found the perfect place, be on your guard whilst there.   

Power dynamics are often at play with the curanderos. Try not to put them on a pedestal, they are just human beings like the rest of us, with all of the normal foibles, weaknesses and strengths. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and trust your intuition.  




Physical preparation is very important.   

Clean up your diet: remove spicy foods, deep fried food, garlic, onions, salt, sugar, pork, beef, caffeine, cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, other substances and drugs, medicines. Get your body as pure and clean as possible, so that it is just ayahuasca you are ingesting. Bland foods are good, strong flavour denotes chemical information.  

Avoid sex and media: so you are not carrying the energy of another person into the ceremony with you. Try to take a media detox before working with ayahuasca; no music, tv or movies, create your own ideas, but take a break from inputting someone else’s ideas.  

Try to take some time away from these things, at least a couple of weeks. Then you are meeting ayahuasca with a clean mind, body and soul.  




It is believed by many that ayahuasca has the potential to heal both physical and mental ailments. The body is a manifestation of the soul, spirit and heart. Disease that is created from trauma or toxins in the body can potentially be released. When a person is experiencing physical pain or illness, it is a call for them to heal.  

The secrets and the wisdom of ayahuasca are still largely a great mystery. The indigenous people have been studying this medicine for thousands of years and they still have no real idea of what its limitations are. Ayahuasca is believed to be one of the most profound teachers in existence. Try to meet her with an open mind, an open heart and hold your intentions loosely. 



For more information on good practice relating to the safe administration of ayahuasca, please read the ICEERs “Ayahuasca-Good Practice Guide”: 



I would like to reference the wonderful Dr Richard Grossman for some of the information in this blog, you can access Dr Grossman’s work via heartfeather.com.

Additional material about ayahuasca was obtained via the ICEERS website. 


PLEASE NOTE: This blog is intended for information only and does not substitute medical advice. I do not advocate the illegal use of substances.



Written by Jo Dice 

Integrative and Psychedelic Integration Psychotherapist

As a psychotherapist, psychedelic integration practitioner, spiritual explorer and registered nurse of twenty years; I offer wisdom from the worlds of knowledge, science, body, soul and spirit for a comprehensive and holistic therapy journey.

If you would like to work with me for Integrative Psychotherapy or Psychedelic Integration Psychotherapy, please drop me a line and we can arrange a free introductory session.