he most common ayahuasca effects are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, altered state of consciousness, physical, psychological and emotional discomfort, death, psychiatric disorders, reduction of voluntary movements and others that I will explain later.
Ayahuasca is considered one of the most powerful hallucinogens in the world. People who have ingested it, claim to feel spiritual revelations and a greater awareness of themselves and the universe they describe as a before and after in their life.
Effects of Ayahuasca
However, it is still a substance that produces negative consequences for the organism such as nausea and vomiting. In addition to the possible dangerous effects, they are still under study, which may have this drug in the nervous system and which seem to alter it functionally and structurally.
What is ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca is the Quechua name for a tea that has been consumed for thousands of years in South America, forming part of a sacramental ritual.
It is composed of a combination of plants found in the Amazon, namely Banisteriopsis caapi and leaves of the shrub Psychotria viridis.
How does it work?
Its active principle is a natural substance called DMT or N-dimethyltryptamine , which is the one that causes hallucinogenic effects and is found in Psychotria viridis.
Normally this substance is destroyed in the digestive system thanks to the enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO), which omits its effects. This is why the second plant (Banisteriopsis caapi) is added, which inhibits this enzyme and consists of β-carboline alkaloids .
In this way, DMT can reach the brain functioning as an agonist for 5-HT 2A serotonin receptors .
Effects of ayahuasca
1- Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
When consumed ayahuasca, the effects can last up to 10 hours. Shortly after consumption, the symptoms presented are nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. However, in others, vomiting can occur during hallucinations and abdominal discomfort may persist for hours.
People who give a spiritual sense to ayahuasca, state that the stage of vomiting and diarrhea are related to a release of energy and negative emotions accumulated in the person. They think it’s like “a soul cleaning.”
2- Altered state of consciousness
Subsequent to the first phase, an altered state of consciousness appears characterized by hallucinations, strong introspection, intense positive emotions, elevated acceptance of oneself and the universe, feelings of appreciation, and evocation of personal memories coupled with a great emotional activation.
Thus the symptoms are described in an example described by Kirby Surprise of a person who tried ayahuasca:
“Telepathically they told me that I had spent most of my life fleeing from my own pain, manipulation, defense, sleeping, anything but experiencing the natural pain of being a human being. The gratitude I felt was indescribable, it filled my whole being … and I was infinitely grateful … I found myself crying, feeling all these emotions at once, as if I had been emotionally dead for years, and now suddenly I was able to feel new”.
3- Physical, psychological and emotional discomfort
In spite of all the positive consequences indicated, their consumption can also cause significant psychological and emotional distress of a temporary nature. For example, denationalization, anxiety , fear and paranoia can occur .
Other symptoms that may be negative include intense sweating, tremors, increased blood pressure and increased heart rate. These effects are associated with DMT intoxication , as well as causing hypertension, dilated pupils, agitation, lack of muscle coordination and dizziness.
However, ayahuasca or DMT have not been shown to provoke addiction by themselves. In addition, there are several investigations that have not found long-term negative effects in people who eat ayahuasca frequently.
Yes, there have been cases of death due to consumption. It seems that there are individuals who have a physical state that may be incompatible with the drug, such as those who already have heart problems. This is dangerous because ayahuasca increases heart rate and blood pressure.
You can also put your life at risk if you take other medications (such as antidepressants ) because they can interact with the drug by increasing and making its effects dangerous.
5- Psychiatric disorders
It triggers psychiatric disorders if the person is prone to them. There is a consensus in recognizing that each person is different, and therefore each substance is going to affect him in a certain way.
If the individual is predisposed to present a psychiatric disorder by family history, for example, the consumption of ayahuasca (as with other drugs) can trigger the onset of the disorder . So people with psychiatric problems or more likely to have them should not consume such substances.
6- Reduction of voluntary movements
Ayahuasca increases the levels of dopamine and serotonin in certain brain regions. This causes the centers of pleasure to activate as other regions diminish their activity.
For example, one of the consequences is that the release of acetylcholine (ACH) goes down. This results in difficulties in voluntary mobility of the muscles, causing the muscles to relax.
7- Produces structural changes in the brain
In a study by Bouso (2015) it is suggested that, despite the increasing knowledge in the field of neural mechanisms of the effects of these drugs, the impact of their long-term consumption remains unclear. Serotonin (5HT) receptor agonist substances appear to alter transcription factors related to synaptic plasticity .
That is, drugs like ayahuasca can produce structural changes in the brain. Specifically in the study we mentioned, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) images of the brains of 22 habitual ayahuasca consumers and 22 non-consumers were obtained.
The objective was to measure the thickness of the cerebral cortex in both groups and to buy them. It was found that subjects taking ayahuasca had the posterior cingulate cortex significantly thinner than controls, a structure associated with attention, emotions and memories.
It was also related to the intensity and the time of consumption, the scores in religiosity and spirituality; so that a more intense and prolonged consumption in the time of a subject with high levels of spirituality was related to smaller thickness of this cerebral area.
8- Various neuropsychological consequences
An important effect of this drug is that it increases blood flow in prefrontal brain regions just after consumption.
However, in the study by Bouso et al. (2013) indicates that, despite these effects, cognitive deficits have not been found in long-term ayahuasca consumers.
These authors studied the consequences of ingesting this drug on neuropsychological performance, mainly in executive functions (those responsible for mental control, planning, inhibition and decision making) and working memory (that allows us to perform a task to the end successfully to remember all its elements).
A total of 11 habitual ayahuasca and 13 occasional consumers were evaluated with different neuropsychological tests before eating and after eating.
The results indicated that working memory worsened, while reaction times to stimuli were shorter (reacted faster), and this was maintained even after taking ayahuasca.
In another test, oddly enough problems were encountered in resolving conflicts in more casual users, while those who consumed it for longer in the course of their lives performed better.
The authors comment that there are probably compensatory or neuromodulatory effects associated with ayahuasca intake in the long term, ie, the brain changes through prolonged consumption of the drug.
9- Open your mind
Ayahuasca modulates emotional processing by acting in 3 different areas of the brain:
– The neocortex : the area responsible for sensory perception, motor functions, language and conscious thinking. It allows us to reason and carry out decision-making processes . With drug use, this area becomes overactive.
– The amygdala : this structure participates in memories and in emotional regulation, connecting with sensory structures. It also associates ancient learning with the new experiences that are arriving, so it is not surprising that its functioning is altered when ayahuasca is ingested.
– The insula : it is responsible for connecting the emotional impulses with the decision making.
It seems that ayahuasca in these structures, opens new perspectives beyond previous learning, disconnecting previous emotional memories and receiving new ones. This can cause new connections to be established and different ideas and experiences can be reached than we normally can have.
In short, it seems that the information that comes to our mind is experienced without filters or critical thinking, making the consumer more open to suggestion.
Charles Grob in 1993 carried out the first study of the effects of ayahuasca on humans through the Hoasca Project.
They compared indigenous adolescents who consumed ayahuasca sacramentally twice a month, with urban adolescents who did not take it.
The study found that the first group rated up to 7 times less than the other group in substance abuse disorders, anxiety, depression, body image disorders, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder .
However, this may be due to other differences and not a direct cause of the use of ayahuasca.
In another study (Pic-Taylor, 2015), this time with rats, it was observed that ayahuasca may have antidepressant effects. Neural activation and level of toxicity in the dorsal raphe, amygdala and hippocampal nuclei were investigated .
The effects that were found were: increased neuronal activity in serotonergic brain areas, decreased locomotion of female rats in both the open field and labyrinths, and more activation in a forced swimming test. That is, the rats that had received ayahuasca swim much faster (we emphasize that the water is very aversive for the rats).
A study by Dominguez Clavé et al., Conducted in 2016, indicates that there is ample evidence that ayahuasca may be useful for treating addiction, depression and anxiety, as well as disorders related to impulse control and traumas.
They argue that it seems to improve the self-acceptance of self, exposing the subject safely to their own emotions. However, they add that more research is needed in this area because the results are not entirely definitive.
Many other authors defend the therapeutic role of ayahuasca in the resolution of traumas, since they indicate that the drug incites the assimilation of experiences and acceptance of all kinds of memories.
It seems that a complex mechanism brings to memory the traumatic memories while the individual is under a pleasant and calm subjective state, so that they can be overcome.
It is important to note as a conclusion that the effects of this substance are still unknown, and further research is still needed.
It seems that ayahuasca arouses much curiosity in people with desire to experience new sensations, increasing tourism in places where their consumption is more widespread and legalized.
In the case of Spain, the importation / acquisition of the material with which ayahuasca is made is legal. The dilemma lies in DMT, one of the substances of ayahuasca that is totally prohibited to commercialize it.
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In other countries that are governed by the agreements of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), their consumption is legal.
There is also a whole network of organizations that profit from the consumers of this substance, giving a religious and spiritual sense.
For this reason it may be normal to find documents that exalt the qualities of ayahuasca while others highlight their harmful effects.
In short, more studies are needed; being interesting to continue evaluating its possible therapeutic effects.