In the Quechuan languages of Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, and Ecuador, the name Ayahuasca translates directly to “soul” or “spirit”. It comes from the word aya and “rope” or “tether” from word waska.
The active ingredient in Ayahuasca, DMT (or dimethyltryptamine). This is naturally produced in the pineal gland of the human brain. In addition, they believe it to have a release during the 49th day of fetal development, birth, near death experiences. It also happens during the ‘shutdown’ process the body undergoes at death. People using this drug will get an Ayahuasca high. What is it? How does it feel like?
Ingesting the ingredient orally will immediately break it down. This happens as the monoamine oxidase (MAO) which is produced by the salivary glands, instantly breaks down the molecule before it can be absorbed into the bloodstream. For this reason, they add the bark of Banisteriopsis caapi to the mixture. This enables the body to absorb the potent hallucinogen DMT.
What are the Physical Reaction to an Ayahuasca High?
The drug induces a trancelike state, not unlike psychosis, and users report:
- Vivid auditory and visual hallucinations
- Increased heart rate
- An altered state of body, time and space
- Severe discomfort of the stomach
- Lung irritation (where they smoke the drug)
Overdose on Ayahuasca and DMT have in rare cases resulted in a coma or even death.
What are the Psychological Effects of an Ayahuasca High?
They regard DMT, universally, in medical circles as well as by the psychedelic community, as the most potent hallucinogen. In fact, they say that it is similar in action but vastly stronger in effect than:
- Acid (LSD)
- Salvia divinorum
We’ll explore the broad range of psychological effects in more detail below. Interestingly, many users of the drug report experiences with very similar themes when having an Ayahuasca high.
Clinical Testing of DMT in a Lab Setting
In his book DMT: The Spirit Molecule (2000), Dr. Rick Strassman detailed a decade’s worth of research into the pharmacological and psychological workings of DMT. They injected the research subject with varying doses of the drug in a controlled setting. After, researchers analyzed their physiological and psychological reactions.
At peak blood plasma concentrations (which occurred at 2 minutes), users experienced:
- Disassociation with the body
- Open-eyed hallucinations of geometric shapes, often with Mayan, Islamic or Aztec themes
The users encountered these effects before profound close-eyed hallucinations ensued. Strassman categorized the ensuing close-eye hallucinations as follows:
These experiences from an Ayahuasca high centered on the users’ own physical and mental processes. It is not unlike the body-based feelings and mind-based thoughts which psychotherapists encounter in sessions with their patients. The fundamental processes of psychotherapy surfaced in these sessions. It included feeling, thinking, recollecting and connecting ideas with emotions.
Some research subjects said that they’d been able to confront difficult personal problems and reported a sense of closure. Researchers concluded that unconscious mental processes became conscious to some of the subjects. This included past traumas which until then were not addressed.
Users who ‘journeyed’ past the level of personal experiences during an Ayahuasca high, reported traveling to fantastical planes of existence. In addition, they felt realities which coexist with the physical world. In some cases, the users reported making contact with beings resembling angels, ‘guides’ or aliens.
Certain users have experiences of traveling aboard alien craft or exploring futuristic, alien cities. Terence McKenna, an edifice in the psychedelic community, commented on encountering “self-transforming machine elves.” Some other users have reported meeting races of “insect-like beings” or “human-alien hybrids.”
Transpersonal & Mystical Experiences
The most sought after ‘journeys’ in the psychedelic community are those with a distinctly spiritual theme. Many users experience what they describe as a physical death during their Ayahuasca high. This came with a transcendence to a place beyond the physical realm.
These users report all the classic hallmarks for near-death experiences. They included traveling down a tunnel of light, angelic music, and often the presence of deceased family and friends. Some experience a review of their lives. |As a result, it came with a rapid and organized recollection of their lives ending at the present moment.
They are then instructed to return to life as it is not yet their time to ‘cross over.’ They describe these experiences as sacred and quite divine, often with strongly religious overtones. In fact, religious test subjects often reported to have met with God or said they could feel God’s presence.
One user described her encounter as a sensory likeness with the process of dying. Otherwise, it was like traveling in an astral plane between life and death. This is as they described it in the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
They describe the mystical experience from an Ayahuasca high as a profound transformation. This is where the entities of the self, space and time, undergo a fundamental transfiguration. Time stops, the perception of space becomes broader. It does it by including non-physical dimensions, and ego-death occurs. The phenomenon of ego-death is not exclusive to the Ayahuasca experience of course. Users report that high doses of LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline produce a similar disintegration. Therefore, you see the self as a separate entity.
An Ayahuasca high is by no means a universally positive experience for all users. A number of users, including subjects from Strassman’s studies, have reported traumatic experiences. In fact, it was similar to those reported by alien abductees. This is where there were invasive experiments performed on them by “the others.”
Dr. Jonathan Nel, a psychotherapist, explained in an interview that “one of my patients explained the Ayahuasca experience as like having 10 years of therapy condensed into 10 hours. As a result, this can be very traumatic on the human psyche.”
The Ayahuasca Experience as a Tool for Psychotherapy
– Dr. Gabor Mate
Many users of the drug herald it as a godsend. However, the medical and psychotherapeutic community remains strongly divided on its therapeutic use. This is because it comes with little in the way of documented therapeutic interventions. A number of researchers claim that the drug is very useful in ending severe addictions. They include alcoholism and addiction to opiates, where 12 step programs have failed.
Shamanic use – The Ayahuasca High as a Journey into the Realm of Spirits
― Michael Sanders, Ayahuasca: An Executive’s Enlightenment
They class the mixture as an entheogen. It is literally translated from the Greek word entheos, meaning “generating the divine from within.” Since the early 2000’s, Ayahuasca retreats in the Andean countries of South America have sprouted up across the Amazon. As a result, it is attracting thrill-seekers and psychonauts from across the globe. They prepare and administer the drug to visitors by shamans (called ‘ayahuasqueros’) in a jungle setting.
The Ayahuasca experience in these ancient cultures involves various rituals. They often combine it with drumming and chanting.
Attendees to the Ayahuasca ceremony usually undergo a form of “purging”. This is by means of vomiting or diarrhea. As the drug peaks during the Ayahuasca high, they report communication with the spirit world. It is under a mediation from the guidance of the ayahuasquero.
Whether on a journey of enlightenment or simply as a thrill-seeker, the Ayahuasca high experience remains on the fringes of the psychedelic world. Not a party drug and certainly not for the faint-hearted.