Ayahuasca (“aya” meaning “spirit” and “huasca” meaning “vine” or “rope”) is a medicinal plant mixture; one that is more illusive to the majority of people than other well-known psychedelic plants – such as cannabis and salvia – are. Consisting of plants grown in South America, the ‘spiritual tea’ that is ayahuasca is often used in Shamanic and religious ceremonies. Usage in this way pertains to the respectful understanding that many people have of ayahuasca as being more of a medicine than it is a drug.
For those that may not know it, ayahuasca is capable of inducing altered states of consciousness in the recipient, which can last up to eight hours after ingestion. Its ability to alter a person’s perception is mainly down to the secondary ingredient in the mixture, containing relatively high amounts of the psychedelic substance Dimenthyltryptamine (DMT).
DMT is a tryptamine substance that affects serotonin levels in the brain and is known for its fast acting effect, relatively short duration time, and intense power to alter the brain and mental states of those who consume it. DMT can only work when taken orally if it is combined with a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) plant like ayahuasca; MAO is the enzyme present in the body that renders the DMT ineffective. With the MAOI, users experience a longer period of altered perception and a heightened intensity of experience; many people find significant spiritual meaning in this.
Why detox through diet is sensible
It is advisable that for this naturally powerful plant mixture to be truly effective, a detoxification process should be adhered to first. A common and popular method for detoxification is to administer a vegan diet for around ten days prior to ingesting ayahuasca, or other potent plant drinks. Huachuma is a little less demanding, requiring only one to three days.
By its very nature veganism, taken from the perspective of health alone, is an elimination and detoxification diet. This is simply because eating as a vegan you avoid the following foods: all meat, fish and shellfish, dairy, eggs, honey and certain preservatives and additives. The Vegan Society’s definition of veganism is this: “A way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”
The detoxification benefits go on
Whilst the above definition of veganism looks at this way of living from an ethical perspective first and foremost, there are enormous health benefits to be had when eating a vegan diet, and in doing so the body will start to change in many ways.
Hormone levels will begin to balance out as an individual is no longer ingesting the mammalian hormones of another species, which have been shown to increase levels of estrogen whilst lowering levels of testosterone. Eating non-animal based meals has shown that inflammation levels in the body will decrease whilst an increase in eating plant-based sources of protein – such as legumes (beans, lentils, peanuts and peas) – has been shown to offer numerous health benefits and longevity.
The above examples – balancing hormone levels, lowering of inflammation and an increase in general health are not so much the result of a person’s digestion getting used to a vegan diet, but are a shift in a person’s “gut micro-biome”. This is the result of a move away from certain bacteria that tend to feed on meat and animal by-products, towards a more protective species of bacteria that are fueled by carbohydrates.
In addition, a person’s daily bowel movements will increase as a more fibrous diet is ingested (as well as a previously mentioned change in the bacteria of the bowel). Longer term positive associations with adhering to a vegan diet include: weight loss, lowering of cholesterol and blood-sugar levels, and a minimal chance of developing heart attacks or strokes in the future.
Elimination for better assimilation
The benefits of detoxing the body on a vegan diet may be becoming more widely documented in news articles and peer-reviewed journals online, but how does eating this way help the active components in Ayahuasca to work better?
By eliminating certain foods (such as pork, caffeine, dairy products and certain spices such as chili) from your diet, you are cleaning and preparing the body physically and energetically to allow the ayahuasca to heal at its fullest potency. This process can be thought of as creating a blank canvas within your body, so that once ingested, the plants have a heightened capacity to heal without competition from lower vibrational foods.
In addition, in an ayahuasca ceremony there is a “purgative cleansing” or vomiting from the physical body, which is considered a necessary and essential preparation for the emerging consciousness. Detoxing the physical body is an unavoidable, and in fact essential, part of the overall process and shouldn’t be overlooked.
As Howard G Charing of ayahuaca.com says, “purification and cleansing of body, mind, and spirit in a shamanic ceremony can be the beginning of a process of profound personal and spiritual discovery and transformation. Medicines like ayahuasca can help us along our path, but we still have to do the work ourselves.”
Yet in stark contrast to Charing, Jonathan Ott – a psychedelic researcher – wrote that he had personally tempted fate by ingesting cheese, beer, chocolate, caffeine, nuts, dried fruit, etc. after ayahuasca, with no ill effects whatever. Whether you take the risk is your decision!
What about pharmaceutical medicines?
Alongside cleansing from a dietary perspective, to keep the effects of ayahuasca in a safe space, pharmaceutical drugs are avoided, as are illegal drugs such as MDMA. Drugs like selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and even the natural remedy St Johns Wart are avoided on the grounds that their interactions with ayahuasca can be potentially life-threatening. As mentioned above, ayahuasca contains a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI), which in itself is an anti-depressant, and can have serious side-effects when taken in conjunction with antidepressant medications such as Prozac, Paxil, Wellbutrin, Effexor and Zoloft. These substances require a more lengthy period of avoidance than certain foods – a period of up to six weeks – and must be reduced gradually under the supervision of a medical specialist.
Ayahuasca is a powerfully natural plant medicine that, when prepared skillfully, can have untold positive effects on a person. In the spirit of respect it is our recommendation that ceremony participants adhere to dietary and medicinal restrictions before ingesting ayahuasca. The recipe page may be of interest to anyone who is wondering what kinds of meals can be prepared without the worry of contraindications. If you are considering attending a retreat then please see the retreats page to decide if this way of deep healing (and our complementary healing modalities) appeal to you.
Good luck on your journey and enjoy the experience of entering the unknown… you might just come out the other-side with a deeper knowledge of who you wish to be.