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Last updated : February 22, 2018
Ayahuasca (pronounced ‘eye-ah-WAH-ska’) is a plant-based hallucinogenic tea.1 Hallucinogens (also known as psychedelics) can make a person see, hear, smell, feel or taste things that aren’t really there or cause the person to experience things differently from how they are in reality.
The most common ingredients in ayahuasca are Banisteriopsis caapi (also known as caapi) and Psychotria viridis. Caapi contains beta-carboline alkaloids with monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitor action, mainly harmine, harmaline and tetrahydroharmine, whereas Psychotria viridis contains dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a serotonergic receptor agonist. DMT is not active orally because it is destroyed by the action of the MAO enzymes in the gastrointestinal tract, but in the presence of a MAO inhibitor, DMT can enter the circulatory system and penetrate the blood–brain barrier, thereby producing its effects.2
Ayahuasca has been used for a number of centuries by traditional healers as a medicine and in religious ceremonies. Interest in the therapeutic benefits of ayahuasca has been increasing in western countries,4 in particular with regard to alcohol and drug dependence.5
Ayahuasca is a brown-reddish drink with a strong taste and smell.5
Huasca, yagé, brew, daime, the tea, la purga4,7,9
The tea is brewed for several hours by infusing the pounded stems of Banisteriopsis caapi in combination with Psychotria viridis or other plants.3,4 The tea is drunk and has an extremely bitter taste.8
There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk. It’s important to be careful when taking any type of drug.
The effects begin in approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour, with maximum intensity from 1 to 2 hours. The effects last from 4 to 6 hours.7
Ayahuasca affects everyone differently, based on:
You might experience:
A small number of deaths have occurred immediately following the use of ayahuasca, though ayahuasca being the direct cause of death is extremely rare.9
If you experience any of these symptoms, call an ambulance straightaway by dialing triple zero (000). Ambulance officers don’t need to involve the police.
An overdose can result in:
Research into the long-term use of ayahuasca is continuing. Early research indicates that long-term use of ayahuasca is not associated with loss of cognitive functioning.12
Research has found that repeated use of ayahuasca does not lead to tolerance and that it has limited dependence potential.13
It is difficult to predict the effects of ayahuasca (even if it has been taken before) as its strength varies from batch to batch.
People with mental health conditions or a family history of these conditions should avoid using ayahuasca. The drug can intensify the symptoms of anxiety and paranoia.
Use of ayahuasca is likely to be more dangerous when taken in combination with alcohol or other drugs, particularly stimulants such as crystal methamphetamine (‘ice’) or ecstasy. It can also dangerous if taken with certain pharmaceutical drugs.