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Is Ayahuasca Worth It?

Is ayahuasca worth it?
Written by Sarah Friedman

Ayahuasca can produce intense mind-altering trips that help with mental health; but is it worth it when there are other options?

With different hallucinogens gaining popularity, is it still worth it to do ayahuasca?

What do we use psychedelics for?

In reality, I’m not actually asking if its worth it to do ayahuasca; what I’m really asking, is if its worth it to do ayahuasca, if other options are available. In this publication, we support the safe use of drugs, particularly cannabis and hallucinogens. While we don’t support every drug out there, we do promote that people use safely, whatever it is they choose to use. We don’t want people to have a bad time, or endanger themselves.

A reality of today, is that we don’t use hallucinogens (like psychedelics), in the ways they were used before. As these are drugs for mind-enhancement, they have been used in this way for as long as humans have used them. But today, we throw in a therapeutic aspect, which doesn’t show up as much in cultural reviews. Ritualistic use was for communicating with gods, and promoting spirituality; generally in the context of a ceremony.

This isn’t to say ancient cultures didn’t get a recreational value out of them, or a medicinal one; but history points to their use in religious events more than anything else. In modern culture we use them as recreational tools, or for medical benefit. New world uses are not technically about expanding the mind (though it is still often called this), or getting close with spirits; but about trying to force the brain into creating new connections, that in turn help us feel better. Or at least, that’s the goal.

Ayahuasca can produce an intense trip
Ayahuasca can produce an intense trip

In that sense, we do not use these drugs the way they were used in the past. Very few people looking to fix emotional issues using hallucinogens, know anything about the religions and cultures that used these drugs; and we’re fundamentally not trying to. Even those that go to ceremonies, do it as tourist experiences; as the massive majority of us are not related to these traditions. This is important. It means we don’t have any connection to the spiritual aspect as it was done in the past. Even those who really want to believe they’re getting all cultural with it, are doing a modern version, meant for outsiders.

Before getting onto the next part, I want to clarify one other thing, apart from our differences in how we use these drugs. It has to do with the terms ‘psychedelics’ and ‘hallucinogens.’ We often throw the term ‘psychedelics’ around, but this term has come to take on a broader meaning, than its actual meaning.

‘Psychedelics’ refers to four compounds: DMT, mescaline, LSD, and psilocybin. If you’re thinking, what about ketamine or MDMA? These are examples of a dissociative, and a psychostimulant, respectively. What they all fit under, is the term ‘hallucinogen.’ This is the broader category that relates to any drug from any class, which causes changes in the user’s perception, including hallucinations.

What is ayahuasca?

If you’ll notice, ayahuasca was not in the short list of psychedelic drugs, because its not ‘a’ drug that exists on its own; but a created drug by the use of two different plants: one that contains DMT, like Psychotria viridis (which IS a psychedelic), and the Banisteriopsis caapi vine. The latter is meant solely to keep the former from breaking down so fast in the body; to make the trip last longer. They are brewed together to create a tea. Ayahuasca has been brewed for at least a thousand years in South America, and likely longer. It originated in this region, where its main use was spiritual enhancement during ceremonies.

DMT is a short acting compound. It peaks within a half hour, and the user is coming down from it within an hour. It’s an intense experience, but not that long. When adding the caapi vine, which contains an MAO inhibitor, this keeps the DMT circulating longer, by not allowing it to break down. This turns what is supposed to be a <1 hour high, into a several hours high. So all that intensity, which is meant to be in and out fast; goes on for many hours.

Ayahuasca has a similar running time to other psychedelics like LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline; even though natural DMT is much shorter. They also all seem to provide similar benefits for emotional issues, although its hard to say more than that. Likewise, other hallucinogens, like ketamine, also show the same ability for positive benefit with psychiatric issues. This indicates its more about the hallucinogenic aspect, than the psychedelic aspect.

Ayahuasca brew
Ayahuasca brew

As a psychedelic, ayahuasca – or rather, DMT, causes a large increase in circulating serotonin; and the drug is known for causing hallucinations of every kind. When presented as ayahuasca, its known for bringing on sickness to many users (called a body load). Whereas the other psychedelic drugs also cause similar perceptual effects; ayahuasca experiences tend to be more unsettling, and even scary, as they are happening; and are more associated with causing sickness, anxiety, and fear.

Although many people have a difficult time on the drug, some still see benefits after its use. Perhaps we should question, however, what the effects of fear are on a person who is tripping, as some research involving ketamine, indicates that a fear response is generally indicative of the user not getting a positive response later. If this is true with other hallucinogens, it might indicate that ayahuasca is not the best choice; and could possibly impede progress, rather than promote it.

The thing about ayahuasca is that it wasn’t thought up for the purpose of changing brain connections to alleviate depressive issues. It was what was created by ancient cultures who only had certain plants around them at their disposal. These cultures believed strongly in their gods; and a lot of life was about communicating with these gods, reading their signs, and trying to connect with them. Independent tribes only had what was available in their area, or through nearby trade; which means they didn’t have the same options we do today. They weren’t picking between psychedelics, but taking what was there.

Is ayahuasca worth it?

In places where magic mushrooms were more available, or perhaps peyote; ceremonies were designed around those drugs. But tribal members weren’t sitting around and comparing and contrasting their drug, with another tribe’s. In that sense, it was about doing what was available; not doing what was the overall best option.

Whereas mushroom trips, and mescaline trips, can produce fear; you will almost never hear about them spoken of the same way as ayahuasca. Ayahuasca can create what is essentially a painful (yet also sometimes therapeutic) experience; while other psychedelics and hallucinogens are known for creating a more fun and good-feeling trip. If anything, ayahuasca often sounds like nothing more than a long, bad trip.

So, if we’re not using these drugs for the spiritual purposes of native tribes (and we’re not!), and different drugs can create the same benefit, without causing such a negative experience while its going on (they can); why do ayahuasca? Is ayahuasca actually worth it, if there are better (or, at least comparable) options to obtain the same goal?

Is ayahuasca worth it when mushrooms are an option?
Is ayahuasca worth it when mushrooms are an option?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t add in, that a lot of what seems helpful about these drugs, is the accompanying therapy that the drugs assist. Plenty of people trip on mushrooms or acid frequently, without changing. An ayahuasca ceremony (or any standard drug ceremony) doesn’t include this aspect, so its not different than simply taking a hit of acid, and hoping for the best.

Therapy with these drugs is meant to push boundaries, as it’s believed by many researchers that the pushing of boundaries allows for the brain to make new connections. This doesn’t have to be the case, but again; I know a lot of people who trip frequently, alongside massive and ongoing mental disorders. Perhaps it matters less which drug, and matters more that the person is doing what they must while high, to get the most productive effect.

I asked several people who expressed interest in doing ayahuasca, why they specifically wanted that drug over other hallucinogens. Most seemed to lack overall understanding on the topic, and were simply going off what comes out in headlines. There wasn’t much conceptual understanding of similarities and differences with other drugs. When I asked why do that when we know there are more fun ways to have a therapeutic experience; I didn’t get answers that made a lot of sense. Even to the point that more than one person said that the painful aspect was necessary.

I questioned this as well, but only got confused responses. ‘Ayahuasca’ functions like a term without much knowledge behind it. Something with mystique surrounding it, due to its lack of appearance in modern culture until recently, and strong association with tribal rituals. I expect part of that mentality is related to some weird idea that we must suffer, in order to heal; that nothing comes without a cost. Personally, I find the pain for gain concept silly here. The main purpose these days is to fix dysfunction; indicating that most users, are already paying quite a price in life.


This all comes down to personal choice. If a person gets to the end result they want; it matters very little which drug they used to get there. With our hooked up world, we have plenty of options open to us, not just what’s in our specific neighborhoods. And that means if the goal is healing our brains, we have plenty of ways to do it. Is ayahuasca worth it for this? That part is up to you.

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1 Comment

  • Grateful u for your candid and clear discussion about the limitations and historic uses of Ayyahausca versus other psychedelics. You clarified some of my own confusions and reservations
    many thank s

About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.