An anonymous student talked to The Gryphon about ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic drug in South America
I first heard about ayahuasca when I came to South America to study. One of the topics brought up a lot was ayahuasca – none of my friends had taken it, but everyone had some crazy story that they had heard about what happens when you take it. Most of these stories were probably greatly exaggerated and over the top, and needless to say most of them inspired me with equal measures of awe and terror. The stories almost all involved people shitting themselves and/or throwing up. Sometimes people talked about people going ‘under’ the spell of the drug and acting like a maniac. There were also incredible, awe-inspiring stories of people having epiphanies, having spiritual experiences and seeing God.
Although I thought ayahuasca sounded amazing, I was also very scared by it. Images of me shitting myself in a random hut in the jungle did not sound fun or pleasant. I didn’t like this idea of losing control of my body, and also was freaked out by the startling idea that ayahuasca could potentially change me – change all of my beliefs, change my point of view on life, change my spiritual views (I’m an atheist). This was a pretty scary and overwhelming prospect, and I said to myself that if I tried it I might try it later on in life, and not so young. I vowed to myself that it just sounded too dangerous and out there for me to try. I’d taken other drugs like acid, MDMA, cocaine and weed before, but ayahuasca just seemed to be on a whole other level in terms of how it could impact your long-term worldview. I decided it wasn’t for me. Not only that, but in order to take it I would have to find a shayman that I trusted, which I had heard could be hard. The idea of doing this in a jungle setting made me feel uneasy and unsafe. As such, I had decided that it wasn’t for me.
During my travels in Peru I decided that I wanted to take a little known boat ride through the jungle. I was preparing to take my boat ride, until some incredibly friendly Americans warned me that the boat ride could be precarious. They told me of how they were taking ayahuasca with a local shaman and that they had been taking it for the past week, and were exhilarated to tell me all about their incredible experiences taking the drug- or indeed, medicine, as they referred to it as. They said that the shayman was a lovely man and that his family were some of the most welcoming, friendly people they had ever met. The guys invited me to take ayahuasca with them, and said that I could stay with the family for as long as I wanted. With the prospect of a lonely, potentially trouble-fraught boat ride ahead of me, an exciting stay with a Peruvian family and these lovely guys sounded like a much, much better deal.
Although the Americans were so friendly and it just seemed right, I was still pretty terrified. I told them all of the things that I had heard about ayahuasca and they rapidly quashed most of those myths, saying that they were very over-the-top stories that probably weren’t true or if they were, there could be other reasons for why the ayahuasca had produced those effects (e.g. mixing it with other drugs, taking it when on antidepressants, having heart problems). This changed my perspective of ayahuasca from something scary to something amazing and beautiful. As a strong atheist – I have been for years and years – I was also worried that taking the ayahuasca would change my beliefs.
The shaman reassured me of many of my worries. We took the ayahuasca.
My first trip was a very intense emotional experience. As well as the usual colourful patterns that people see, I delved into personal problems with my family that I had never truly confronted or dealt with – I felt pain around a specific problem that I had never really accessed because I had felt that it was too awful and sad. Emotionally, this was at times excruciatingly painful. However, I feel that I really benefited from this ayahuasca trip.
ayahuasca just seemed to be on a whole other level in terms of how it could impact your long-term worldview.
The second time I took it (with the same people), it was a much more uplifting experience. In a lot of my vision I was talking to myself – looking at myself as I imagined other people saw me, as a beautiful, amazing person. I imagined all of the people that I love learning about some of the things that I feel, and knowing that they would be made sad by this news and would want to reach out and help me too. It was very touching, life-affirming and beautiful.
I took it for a third time a few days later. This time we fasted all day, and I don’t know if it was that or its combination with the fact that I was taking it for the third time, but this time the vision was incredible. I had heard so much about ayahuasca being mind-blowing, life-changing… but my two previous trips had been great, but not incredible. This third trip blew me away. During this trip was the first time that I have ever questioned my beliefs. It wasn’t a personal emotional experience this time, but a deeply spiritual one. The visions were so colourful and vivid and rapidly-changing that it felt impossible that I could be producing such hallucinations. As the shaman and his relatives sung their beautiful ‘icaros’ or spiritual songs, I felt for the first time like I understood what it was to feel a connection to something divine, to feel a spiritual connection to the earth. I felt a connection to something greater than myself, something spiritual, a God – who knows. It was an incredible experience, and one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
If anyone wanted to take ayahuasca I would encourage them to research it properly and see if it is right for them. It is important to find a shaman that you trust, as there have been stories of exploitation and abuse. It is also very important to note that I was told you should never take it if you have heart problems, never mix it with other drugs, and never take while on antidepressants. These can have incredibly dangerous, potentially fatal effects. There have been some reported deaths following taking ayahuasca. There may be other dangerous side effects that I do not know of, so I encourage great caution to anyone wanting to take it.
I felt a connection to something greater than myself, something spiritual, a God – who knows.
The next few weeks, after my trips, I felt a lot more loving and connected to everyone around me. I can imagine that if you took this a lot it really would change your brain chemistry or something as one of the Americans said it could, to make you more open and loving. I am still an atheist, as in the week following the trip I came to the conclusion that I still didn’t believe in God, and that the powerful visions and feelings of spirituality were caused by the plant and not by any higher power. It was still a wonderful, life-changing experience, and I would love to take it again some day.
Photographs and media: Youtube: romanianskill, www.robertodemicheli.com, www.spiritsoftheearth.com, www.ayahuasca-info.com