What you should know about Ayahuasca

The first time ayahuasca called me was two years ago.

I had been talking about it with a visiting professor who was from Peru and our conversations led to an obsessive interest that caused me to absorb as much information about ayahuasca as possible.

A pile of books was read–the most comprehensible, easy to understand, and down to earth one I would recommend is The Ayahuasca Test Pilots Handbook: The Essential Guide to Ayahuasca Journeying

The more I read about the mysterious substance and the sacred ceremonies that surround its consumption, the more I was drawn to make the long trek to the middle of the Amazon rainforest to try it.

It ended up being the most life-changing event of my adulthood. Nothing was the same after.

What is Ayahuasca?

Simply put, it is a brewed combination of a vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and a leaf (Chacruna) that grow in the Amazon rainforest. The vine contains chemicals that allow DMT to be absorbed into your bloodstream and the leaf contains DMT.

DMT is a naturally occuring chemical, your body produces some all of the time, but it is found in very high concentrations in the Chacruna leaf.

The fact that someone, 1000s of years ago figured out that this one combination, out of the countless billions of possible plant combinations in the Amazon, would produce ayahuasca, is nothing short of a miracle.

The vine and leaf are extremely common in the Amazon and readily available. Large quantities are brewed together for about 48 hours and reduced to a very thick concentration with the texture of warm molasses. Sometimes other herbs, leaves, or flowers are added to the brew in order to enhance certain effects.

Brewed ayahuasca in a cup.

It tastes like smooth mud and most people despise the flavor–I don’t mind it at all–but I also enjoy sucking on pebbles when I’m in the desert in order to keep my mouth wet.

The Effects

I’ve experimented with plenty of substances before. LSD, mushrooms, peyote, San Pedro, and the like are all child’s play when compared to ayahuasca. 

The depths and heights it is able to take you to are endless and navigating through the journey can be the most elating, terrifying, or enlightening experience of your life.  Most shamans will advise you to ‘surrender’ yourself to the ayahuasca. If you fight it, it will be the hardest fight of your life, and if you don’t surrender fully, you won’t get the full benefits.

My first experience revealed things I never knew were possible, opened up a new pathway in life, gave me permission to work with my talents, and showed me the future. All of this came through visions that took me as far outside of my body as possible, and brought me back in as deep as I could go.

Let the ayahuasca draw maps in your mind, they will make perfect sense and guide you.

I was in touch with the energy that pulses constantly through the Universe (some call it the spirit world), and communicated with various beings that took form. One of the more fascinating parts of my journey was when it just started to begin and patterns of energy in the thick jungle air could be seen. Every time an frog called, an insect buzzed, or a cricket chirped, I could see the vibrations pulse through the air and cause a subtle effect on whatever they encountered.

Ayahuasca is not fun. Although things may be revealed to you that make you laugh out loud, this is by no means a recreational drug and should be treated with all seriousness. Natives of the Amazon and those who use it refer to it as ‘medicine’ because it has the potential to heal endless sicknesses, both physical and spiritual.

You will not be able to move much when it hits you and most of the ceremony will be done while lying down on a mat in the dark. The only reason to move is to either puke your guts out or go to the bathroom and shit your brains out.

And puking and shitting is very, very common. Especially for those who have not taken the proper precautions.

Ayahuasca has a ‘purging’ effect that empties your system and cleans you out.

When I did it, I had been fasting for two days and my purge came in the form of some intense sweating and tears that streamed from my eyes. After the ceremony I enjoyed the most satisfying and complete bowel movement of my life.

Purging really does expel harmful toxins that have accumulated in your body and even the more violent purges are considered enjoyable because you can visualize poisons leaving your system.

There is no hangover and physically you will feel refreshed for days afterwards. But the spiritual changes will stay with you for life.

The Ceremony

Under no circumstances should ayahuasca be done without  proper guidance. A specially trained shaman who has looked over the cooking process should be the one to start and end the ceremony.

He calls you up to drink, says a prayer as you sip, and after everyone has drunk, he begins to sing. He will sing or play an instrument at certain points during the ceremony and each song will take you down another path. The shaman will also assist those in need, blow ceremonial smoke around the area, and keep the energy contained within the circle of people who drank.

Ayahuasca is a very personal experience and when it takes over, you will want to enjoy your customized journey.

During my experience, there was another guy there from New York who had no idea what he was getting into. He came down with a friend and just thought they were going to have fun doing drugs in the jungle. When the ayahuasca hit this motherfucker, he started screaming bloody murder and didn’t stop for the four hours it lasted. When he finally stopped, he was covered in sweat and tears and curled up in a fetal position under his blanket.

All the while, I was next to him and still able to enjoy my journey in full. His screams were not bothersome, but they served as a lesson to those around–ayahuasca is serious business and puts a mirror up to your soul.

The ceremony takes place at night, usually around 830pm, and it lasts from 4-6 hours. After everyone has drunk, the fire is blown out in the maloca (the ceremony hut) and there is complete darkness.

A typical maloca where the ayahuasca ceremony takes place.

Body/Mind Preparation

I’m leaving for Iquitos, Peru in two weeks and have already started to prepare. Its best to drink with your system as clean as possible so I am cutting most meat out of my diet for now. I will eat mostly eggs, fresh vegetables, and chicken soup. One week before I will cut out any alcohol and be sure not to have sex or masturbate.

These things are not necessary, but I want to get the most out of the experience and show respect for the ceremony. Those who don’t follow the recommendations usually end up purging the worst and having particularly terrifying visions.

Meditating beforehand about what you want to get out of the experience is also key. I’ve compiled a list of personal goals and things that I want to work on.

I also want the experience to instill me with a new energy and expand my creativity. I’m sure it will assist me as long as my goals are in the right place.

*This blog was born from my first ayahuasca ceremony. At one point in my vision, a jaguar visited, showed me the Universe contained inside myself, and told me to work with my gift of communication to share it with the world (he also showed me it was okay to be attractive and love many women).

My next ceremony and journey to the Amazon will be well documented. (Read about how I hooked up with a girl I met on the plane on my first trip to Iquitos here). I’m taking the camera with me, no way am I filming during the ceremony–but the trip to Iquitos, and up the Amazon river to the small camp I will be staying at for 10 days will have lots of footage.

I’m also going to undergo a Sapo ritual. Sapo is the poison from a giant tree frog that lives in the Amazon. The poison is collected from the frog onto a stick. You are then burned with another stick in order to create blisters on your skin. The blisters are scraped off so your capillaries are exposed. The Sapo is then applied directly to the wound and enters your bloodstream.

The little spirit who is going to make me born again.

For 10-15 minutes you truly feel like you are going to die. Your blood boils, heart pounds, you hit the ground on your hands and knees and beg for it to be over. Then, when it is over, you feel like you have been resurrected. For days your senses are heightened and you feel as though you can accomplish anything.

Natives used to use Sapo before they went hunting because of the heightened ability to see and hear. It is also used as a healing medicine and gaining in popularity around the United States–where it is known as Kambo.

Why Goldmund, Why?

Ayahuasca is not going to be for most people. I would say for certain that most humans in the West have extremely sick souls and would not be able to handle the experience. I’ve been trained since I was young to do serious self-reflection (this was the form of discipline my parents and church used on me), and am pretty good at being honest with myself. I’ve also been through a lot of therapy, including hypnotism, and have worked out my major issues from childhood. I would recommend doing that before thinking of ayahuasca.

Religion doesn’t work for me. I tried, believe me, I tried hard, but my spiritual side is connected to the Earth. My church is the wilderness where the gods are in everything. Ayahuasca is going to be treated with a sacred respect and take me on a pilgrimage that promises actual rewards.

I’m certain I’m not going to return the same, but that is the entire point.

When ayahuasca calls, you have to answer.


**My journey to Mexico was realized during my first ayahuasca ceremony, it is what kicks off the first chapter of my book Go Forth. Read it by clicking here.

About Goldmund

Goldmund grew up a wild-child and was constantly being disciplined. Using ancient rituals and game, he broke free from the shackles of his mind and the norms of this backwards society. He frequents bars in Brooklyn, mountains in Mexico, and retreats to the desert. His passions are nature and women.

16 comments on “What you should know about Ayahuasca

  1. Thanks for writing about this topic, more people should know about it.

    Took the medicine about a year ago and it changed a lot for me. It was an extremely difficult, but ultimately very positive and rewarding experience. It has the power of clearing out all the mental rubbish that keeps us from pursuing our own essence.

    It is extremely powerful for people with a lot of spiritual and emotional baggage, or those who are introspective in a self-limiting way.

    Experiencing both ego-death and also universal love simultaneously, was a life changing moment.

    • Nice description.

      This is not easy, and certainly one of the most mentally challenging things you can go through.

      “..pursuing our own essence” is sadly getting more and more difficult as the world gets stuffed to the brim with bullshit and lies. You lose yourself in the garbage and most will never realize their potential.

      I’m excited to see what the medicine has in store for me this time around.

  2. As one who has not taken Ayahuasca yet who has witnessed a fair share of related experiences, I would assume that like a dream it would be difficult to record the details within the complexities of the trip.

    Furthermore, you have mentioned that you have have set goals and guidelines for yourself so that you receive a more directed journey.

    What will be your strategy immediate post-trip?–Notes? Art? Spirituality?

    How will you retain that glow?

    • Ayahuasca is very different from any other kind of trip. I wouldn’t even call it a trip…its a journey. Total recall is very likely, I can still remember my first ceremony with a lot of clarity.

      Right after the ceremony I plan on meditating in front of a fire all night. The night after my first time drinking it was the most enjoyable and useful thinking of my life. 5 straight hours of productive meditation. The next day will be writing and sketching in notebooks out in the sunlight.

      Its such a focused experience that it will stay with you for a long while after.

      To tell you the truth, I’m nervous right now. This is the first time I’ve been scared of something in a long time. Fear is a strange emotion to play around with.

  3. Goldmund, do you have recommendations on how to find a trustworthy “vendor”? I’d like to go on an ayahuasca journey, but I don’t want to get scammed/kidnapped/killed. Thanks.

  4. Pingback: The 17 Best Travel Blogs For Adventurous Men - Nomadic Hustle

  5. Hay, Just so you know the painting you used is mine and I would like to be acknowledged. Thanks, Theodore Holdt. Art at theoholdt.com

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