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Ayahuasca Safety

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” - Socrates

Working Safely With Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca is generally a very safe substance to drink. Here at the Hummingbird we always put our client’s safety first and in over 10 years, serving over 1400 clients, we have never had medical emergency related to ayahuasca. People’s bodies can be very different and one cannot predict how a specific individual’s body will react to ayahuasca. Given that, we take a very responsible approach introducing people to ayahuasca.

At the beginning of our retreats, we always serve a dose that experience has shown provides most people a clear, yet moderate experience of ayahuasca. If the experience is not as strong as they desire, there is opportunity to drink more during the ayahuasca ceremony. This cautious approach allows us to identify those who are highly sensitive to the medicine or who’s bodies may be having an unusual reaction to these plants.

Even given the general safety of ayahuasca and our safe introductory process, there are people for whom drinking ayahuasca is potentially dangerous.

Who Should Not Drink Ayahuasca?

Caduceus with leavesIf you suffer from any of the following conditions, you should definitely not drink ayahuasca: heart problems, kidney disorders, high blood pressure, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and anyone with a history of psychosis or psychotic breaks.

Additionally, asthmatics should be aware that inhalers cannot be used within at least 24 hours of drinking ayahuasca. If you are unable to get through an asthma attack without your inhaler, you should not drink ayahuasca.

If you have hypo-thyroid problems, we recommend that you bring your medication with you, but stop taking it a couple days before your first ayahuasca ceremony. If your energy plummets, you can resume the medication. However, we’ve yet to have a guest need their medication while at the healing center, and many have written us 2-3 months later and indicated that they have not needed their thyroid medication since drinking ayahuasca.

There Is a Psychological Risk With Ayahuasca

Since the LSD culture of the 1960s, it has been known that hallucinogens can trigger latent tendencies toward psychiatric and emotional disorders. In a small percentage of cases, people with no prior history of problems have exhibited symptoms of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, psychosis or schizophrenia after taking hallucinogenic or psychoactive substances. The mechanisms of this are not understood, however, those with a family history of mental health issues are more at risk.

This is not specific to ayahuasca, and can happen with any psychoactive substance, including marijuana.

Anyone with a family history of poor psychological health, especially schizophrenic, bipolar or psychotic disorders, should be especially cautious about taking ayahuasca, or any other psychoactive substance.

There is also a small risk of "drug induced psychosis". Some of the classic signs of psychosis are bizarre behavior, delusions, disorganized thinking, hallucinations and catatonia. These symptoms may last for hours, days or possibly weeks and may require professional intervention. Drug induced psychosis is not very common, and is not limited to hallucinogens. There is fairly long list of drugs known to have caused psychosis, including marijuana, commonly considered a very safe drug. While the risk is small, it does exist.

To minimize this risk the Hummingbird takes a very responsible approach to initial doses, starting everyone off with a moderate dose to see how their body and mind reacts to the experience. We increase the dose under the guidance of our shaman and the desires of the individual who may want a stronger experience.

At all times we place the safety and wellbeing of our clients first.

Why Are Medications Not Permitted at the Center?

red jungle flowerAyahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi) contains monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) in the form of harmine and harmaline. MAOIs, like ayahuasca, are dangerous when taken with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), which includes most anti-depressants.

Medications that fall into these classes need to be stopped 2-6 weeks before drinking ayahuasca, depending on the half-life of the specific medicine being taken. This is very important, as mixing these two types of substances can lead to potentially fatal serotonin syndrome.

Additionally, we have seen very strange and unpleasant experiences with clients who have used ayahuasca while on medications for which no contraindications could be found. As a result, we do not allow any medications to be taken while at our ayahuasca retreat center, and we ask that all medications be stopped at least 2 weeks prior to your arrival. We also require that any medication taken in the past year be disclosed on our intake form.

The general guideline is to not take any medications while at our center, and to stop them at least two weeks before coming. Known, safe exceptions to this are thyroid medication, HIV medications, and insulin. There may be others, but they need to be evaluated on a case by case basis and you should consult your pharmacist about any dangers of taking your medication with a strong MAOI, and specifically, with ayahuasca.

Which Drugs & Supplements Interact with Ayahuasca?

ayahausca paintingThe following classes of drugs are potentially dangerous when taken with ayahuasca, or any MAOIs. If you are taking medication, please consult your pharmacist about how far in advance you need to stop use before drinking ayahuasca, a strong MAOI. Some medications require as much as 4-6 weeks.

  • SSRIs and SNRis (Antidepressants)
  • Anti-hypertensives
  • Anti-psychotics
  • Asthma medications such as salbutamol
  • Opiates and opioids
  • Barbiturates
  • Amphetamines and stimulants such as cocaine
  • Cough medicines
  • Decongestants
  • Antibiotics

Additionally, the following herbs and supplements should not be taken when drinking ayahuasca:

  • St. Johns Wort
  • Ginseng
  • Kava
  • Yohimbe
  • Kanna
  • Scotch Broom
  • Kratom
  • Ephedra
  • Boswellia
  • Nutmeg

Read this comprehensive list of medications and foods to avoid .