NOV 30, 2022 8:00 AM PST

Study Shows a High Rate of Negative Effects of Ayahuasca

WRITTEN BY: Kerry Charron

A new study published in PLOS Global Public Health found a high rate of adverse physical and psychological effects from using the plant-based psychoactive ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is a South American brewed drink known for its psychoactive properties. People seek the euphoria as well as the auditory and visual hallucinations ayahuasca produces, but it can also cause negative effects like nausea, vomiting, headaches, panic, and anxiety. It is common for people to experience both positive and negative effects after taking ayahuasca. A growing number of clinical trials and observational studies point to the potential benefits of ayahuasca, but this study is one of the few that has analyzed its adverse effects.

Ayahuasca is a mixture of leaves from one plant and the vines of another. The leaves contain Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) which is a similar substance to serotonin and the mind-altering chemicals found in psilocybin or magic mushrooms. The vines inhibit gut enzymes so that they do not work properly, which allows the DMT to cross the blood brain barrier. Roughly an hour after consuming ayahuasca, a person begins to experience hallucinations. One of the most common physical effects is vomiting (most likely caused by the highly acidic drink), but many shamans believe this effect is part of the ritual cleansing process that the drink can be used for.   

The researchers used data from an online Global Ayahuasca survey conducted between 2017 and 2019 to collect information on participants’ age, physical and mental health, and context of ayahuasca use. The survey was completed by 10,836 people from more than 50 countries and participants had used ayahuasca at least once. Acute physical health adverse effects were reported by 69.9%, and the most common effects were vomiting and nausea (68.2% of participants), headache (17.8%) and abdominal pain (12.8%). Only 2.3% of participants required medical care. 

55% of the participants reported adverse mental health effects. Symptoms included hearing or seeing things (28.5%), feeling disconnected or alone (21.0%), and having nightmares or disturbing thoughts (19.2%). However, of the respondents who experienced these symptoms, 87.6% believed they were completely or somewhat part of a positive growth process.

The study highlighted several factors that ayahuasca’s adverse physical events predispose people to the adverse physical events such as aging, physical health condition or substance use disorder, lifetime ayahuasca use and taking ayahuasca in a non-supervised context. 

Sources: Eureka News Alert, PLoS Global Public Health


About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Kerry Charron writes about medical cannabis research. She has experience working in a Florida cultivation center and has participated in advocacy efforts for medical cannabis.
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