Why Are Celebrities, Business Executives and Luminaries Like Tim Ferris Using And Proselytizing This Illegal Psychedelic Brew From Amazonia?
It’s been hailed as the “next therapeutic fad” by Marie Claire and promises to open your eyes to the cure to your ailment and to be the solution to all your problems. Ayahuasca is a psychedelic Amazonian tea that has turned countries such as Peru and Columbia into paths to enlightenment for Westerner’s from around the globe. From business minds like Tim Ferriss to celebrities like Lindsay Lohan who were struggling with addiction, it appears that ayahuasca is “enlightenment in a cup”.
This article covers the origins and ingredients of ayahuasca, what kind of people take it and what happens exactly in an ayahuasca ceremony with a shaman in South America. The benefits and drawbacks as well as the alternatives will also be discussed. They include picking the right shaman and following the correct rituals leading up to the ceremony to avoid danger. Benefits include a number of things including facing your personal demons, dealing with depression; addiction and even helping you solve creative problems in your business.
Finally, options like meditation are deliberated as both a companion and as an alternative to taking ayahuasca. Is it right for you?
What is Ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca is an Amazonian herbal drink made from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and the Psychotria viridis leaf. Though the exact ingredients differ by region, they all tend to include the caapi vine. It has many names including daime, yajé, yagé, natema and vegetal. According to Live Science, the brew is used to bring on a “mental awakening” in individuals who drink it.
According to David Nutt, founder of Drug Science in an article in The Guardian, "Ayahuasca is a way of making available DMT, a very powerful stimulator of serotonin receptors in the brain," He explains that the way it works is that "Basically, DMT doesn't normally get into the body because it's broken down by the stomach […] if you make a drink with the plant product that contains DMT, and mix it with a bark product, the bark product acts as a blocking agent and the DMT can get into the body."
Who takes it?
For centuries ayahuasca has been used in healing ceremonies in South America, but recently it has attracted Westerners who travel from all over the world to seek enlightenment.
It is currently illegal in many countries including the United States and the UK, so countries like Peru and Columbia now have a roaring tourist industry where Westerners flock to their countries to have an ayahuasca experience.
Shamans describe ayahuasca as both having the ability to treat illnesses and also to be “plant teachers” so there are a mix of people who use it. The first are people fighting illness, PTSD and addiction. Celebrities including Lindsay Lohan have tackled their addictions face on through theses ceremonies and come out the other side in a better place.
The second are business tycoons and entrepreneurs, searching for clarity and to get visions of their next billion-dollar idea. Inc.com portrays this group as viewing ayahuasca and other psychedelics “as practical tools for harnessing creativity and solving complex problems.”
Tim Ferriss swears by ayahuasca. In The New Yorker " title="The New Yorker">The New Yorker, he declares, “It’s mind-boggling how much it can do in one or two nights.” He admits to Inc.com that he’s suffered from anxiety, self-doubt, and depression, which ayahuasca has helped him greatly with. "The billionaires I know, almost without exception, use hallucinogens on a regular basis," Ferriss said. "[They're] trying to be very disruptive and look at the problems in the world ... and ask completely new questions."
The same article also describes an unnamed highly successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur, who feels that psychedelics like ayahuasca are “but one tool among many.” Entrepreneur and author of Ayahuasca: An Executive’s Enlightenment, Michael Sanders, describes going into each ceremony with an intention of where to take his business career and coming out feeling completely focused.
“I also saw what I was doing with my business, and I saw so much waste. The products we were making were trend-driven, not timeless," Britney Miner, a 31-year-old homewares designer who has taken ayahuasca "a few hundred times," describes in a Marie Claire article.
There are companies that profit from this craze by organizing ayahuasca retreats, targeting executives and entrepreneurs. “Think of ayahuasca like an internal voyage on the scale of summiting Mt. Everest” depicts one called Entrepreneur’s Awakening. Entrepreneur Jeffrey Slayter leads retreats for billionaires, celebrities and CEO’s of billion dollar companies under the name The Grand Initiative.
Finally, the third types of people who attend ayahuasca ceremonies are purely individuals seeking clarity and more awareness in their life. These have included celebrities like Sting, Susan Sarandon alongside what Marie Claire describe as New Age earth mothers or the Burning Man crowd. However they do also clarify the fact that it has made its way into the mainstream, “from high-fashion executives in London to corporate lawyers in D.C. and Ivy League academics”.
Ceremonies begin by gathering in a room with others and a shaman. “Purge” buckets are handed out and you’re given your first dose of the tea. After about 40 minutes, the tea should start taking effect, otherwise you’re given another dose, and then your ayahuasca journey should begin.
Taking ayahuasca is no walk in the park. A research article in Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics written by Riba and others explain that the physical side effects from drinking the tea include vomiting, diarrhea, elevated blood pressure, elevated heart rate, higher rectal temperature and dilation of the pupils.
"It is not pleasant or fun. It puts your body through the wringer - emotionally and physically," says botanist Prof Dennis McKenna, from the University of Minnesota to the BBC.
“I came home reeking of vomit and sage and looking like I’d come from hell,” Vaughn Bergen, a twenty-seven-year-old who works at an art gallery in Chelsea, said of one ayahuasca episode to The New Yorker. However he described another trip as “I got transported to a higher dimension, where I lived the whole ceremony as my higher self. Anything I thought came to be.”
Jordi Riba stated in The Guardian “There’s preliminary evidence that [ayahuasca] has the potential to change life attitudes for the better in cases of drug addiction, depression and trauma.” The International Centre for Ethnobotanical Education, Research and Service (ICEERS) issued a report in 2013, which Riba was a signatory for on ayahuasca saying that clinical trials showed it to be “physiologically very safe”.
Meanwhile, Draulio de Araujo, of the Brain Institute, in Natal, Brazil, has been investigating the effects of ayahuasca on eighty people, half of whom are extremely depressed. He found that “A lot of our individuals, whether they are depressed or not, have a sense of peace after the experience.” Leanna Standish medical director of the Bastyr Integrative Oncology Research Center believes that Ayahuasca could be used in treatments for cancer and Parkinson’s disease and has recently taken steps to study this.
In another research paper by Riba and others, they found that “The main motivation of the participants was to use ayahuasca as a tool for self-knowledge and introspection.” There is still a lot of research to be done on the exact effects of ayahuasca.
One of the biggest warnings when it comes to taking ayahuasca is to choose your Shaman wisely. A western-trained Colombian-American doctor and partner in the Nihue Rao Centro near Iquitos named Joe Tafur was quoted in an article in The Guardian saying “As the ayahuasca experience can be intense and even psychologically destabilising, one should be careful when choosing a proper ceremonial guide.”
This is also agreed by entrepreneur retreat; Entrepreneur’s Awakening. Not being cautious when choosing your shaman has led to the deaths that have occurred in the last few years, including an 18 year old American called Kyle Nolan. It appears to be that it’s not ayahuasca itself that kills people but when it’s not taken under supervision of a real shaman.
Robert Gable, PhD, a psychology professor emeritus at Claremont Graduate University who specializes in risk assessments of drugs states "The median lethal dose [for ayahuasca] is roughly 20 times a ceremonial dose."
It becomes a danger when users are not made aware of dangers like mixing any prescription medication with the brew or having pre-determined disorders like schizophrenia. As well as people who have such conditions as high blood pressure or who are on antidepressants should not take ayahuasca according to an article in The New Yorker. Leading up to the ceremony, things like alcohol and medication are banned.
Taking ayahuasca is not for everyone. So what can those who can’t or won’t take it do to get similar effects?
Jeff Warren believes that “you don’t actually need ayahausca. What you need is to be reminded of what is meaningful in life, and a practice to help you work through what prevents you from experiencing that meaning.” He goes on to suggest “The danger of ayahuasca and other “entheogens” is you come to depend on them for meaning instead of creating (co-creating!) it yourself.”
Therapy is definitely an option to consider when it comes to working through problems in your life. Even those of have tried ayahuasca say that any benefits must be combined with therapy. "If you think you're just going to take 'joy juice' ... you're nuts," explained author and ayahuasca expert Peter Gorman to CNN.
Light Watkins discusses his alternative to ayahuasca on Mind Body Green, “I still don't have any interest in trying ayahuasca because I feel that I receive all of the reported benefits (and more) from my daily meditation practice, but without any of the common side effects”.
Meditation is seen as both an alternative and also a companion to ayahuasca. The unnamed Silicon Valley entrepreneur from earlier also describes Meditation as “equally critical” alongside his psychedelics according to Inc.com.
Overall, ayahuasca is an option that must not be taken lightly. If you're an entrepreneur who wants to use it, choose your shaman, setting, and ceremony carefully.
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