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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Considering an Ayahuasca Ceremony? Five Essential Questions

Psychedelics are back and gaining momentum as a legitimate healing option for many with issues such as anxiety, depression, PTSD and addiction. Just this year, the cities of Denver and Oakland voted to decriminalize certain psychedelics, and a handful of other cities have similar initiatives on the voting block. With the rise of what some are calling the “psychedelic renaissance”, the need for more education around psychedelic medicines is increasing. 

Ayahuasca is one of the psychedelic plant medicines that is gaining in popularity. Whether traveling outside the U.S. or not, it is important to do research when considering Ayahuasca or any psychedelic. These medicines are powerful and it is important that we approach any work with them responsibly, respectfully and sacredly.

With that in mind, here are five essential questions we need to ask when considering an Ayahuasca ceremony.

Who is leading?
Having an experienced Ayahuasquero (master of Ayahuasca), also called the Maestro/a, is crucial to the safety of the experience. The Maestro/a is in charge of the physical and spiritual safety of the group and also guides the energy of the ceremony.

It takes many years of work, both personally and then as an assistant/apprentice, before a person is ready to take on the responsibility of leading a ceremony. Whether the leader of the ceremony is a native South American or not is less of an issue than their integrity, training and intentions. Just because someone bills themselves as a “Shaman”, native or not, does not mean that they know how to work safely with Ayahuasca or that they have good intentions.

When we drink the Aya brew, we enter an altered state that can leave us very vulnerable on all levels: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Ask about the ceremony leader’s experience, training, philosophy, and possible, have a personal conversation with them. Remember, if need be, this is the person to turn to for help in the middle of the ceremony. Have full confidence in their experience, abilities and integrity before signing up.

What are we drinking?
Ayahuasca is a brew or tea that is created from reducing down a combination of the Ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and Psychotria virdis (chacura), which contains DMT. The Aya vine contains alkaloids that act as MAO inhibitors and block the breakdown of the DMT, allowing it to cross the blood brain barrier intact. It is the combination of these two plants that produce the profound effects that Ayahuasca is known for.

Heart problems, antidepressants, active addiction and certain mental health conditions can all be issues when taking Ayahuasca. Legitimate and responsible groups will always do a medical screening of participants. Not being asked to fill out a medical history is a red flag.

Also, not all Ayahuasca is created the same. Depending on the lineage of the Ayahuasquero, the brew may contain between two and 15 ingredients. There are many other plants and barks that can be added for a variety of reasons and effects. Besides speaking with the facilitator about medical history, ask what is in the brew and what effects can be expected from any additional ingredients.

Where will the ceremony take place?
Ceremonies can be held in many different venues, from private homes to out of doors locations. The environment of a ceremony can add or subtract from the overall experience. Things to consider include: access to toilets, comfort with bugs/creatures, temperature, open space versus contained space and security. Those afraid or uncomfortable in wild settings should reconsider participating in an outdoor ceremony. Those who don’t do well without modern comforts like indoor plumbing and air conditioning probably won’t enjoy a trip to the jungle, where most ceremonies happen in traditional huts and there may only be outhouses. Be aware of and comfortable with where the ceremony is being held.

How many participants?
The size of the group is also an important factor of the experience. Be sure that there are enough facilitators to ensure the safety of the participants. There may be only one Maestro/a, but there should be additional helpers/assistants to help with the group depending on the size. The larger the group, the more help needed and the easier it is to get somewhat lost as a participant—especially for a newbie. Smaller groups of six to 15 people allow for more attention if needed. Another consideration is that larger groups are sometimes given a weaker brew to make it easier for the facilitators to handle the number of people involved. Make sure the size of the group fits individual needs and desired experience.

What happens after?
Integration is a key ingredient in psychedelic medicine. It is important to have support post-ceremony to help process the insights, visions and experiences. The healing work that Ayahuasca offers can open deep wounds and create space for transformation that can need additional processing and integration once returned home.

Ask the facilitator about post-ceremony integration opportunities. What type of support do they offer, if any: private counseling/guidance, groups, community events, workshops, emails?  Whether it is through the ceremony group or other channels, be sure to set up post-ceremony support to be able to continue the healing work.

While psychedelic medicines offer powerful healing opportunities, working with them should never be undertaken lightly. With the answers to these five questions, we can make more informed decisions that will support having a powerful and positive experience.

Alexcis Lopez, MS, CHt, NLP, works with clients who are seeking mental, emotional and spiritual peace and clarity. She offers private RESET sessions, Ayahuasca retreats, cacao and kava ceremonies and healing workshops. Connect at 520-690-6576 or See ad, page 18.

Time for Something Different with Alexcis Lopez

Alexcis Lopez, Amazon best-selling author of From Anxious to Awesome and founder/owner of A Transformative Touch Wellness Center since 2006,... Read More » 



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