Ayahuasca: Bad Medicine

by Naren Duffy, Customer Services, London, UK

I recently watched a short presentation given by the author Graham Hancock, relating his experiences with the hallucinogenic drink ‘ayahuasca’, and how he used it to stop smoking marijuana, among other things. Ayahuasca is a drink used in shamanistic rituals originating in the Amazon jungle, and it is used sometimes in the West for treating drug addiction as well as emotional difficulties, or by people who are interested in exploring exotic traditions from around the world.

Ayahuasca can be brewed using several different plants, but of the plants used, one will contain DMT (dimethytriptamine) and another an MAO (monoamine oxidase) inhibitor. MAO is a chemical that is present in our liver which serves to break down toxins so that they will be rendered inactive and not end up in the blood stream. DMT occurs in small amounts naturally in our bodies and is linked to dreaming and other functions, but when it is ingested it is naturally broken down by MAO. Therefore an inhibitor is necessary to make DMT have any effect when it is drunk. DMT can also be extracted from a plant and the extract smoked directly into the lungs to produce an extremely intense hallucinogenic experience which lasts a couple of minutes, while the ayahuasca experience can be equally intense and last around four hours, possibly longer.

I took ayahuasca twice in my life and smoked extracted DMT once, and would have considered these to have been quite positive experiences at the time. I took LSD and psilocybin mushrooms on many occasions, and I was a bit of a champion for the use of these substances during that period of my life. I had had varying experiences with psychedelics and hallucinogenics, from the ecstatically blissful to the terrifyingly horrible, and bought into many of the claims that people (including Mr. Hancock) have made, that the way forward in humanity’s evolution is by using mind-expanding substances with the intention to evolve our consciousness and reclaim our destiny as the divine beings that we are.

It is pretty obvious that at this point in our history we are having to deal with a near perfect storm of difficulties on the planet we live on. From health epidemics, to wars, to general society breaking down in ways that we have not experienced in recent memory, humanity is struggling. Understandably, we are looking for ways to fix things and fix ourselves, whether that is through religion, money, technology, good causes, or so-called ancient practices which promise at least to make everything more manageable, and at most to change the world for the better. The problem is that, whatever we choose to heal the situation we find ourselves in, cannot come from the same place that caused the problem in the first place, otherwise we just end up with a different flavour of the same issue further down the line, as history can attest. What is needed is a change in consciousness, this is true, but it is very important to be clear on what consciousness we want to change to, and from where will the change come?

During the ayahuasca ceremonies that I attended the participants sat in a circle for the entire night until dawn. Ayahuasca was drunk two or more times by everyone during the night while the person leading the ceremony sang songs and moved around the room. In between the people seated in the circle were small buckets or bowls, the purpose of which soon became apparent. To quote Mr. Hancock: “…the ayahuasca brew has a foul, foul taste, really, really hideous, and a dreadful, dreadful smell. And after you’ve drunk your cup, you’ll find in about 45 minutes or so you’ll find that you are sweating, you’re feeling nauseous. Pretty soon you may well be vomiting, you may well have diarrhoea…” Thus the little buckets dotted around the room. Throwing up was considered to be a good thing and that you were fully surrendering to the ayahuasca.

The question that always has bothered me about this experience was this: if someone said that they ate or drank something which smelled horrible, tasted terrible and made them throw up, what would your response or thought be? Mine would be that they clearly ingested something that did not agree with them, and they probably shouldn’t put that into their body again. All of those physical responses that are listed in the quote above are pretty basic primal bodily responses and functions to ensure that we do not eat something that is harmful to ourselves, and if we do, to get it out of us as quickly as possible.

And yet, ayahuasca is called “medicine” or even given the title of “The Medicine”. But this medicine clearly does not work in harmony with the body. Peoples’ bodies quite obviously demonstrate this by the reactions that they have. In order to make ayahuasca even work, it is necessary to suppress the body’s natural function, which would normally render it ineffective. What is used to override this evidence is the belief in the payoff of the visions and thoughts that the ayahuasca brings, and that this will bring healing and evolution to the participant and to the planet at large.

But there is an interesting point here. What kind of evolution is this bringing?

As mentioned before, we are living in a time of immense suffering among humanity. But what is the source of this suffering? Who or what is it caused by? This is a huge question, but for the sake of space I would put forth that it stems from the intellectually mind-driven human being who is disconnected from the rest of humanity and acts without consideration for his fellow man… and more importantly, without consideration and love for himself. If a person was truly connected in full to himself and the rest of the people he shares this planet with, and then felt the devastation that might be caused by his actions to himself or another, that person would not do those actions. However, we all know that devastating actions are committed on a daily, if not hourly, basis. So how do we perform them? How do we allow them to happen? We use our mind to intellectually overcome that which our true feelings and primal responses are telling us to not do. How do we know these feelings and responses? Through that which we use to feel: our body.

And so, if someone chooses to drink something that their body is, in no uncertain terms, saying “I do not want that in me” and they drink it anyway, more than once, the only way they could possibly do that is by disconnecting from their body and using their mind to overpower it. Therefore any experience that comes thereafter is a product of the mind’s override. Any perceived benefit that comes out of such an experience will be from the mind, which is acting in disregard to the body that it lives in. And it is the disconnected mind that has caused the devastation we are currently having to deal with on this planet.

If we are going to change our consciousness, does it not make sense to do it in consideration of all of us, and not part of us? Our experience so far in human history has been that living while ignoring a part of our wholeness has landed us in a mess, which is going to take humanity a very long time to heal.

Like Mr. Hancock, I also stopped smoking marijuana after using it habitually for over 14 years. I didn’t suddenly change overnight. I undertook a personal process, and over a fairly short amount of time I no longer had it in my life, and never will again. The path to stopping for me was started by learning to love myself. All of myself, without exception. No drugs involved, no cold turkey, no rehab, no rituals. What started me off was hearing a single sentence, which stopped me in my tracks:

“No one does drugs or drinks alcohol because they feel good about themselves.”

I realised that I had fooled myself into thinking that I was feeling good when I was high or tripping, but in fact overall I was feeling less than I knew I could. I was having some intense (and a few horrible) experiences, which I glamourised, but the glamour faded and eventually I had to go back to living life. A life in which I was not actually feeling what was there to be felt, because I was forever looking towards the next time I could trip or party, and on a daily basis I was dulling myself with cannabis. I was dulling myself because I did not like who I was, but feeling my dulled self made me like myself even less, so I wanted to dull myself more. But why did I decide to dull myself in the first place? What was it that I did not want to feel? What was so bad about me that I thought that inhaling marijuana smoke into my lungs every day was going to make me better than who I was without it?

I thought long and hard on this, and I came up with nothing. Despite all of the stresses and ‘bad things’ that have happened in my life, there is nothing in life that is not worth feeling. There is nothing in life worth burying, no matter how bad it is. One of the great illusions that we are fed from childhood is to “get on with life”, and that feeling the truth of what life really is gets in the way of living. So we come up with ways to fool ourselves into thinking that we are living, when in fact we are letting life slip away into the bottom of a glass, or burn up at the end of a joint, or get lived by someone else on TV or in books, or we hope that some guru/ preacher/ person-on-a-stage can tell us what life is about so we don’t have to really feel it for ourselves. Because if we feel our life and the truth of it in both its ugliness and its glory, then it is ours, and we don’t want that responsibility.

So I decided that after trying so long to change things by doing the same thing, I was going to do something different. I chose to take responsibility for what my life felt like and let myself feel it. And everything changed.

In taking responsibility for my life I have come to know that substances like ayahuasca and marijuana, or any practice which requires us to override and to disregard any part of our whole being, will only ever continue our dissatisfaction with life. These are ways to hide from the truth of life, not to connect to it. Our dissatisfaction with our lives comes from the ways we choose to live them, and nothing else. Make truly different choices and our lives change not just for ourselves, but for those around us too. The trustworthiness of any guidance back to our divine self has to be determined by feeling how it feels in our bodies in every way, not by ignoring our bodies in any way. True divinity is indivisible and encompasses the all-ness of us as beings on every level. Any less than that and we just end up with more of what we have already got.

596 thoughts on “Ayahuasca: Bad Medicine

  1. It’s very powerful what you have shared about feeling, “Because if we feel our life and the truth of it in both its ugliness and its glory, then it is ours, and we don’t want that responsibility.” I haven’t quite looked at it this way but it makes sense, we really do have to see everything if we truly do want change.

  2. I have always believed that our bodies make us sick when we have ingested something that is harmful to it. I have seen for example people who have thrown up because they drank too much alcohol, which is a poison and the stomach is rejecting the poison and hence being sick. So to read
    “Throwing up was considered to be a good thing and that you were fully surrendering to the ayahuasca.”
    Just doesn’t make any sense to me at all, isn’t it fascinating how we kid ourselves into believing what we want to believe even when the signs are contrary.

  3. “No one does drugs or drinks alcohol because they feel good about themselves.” We can try and fool ourselves that we are taking these substances for any other reason, but as you have said Naren, we only imbibe poison when we lack a true foundation of self worth and love.

  4. In taking responsibility for our lives we know full well that taking such substances not only harms us but those around us.

  5. “No one does drugs or drinks alcohol because they feel good about themselves.” A simple and powerful truth that invites us to feel the natural beauty within.

  6. “I chose to take responsibility for what my life felt like and let myself feel it. And everything changed.” Totally, this has been the biggest single thing that has supported me to make changes in my life.

  7. “There is nothing in life that is not worth feeling” – I agree. In numbing and killing our senses, we trap ourselves in a hell, a true hell that we don’t even realise that we are in, so we would not even consider to leave and stay disconnected from ourselves, our true essence, that which knows and is the divinity.

  8. This is such a great blog. It’s the reclaiming of life as ours to live rather than shut down to. I can totally see how I reacted to the strong message that we have to ‘get on with it’ -no matter what awareness may be calling us to greater understanding and depth of living. I saw those around me stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the grandness of life. Anything other than getting on with it was feared and attacked- who knows what disruption would ensue if we disobeyed the servitude to meekness and expectations?

    Then I knew there was more, but I was in huge disregard of my body, so only came upon spiritual stuff and drugs – both selling the lie that this was the more to life people yearned for. But it was as empty, more so, because I knew it wasn’t it and this was the best on offer.

    With both approaches I was trying to manipulate my life to resemble pictures I thought would fulfill me, all the while negating the daily lessons that were there to support me to truly know myself. Without feeling the grandness of life from my body, life has felt awful at times and unbearable. However, with this connection I can be honest about how I feel and the ugliness I see, knowing it’s not all encompassing, love is; I can feel my hurts, letting them go to return to the beauty of life so others can be reminded of this. I’m learning it’s a beautiful responsibility, not an arduous one.

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