So, is this Ayahuasca/DMT thing for real? Is it a scam? An escape from reality? Does it have legitimate therapeutic value?
Alas, the answers to these questions do not permit a simple, black and white response.
Allow me to explain…
Before sharing my thoughts, feelings, and tentative conclusions regarding my Ayahuasca/DMT experience, I want to emphasize four important caveats:
- While I approached all of this with a scientific mindset, none of my experience qualifies as a controlled experiment.
- I speak for no one else. All my commentary represents the experience and perspective of only one person… me.
- Nothing I say should be interpreted as an endorsement of Ayahuasca or DMT.
- I cannot speak to the efficacy of Ayahuasca/DMT to treat serious conditions such as substance abuse and depression, as I am fortunate not to suffer from either.
Regarding Spiritual and Supernatural Claims
- Contrary to certain claims, DMT is not “The Spirit Molecule”.
- The Ayahuasca experience is not a sacred sacrament, not a cosmic revelation, not a window into heaven, not a conduit to the collective unconscious, not a way to see God. There is nothing supernatural about any of this.
- The consumption of Ayahuasca/DMT creates an altered state of consciousness because the DMT molecule has significant visual, aural, cognitive, and emotional effects on your brain.
- All of these “psychedelic” effects are readily explained as distortions in the sensory, motor, and processing channels of your brain, not by contact with “the divine”.
Regarding the Adverse Physical Effects
- Ingestion of Ayahuasca causes significant gastrointestinal distress that includes heartburn, nausea, explosive diarrhea, and violent repeated vomiting that may last for hours.
- While some might consider the purging to be a meaningful rite of passage, I would classify it as an ordeal that served no useful purpose.
- These unpleasant physical effects, even during “the good trip”, were far worse than I was led to believe from the accounts of others. In fact, the vomiting during my second (bad) trip was so extremely gut-wrenching (literally) that I would never do Ayahuasca again.
- Each wave of nausea, diarrhea, heartburn, and hot/cold flashes is a perfectly natural protective response. Contrary to some fantastic claims, your body is purging itself of poison, not demons.
- Surviving the paranoia and gastrointestinal distress during my “bad trip” took every ounce of volition and presence of mind that I could muster. I am not sure my younger self would have been mature enough to handle it the way I did.
- While I experienced a mild hangover, a half day’s rest was enough time for a full recovery. By the way, drinking water is the best, and maybe the ONLY way to accelerate the purging and recovery process.
- While the vomiting was much harsher, in both intensity and duration, than expected, it apparently caused no permanent harm.
Regarding Long-Term Health Concerns
Three years hence, I have not felt even the slightest tinge of addiction or seen any hint of brain, liver, or any other organ damage.
Regarding the Therapeutic Value of DMT
The fact that there is nothing supernatural about the Ayahuasca/DMT experience does not automatically discount it as having therapeutic value. To that point, the profound realizations I experienced during my first (good) trip were particularly intriguing. In my view, this singular positive experience leaves open the possibility that Ayahuasca/DMT may have significant and enduring cognitive and emotional health benefits… for some people under certain circumstances.
I realize that this is all quite subjective, but I remain open to the very real possibility that my brain was rewired by “the good trip”, producing a range of enduring positive effects: clarity of thinking, feelings of compassion, feelings of connection with all living things, diminution of performance anxiety, a renewed sense of discipline, significant reduction in anxiety regarding a chronic health condition, recognition of and intolerance for bullshit (sorry, but the colorful language fits). I also feel more courageous, more honest, more comfortable in my own skin, and more prepared to speak my mind (but to do so with tact). I grant you that all the above may just be incidental to my other ongoing efforts at self-improvement, but the possibility remains intriguing.
Special note: Alas, due to the illegality of DMT, peer-reviewed research is non-existent and will likely remain so for some time. In the meantime, the only sources of data are the typically sketchy, anecdotal accounts from unverified (and perhaps unverifiable) sources.
Conjectures Regarding the Therapeutic Process
If there is any legitimate therapeutic value to be had, my hypothesis regarding the general process goes as follows:
- Anything that interrupts one’s habits of thinking, feeling, and doing may have therapeutic value. The same can be said for psychotherapy, reading a book, taking piano lessons, or traveling to a foreign country.
- Ayahuasca/DMT seems to disrupt, inhibit, amplify, distort, and crosslink existing neural networks in a way that may allow one to temporarily override existing patterns of sensation and cognition.
- This may allow one’s conscious mind to gain temporary access to the subconscious, providing an opportunity to recognize and dissolve destructive and deeply-rooted habits of thinking, feeling, and behavior.
- This fleeting window of opportunity may allow one to see old memories in a new light, to gain perspective, and to restructure old repetitive thought patterns in new and constructive ways.
- Under certain favorable conditions, this altered state may elevate one’s awareness in a way that promotes insight and self-examination with sufficient intensity that new, life-enhancing memories are formed and become permanent.
Would I do Ayahuasca/DMT again?
I am glad I had the experience, but I would NOT do it again… for at least three reasons:
- Since I had already experienced both a good trip and a bad trip, my scientific curiosity about the range of possible experiences was sufficiently satisfied.
- I felt that I had already gotten what I needed, in terms of cognitive-emotional benefit, from “the good trip”.
- The physical effects during “the bad trip” were so horrific that it extinguished any interest I may have had in doing another ceremony, ever.