Finding a safe, authentic ayahuasca retreat is a mission critical when you decide to take that first flying leap into your healing journey. Ayahuasca is an extremely challenging experience across all levels. One that possesses the capacity to bring you face-to-face with even the most hidden, dark (and ugly) layers of your subconscious. Behaviors and beliefs that you perhaps never knew were there. It’s what makes finding an experienced guide that can lead you throughout your process so important. Don’t make the wrong decision when choosing your shaman or retreat. Let our top five warning signs be your beacon of light the next time your wandering through the jungle seeking your shaman.
1.Do they make the medicine themselves or do they buy it at Tesco`s?
Ideally, you want your shaman to be not only your maestro but the cook of your ayahuasca medicine too. The preparation and cooking process is something that any decent shaman will take extremely seriously. The ayahuasquero we work with at Spirit Plant Journeys takes delicate care in picking and connecting with the plant teachers he includes in his ayahuasca brew. He and many other legitimate shamans should have trained for a decade or (much) more in the jungle, in isolation, learning about every plant the forest offers. Dieting each plant several times before administering it to anyone in ceremony.
The jungle is the earth’s pharmacy. If a shaman doesn’t develop a relationship with each plant and learn which needs to be used for certain mental and physical health conditions, they will not be able to help people. On the contrary, an incorrect administration can actually make someone sicker or even kill them. This is where the importance of dieting your plants right, as a shaman, becomes crucial and potentially, life-saving.
There are hundreds of new western shamans all over the world, popping up in every corner of the globe disguising the medicine in flowers, ego, and dogmatic pedestals. Basically, playing with fire.
People that have no idea what they are actually doing. Disguising their inability during a ceremony in a veil of colors, glitters, and beads. While the depths of the medicine twists and boils silently waiting for the next catastrophe to happen.
We hear a lot about people mixing plants such as Katahwa, Toe-Toe, and many others into their brew that can be dangerous and lethal when mixed in ayahuasca. The first person I ever drank with actually was ignorant enough to put 75 different master plants in his brew. Something I now understand today as a fundamental faux-pas. Many times, people succumb to ego and ignorance by concocting brews that make you hallucinate stronger or see brighter visions, but this is playing with fire.
For these reasons, I believe it is quite naïve and plain reckless to drink with anyone who does not know what is in the brew, who has made it nor what energies are in there too. Drinker beware!
2.How thorough is the medical screening? Do they ask you if you have any medical or mental health conditions now or in the past?
A thorough medical screening is a key to evaluating immediately the legitimacy of your ayahuasca retreat. Ayahuasca (banisteriopsis caapi vine) is a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI). MAOIs block an enzyme called monoamine oxidase, which breaks down excess tyramine in the body. Tyramine is an amino acid that helps regulate blood pressure. But tyramine can reach dangerous levels if you eat foods containing tyramine while on a MAOI. This can lead to a sudden spike in blood pressure, stroke, brain hemorrhage, and death.
There have been nearly 100 deaths recorded due to an interaction between pharmaceutical MAOIs and tyramine-containing foods. (SOURCE: Ayahuasca.com) This inhibition of MAO-A allows DMT to diffuse unmetabolized past the membranes in the stomach and small intestine, and eventually cross the blood–brain barrier (which, by itself, requires no MAO-A inhibition) to activate receptor sites in the brain. Without RIMAs or the MAOI of MAO-A, DMT would be oxidized (and thus rendered biologically inactive) by monoamine oxidase enzymes in the digestive tract. If you want to read more about this just get on Google on Wikipedia.
So, long story short; the questions you want to ensure your potential ayahuasca retreat ask are the following:
Questions about past drug abuse (prescription or other).
If you’ve had any severe mental health conditions such as Bipolar 2, Psychosis and Schizophrenia.
Ayahuasca can trigger these episodes, it cracks everything open. If someone comes to a short retreat, there is not enough time or guidance to go through severe processes that destabilize the mind. I do not recommend or accept anyone on my retreat with severe mental health conditions to drink ayahuasca. It is too dangerous.
The same is valid for severe physical health conditions. If you need to take medications that are not compatible with ayahuasca the results could be fatal.
Save your own health and life by checking with your doctor if you have any heart disease, kidney failure, epilepsy or any physical health conditions prior to drinking ayahuasca.
Most ayahuasca deaths you hear about are due to fatal blends, participants who are on other drugs or SSRI.s, and/or irresponsible shamans or organizers who do not do their due diligence and take on anyone.
In any case, if you are unsure about your own medical history, consult your doctor before drinking ayahuasca!
3. Does the shaman or retreat tell you to diet before drinking ayahuasca?
Diet preparation is crucial to the efficacy and tone of your ayahuasca experience. Eating the wrong foods or getting wasted on alcohol or drugs before a ceremony could cross with the medicine and have significant consequences.
There are many variations on what is a “proper” ayahuasca diet, and every shaman or retreat will have their own version. It also can be dependent on the brew. However, in general, it’s very simple. Stick to a clean, healthy diet void of processed foods, alcohol, drugs and particular foods with MAOI’s. To find out more about the diet, just go online or read more about it here. And remember, always consult your doctor before you quit any medication.
If the retreat center or shaman does not ask you or warn you about the diet, you can be sure they don`t know what they are doing with this medicine.
It is crucial to diet, not just for physical reasons, but also to open up and show your willingness to the plant.
Imagine a cup of water with sand mixed up inside, it is all cloudy and blurry. But if you diet, you allow the sand (your energies) to settle to the bottom of the glass. This assists you in finding clarity in your intention and in the work you will be doing with spirit plants.
I could write a book about dieting but you can also just do your research.
4.Do they give you tobacco purge ceremonies?
So, we have heard about a lot of tragedies around tobacco drinking. Which is often confused with ayahuasca by the media. A lot of retreats offer it as an additional activity and cost. Imagine you go in for surgery, and the doctor tells you last minute that there is this additional option of drinking a medicine that’s highly dangerous and poisonous, but you might look better and fresher after you do so. They offer you this without diagnosing your capacity to hold this medicine, nor checking to see if you really need this procedure.
Tobacco is the same. It is ultimately a nicotine poisoning due to the amount you ingest in such a short amount of time.
If you drink it, you should be guided and monitored VERY closely and not be left alone a minute. Tobacco is a serious plant and medicine. It is very powerful and very effective, but not just anyone can provide it. A maestro who works with tobacco should be as trained just as a maestro who works with aya. They should be a MASTER of tobacco, a tabaquero. Someone who has dieted the plant properly during a legitimate apprenticeship.
So, If someone just casually proposes you to drink tobacco without examining you and explaining to you what this means, you should run, fast, now. Like.. now!
5. Do they drink?
In general, ESPECIALLY on an ayahuasca retreat when you come for shorter work in Peru, the shaman should drink with you. This allows for a greater connection with both you and the medicine, leading to a fuller, richer and more powerful experience.
In certain Amazonian traditions, the shaman does not drink. But this usually happens in the context of dieting master plants that are typically not hallucinogenic. If you want to read about what dietas really are about and why we do it, subscribe to our blog.
The shaman will always drink whatever dosage is right for him, as we acquire more sensitivity to the medicine with time. But he should completely connect with you during the night.