For some, getting lost is the most exhilarating part of travel. There are individuals who find themselves in their “lost” while traipsing through the depths of Southeast Asia, others in the seas of India, and others still while buried deep under the influence of Ayahuasca.
This hallucinogen, an entheogenic brew of vines and leaves, is most commonly used in cultures derivative of the Amazon, though lately, has grown popular with tourists, who travel from all edges of the globe for this experience. While the drug is said to induce spiritual development, there are dozens of controversial opinions surrounding its usage.
Shannon of Western Australia, where the drug is illegal, argues that Ayahuasca is “amazing when used properly.” The 25-year-old first fell in love with traveling when she spent an entire month in Asia with her best friend, says she never thought of trying psychedelic drugs until she saw the use of Ayahuasca in a documentary.
A shaman, also defined as a medicine man or woman, administers the brew and is prepared to help its users in cases of bad highs. Many shamans have instruments they’ll tap on a user’s head to help lower or lessen any dark visions. As Ayahuasca has boomed, there have been more shamans popping up all over Peru and other countries, making it harder to find a credible administrator.
But Shannon didn’t have any trouble. She says a friend introduced her to her shaman after asking permission to bring Shannon along.
“I had spoken with him beforehand for him to decide whether he would allow me to join in [the] ceremony,” Shannon says. Though she happened to find a trustworthy shaman, her chance to try Ayahuasca wasn’t a straight shot. She still needed to go through a type of interview, she said, so the shaman could trust her as much as she trusted him.
“He is one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met in my life. I have a lot of gratitude for him,” she says.
While Shannon’s reaction was the opposite, some users have felt regret toward their shamans and their journeys.
“My older self would have told my younger self, do not do this,” says Valerie, a 49-year-old from Southern California, USA, where the drug is also illegal. She tried Ayahuasca during a trip to Peru and trusted her shaman—at first. She says that upon arrival she was fine with the two Shaman, one male and one female, though she didn’t feel as if she related to either one of them. As her experience progressed, she grew troubled.
While Shannon was comfortable with her shaman, she still had the drug and high to think about. “I had absolutely no idea what to expect or hope for. I had never had any kind of psychedelic before. I was going in blind and I was terrified.” She notes she was anxious during the drive to the maloca, or ceremonial hut, and that her heart racing the entire time.
Though she expresses it’s a hard experience to describe, she mentions she felt completely reborn. She says that the actual high, or as she calls it, your “journey,” can be hard to cope with, but “once you come out on the other side, so to speak, it is all very positive.”
On the other hand, Valerie had a concrete description of the high and a negative one at that. After gulping down a glass of the brew, she didn’t feel any different, so she drank another. “When the drug started to kick in, I had a very emotional experience that felt like being ‘born,’ like I was going through a sort of birth tunnel into another realm,” Valerie said. Perhaps that’s what Shannon was speaking of when she mentions being reborn.
“I remember being brought to tears from a feeling of overwhelming emotion,” Valerie continues. “Before I started to vomit uncontrollably, the best way to describe my experience was as if I was in the middle of a psychedelic kaleidoscope in outer space. There were many vivid colors and strange apparitions, but nothing that had any direct meaning or coherence. I felt like I was spinning.”
Valerie mentions that the shaman didn’t evoke the sense of responsibility she was hoping for. She was disappointed by the hut, stating that the location wasn’t overly inviting or welcoming. She says, “the ‘bathroom’ facilities were disgusting, and the whole setup was pretty sketchy in general.”
Shannon had no comments about her location’s cleanliness but says she tried Ayahuasca with her friend the first time and then went alone several times after the initial high. Ayahuasca made her “stronger and more connected,”— with herself and in tune with her desires.
When asked if she would revisit using Ayahuasca, Shannon mentioned she would only return to it if she felt a calling.
Opposing that, Valerie says, with certainty that she would never do Ayahuasca again. “After I returned home from the trip, I thanked my lucky stars that nothing truly bad happened to me. To put myself at such risk, driving up basically alone into the mountains with complete strangers to take a psychedelic drug? It boggles my mind how completely irresponsible it was for me to go on this ‘journey.’ I could have had way worse or even life-threatening complications from the drug that the people there seemed to not be very well equipped to handle.”
Like many other drugs, perhaps it’s the mindset going into the high that affects your actual experience from Ayahuasca. But that’s something you’ll have to determine for yourself.
“If you want to try the medicine, only do it if you are 150 percent [sure],” Shannon suggests, “and to do it with the utmost respect. You can never predict or know what will happen through your journey.”