Shamanic Plant Sacrament Safety
In the Shamanic Practices of the
Andes and Amazon of Perú
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Discussions on personal safety, preparation, precautions and cautions for those consuming San Pedro/Wachuma/Huachuma/Echinopsis pachanoi (syn. Trichocereus pachanoi)
Ayahuasca/Yagé/Banisteriopsis caapi in combination with Psychotria viridis
in traditional and semi-traditional ceremonial settings.
By Craig G Berry
Authored by Craig G Berry, 2017, for Shaman’s hearth, http://ShamansHearth.com, and fb.me/ShamansHearth: CC Creative Commons – Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0
This work may be shared as published, including all notices and credits. Reproduction or replication of this work for commercial purposes or gain is strictly prohibited. This work has been undertaken to benefit Perú and those visiting this beautiful land with thoughts or intent to participate in plant sacrament ceremonies. This, and any subsequent editions, are to remain free for personal, non-commercial and educational use. Please contact the author via http://www.facebook.com/ShamansHearth for reproduction rights and conditions.
Disclaimer: Given the myriad conditions and over the counter/legal/illicit drug combinations not tested with plant sacrament ceremonies, this text can be regarded as a general guide only. No definitive text or guide is possible without significant research time and money invested to investigate interactions and contraindications of plant sacraments with the thousands of common drugs. The reader agrees that the information herein is offered for opinion and discussion purposes only, and that any final personal decisions and any resulting consequences are the reader’s alone. The opinions expressed herein are a collaboration of personal, second hand and anecdotal/traditional thoughts.
Perú has a rich tradition of shamanic plant sacrament ceremonies , referred to locally as plant medicine, as have most strong traditional cultures around the world. Perú is doubly blessed to have traditions in both Huachuma and Ayahuasca. Both plants have been included in this guide, as their information overlaps greatly, and their concepts are essentially parallel. Shamanic lore regards the spirits of Huachuma and Ayahuasca as ancient partners. Certainly, in the author’s direct experience, the two plant spirits are often present in partnership.
These discussions are designed to guide the reader’s thinking, rather than act as an authoritative or definitive reference. The issue is that no single or complex plant sacrament ceremony can be considered safe for all people of the world, all the time. Whilst safety and efficacy is well established in traditional use, far too many conditions and vices that are common in the developed world simply do not occur in traditional shamanic cultures where the history of safety and efficacy of these plant sacraments have been long established.
For example, abuse of amphetamines, cocaine, crack and many other addictive stimulant drugs, common in the developed world, can quickly and permanently damage the heart and/or its blood vessels to the point where otherwise every day and safe practices become dangerous. The issue of cardiac amphetamine damage is that the risk is unknown in relation to plant sacrament ceremonies because there is essentially no shamanic reference possible regarding amphetamine or cocaine based heart damage. Many of the Industrialised vices can result in interactions and consequences that are simply unforeseeable from the jungles of the Amazon or the highlands of the Andes.
For those meeting the spirits of Huachuma or Ayahuasca through drinking sacred plant sacrament, the decision to drink or not to drink is yours alone. The discussions are complex, and by the paragraph above, the reader can see that there are no clear guidelines to cover every medication and situation. For this reason, the ‘why’ of each point is just as important as is the point itself. Given appropriate preparation, a non-drug using, healthy adult should have no issues with plant sacraments.
The Pharmacological Profile of San Pedro/ Huachuma / Wachuma / Echinopsis pachanoi (syn. Trichocereus pachanoi) [including Peyote/ Lophophora williamsii]
Peyote is included in this discussion because of its highly similar chemical properties and spiritual significance to that of Huachuma.
Huachuma and Peyote are the two richest natural sources of their primary psychoactive ingredient, mescaline. The final delivered form of the mescaline can vary from different cooking methods, but typically delivers 350-700mg of active mescaline in a dose. Mescaline occurs in other related cacti, but in concentrations far less than these two revered plants.
A significant number of psychoactive and active alkaloids are present in Huachuma:
* Mescaline (0.21–1.8%)
The lethal oral overdose range (LD50) for mescaline is cited in the range of 800-1200mg per kilo of body weight, so for a 70Kg individual, consumption to potentially lethal overdose would require the consumption of at least 75 individual doses of medicine. Anyone who has drunk of the plant sacraments will know how unreasonable this level of consumption would be, as the body would reject (violently projectile vomit) any attempts to consume even a small portion of this amount.
Resources for further information about Huachuma:
The Pharmacological Profile of Ayahuasca/Yagé/Banisteriopsis caapi in Combination with Chacruna/Psychotria viridis
The primary psychoactive ingredient of Ayahuasca (the prepared sacrament) is Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which is contained within the leaf and small stems of the Chacruna bush. (Other DMT bearing plants may be used in place of chacruna, with the effects variable, but remaining reasonably consistent.) Harmala alkaloids – a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) – is contained within the Ayahuasca vine. The three most studied harmala alkaloids in the B. caapi vine are harmine, harmaline and tetrahydroharmine.
The inhibition action of the MAOI in the vine inhibits the destruction of DMT in the stomach by an enzyme called monoamine oxidase (MAO-A). The inhibition of destruction allows DMT to diffuse through the membranes of the stomach and small intestine, eventually crossing the blood–brain barrier to activate DMT receptor sites in the brain.
The effective dose of DMT delivered in a typical ceremony is cited as typically between 24 and 66mg. The lethal overdose range (LD50) is cited as 110mg per kilo of body weight (injected). To orally consume this much DMT in a traditional brew is highly improbable, if not impossible.
Resources for further information about Ayahuasca:
Mescaline is regarded as ‘of low addictive potential’. Its actions within the body do form part of a physiological cycle that can be involved in addiction, but these are negated by a very rapid tolerance of mescaline by the body. Essentially, if too much is used in too short a time, it will cease to elicit any significant response in the body, regardless of dosing. In this way, the body’s rapid tolerance heads off any potential addiction before it can become a physiological reality. The tolerance takes five to twenty days to fade away, and is dependent on many factors.
Dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, is not only the primary psychoactive ingredient in Ayahuasca, but also occurs naturally in the brain. DMT is regarded as ‘of low addictive potential’. Especially in plant sacrament applications, addiction is unheard of (Refined DMT is sometimes consumed as a snuff, smoked or ingested, but is not included in the shamanic context of this discussion). DMT has a range of effects, and those effects change over time and consumption rates. These changes ensure that the body’s interactions with Ayahuasca remain beyond any likely physiological addiction.
In shamanic context, the author has neither witnessed, nor heard of anyone, addicted to either plant sacraments, nor has he heard any credible second or third hand reports of addiction. Shamanic understanding considers the spirits of these plants to be old spirits; and regards the old spirits as not addicting. The old spirits seek collaboration and partnership, rather than dominance or worship.
Pregnancy and breast feeding is a contentious issue. Whilst many traditional societies hold no issue with plant sacrament use during pregnancy and/or breastfeeding, others approach it with more caution, or even prohibition.
This is ultimately a personal decision for the woman involved, and the author can make no personal recommendations on this issue.
If a woman is being called to drink, and she discerns that it is the right time on her path to drink, then there is an equal weight of anecdotal evidence for the affirmative as there is negative. There is no authority that can say the case is set in one bias or the other, so it remains a decision solely for the woman and the family concerned.
The Huachuma cactus has in it a protein that can cause rare, but life threatening anaphylactic reactions, even if no issues with consumption have occurred in the past (in a manner similar to peanut allergy onset, for example). There are several agents in Ayahuasca which can cause rare, but significant allergic responses in a similar way. In all cases, adrenaline should be available for administration if anaphylaxis is observed. In all cases, a first-aid trained attendant should be present during serving, and for at least 45 minutes following serving, to ensure no allergy based complications are occurring.
Mentioned in the introduction, use of drugs like amphetamines (especially Methamphetamine, or crystal meth), cocaine and speed frequently results unpredictable and permanent cardiac damage. A twenty year old user may have the cardiac health of a poor condition eighty or ninety year old. Regular complications include dissecting aneurysms, fragile cardiac arteries, and unstable blockages of cardiac vessels and the aorta. Damage of this type is considered medically as essentially unresolvable.
Because drug use of this sort is not seen in the Amazon, and rare in the Andes, even if admitted to hospital with drug induced cardiac complications, it is unlikely that the practitioners there would possess the experience to recognise the issue for what it is, and the chances of a cardio-thoracic surgeon experienced in the required, highly specialized repair work being present are extremely remote to say the least.
Some plant sacrament applications, like a tobacco purge, can place a great deal of barometric and mechanical stresses on the heart and its major vessels. The risk of event and complication is also just as present for someone with this sort of damage when just walking up a hill etc. These cautions must be included here as the physical purging and some parts of an Ayahuasca or Huachuma journey can be highly stimulating/stressful, and heart rates are correspondingly high at those times. Those with a history of amphetamine use/abuse should not undertake tobacco purges etc. without a cardiac health check. An Ayahuasca or Huachuma journey should be considered as a potential cardiac event trigger. High risk clients should be sat with by a competent person for 12-18 hours following a ceremony.
Those in treatment for, or with an active diagnosis for BiPolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Schizophrenia, and their associated conditions are less likely to find benefit from plant sacrament. Developmental conditions that are due to physical ‘wiring’ issues within the brain may be temporarily exacerbated following consumption of a plant sacrament (eg. Manic or hypomanic breaks may be triggered). Consultation with an informed physician for an acute phase medication recommendation, and a safe person to act as guardian for a time following a journey is necessary. It is not recommended to cease medications for these conditions without consulting a competent physician, and the likelihood of a lasting positive outcome of a plant sacrament journey is low in these cases. The possibility of a psychotic break is also high in these circumstances.
Other behavioural issues including psychopathy, sociopathy, and social interaction disorders (with nuisance or harm) mandate full disclosure before the ceremony, and need careful planning; the presence of a sober personal guardian to prevent disruption to a ceremony is recommended. The likelihood of a lasting positive outcome from a plant sacrament journey for those within these groups of conditions is low.
Those with hypertension or unstable high blood pressure should approach plant sacrament ceremonies with caution. Those on blood pressure medications need to be very cautious of interactions of their medications, with Ayahuasca in particular, but with most plant sacraments in general, including tobacco purges and other non-journeying, purgative rituals.
It is most recommended to seek a competent and informed physician’s advice before altering the dosage of any life preserving medications. MAOI and Seratonin uptake inhibitors are a specific & known danger in plant sacrament ceremonies.
Both Huachuma and Ayahuasca contain compounds that can be antagonistic to the bowels, sometimes causing one or more episodes of diarrhoea as well as routinely causing stomach purging (Ayahuasca is also known as “la purga”, for her purgative effects); both are considered a beneficial and positive thing in shamanic settings. More of an issue with Ayahuasca than Huachuma, those with lower bowel issues like diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis and similar conditions should approach these medicines with caution. Because of the strength of bowel movement that can be triggered, these conditions present a small but tangible risk of potential rupture.
Whilst not an issue unique to the first world, gallbladder issues are not routinely seen nor diagnosed within the shamanic settings that are the traditional homes of these medicines. Those with gallbladder issues are not recommended to drink of these plant sacraments. Huachuma is the more likely of the two to trigger a strong bout of bilious nausea and vomiting as well as diarrhoea and bowel cramps (which will generally pass within four to six hours – hydration is critical to prevent complications in these cases). If reacting to Ayahuasca, a few days of liver stress and illness is a potential complication. If a liver stress response has been experienced, medical investigation of liver and gallbladder is strongly recommended before drinking again. Those with a history of hepatitis, liver metabolic issues etc should approach plant sacrament with great caution and should have a highly conservative first dose to assess responses without full dosing for their first ceremony.
Alcohol gets a special mention as its rate of complication is very high. At altitude, the effects of alcohol are greatly magnified, and its effect are about 2 to 3 times more than its effects at lower altitudes. Liver toxicity, a poor experience, nausea, diarrhoea and potential medical complications all exist with alcohol consumption and plant sacrament.
Whilst the following lists are prepared with Ayahuasca in mind, aside from the MAOIs, it is reasonable to expect that Huachuma is likely to be reactive to most in this list as well.
Those medications with an Asterisk (*) on the end are known or strongly suspected to interact negatively with Huachuma.
The following lists were sourced from http://ayahuasca.com with the additional Huachuma information added by the author.
* Other MAOIs
* SSRI’s (any selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) *
* amphetamines (meth-, dex-, amphetamine) *
* antihypertensives (high blood pressure medicine)
* appetite suppressants (diet pills) *
* medicine for asthma, bronchitis, or other breathing problems
* antihistamines, medicines for colds, sinus problems, hay fever, or allergies (Actifed DM, Benadryl, Benylin, Chlor-Trimeton, Compoz, etc.) *
* CNS (central nervous system) depressants *
* Antipsychotics *
* Amantadine hydrochloride (Symmetrel)
* Amoxapine (Asendin)
* Bupropion (Wellbutrin)
* Buspirone (BuSpar)
* Carbamazepine (Tegretol, Epitol)
* Clomipramine (Anafranil)
* Cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril)
* Cyclizine (Marezine)
* Desipramine (Pertofrane)
* Dextromethorphan (DXM)
* Disopyramide (Norpace)
* Doxepin (Sinequan)
* Flavoxate Hydrochloride (Urispas)
* Fluoxetine (Prozac)
* Imipramine (Tofranil)
* Isocarboxazid (Marplan)
* Levodopa (Dopar, Larodopa)
* Loratadine (Claritin)
* Maprotiline (Ludiomil)
* Meperidine (Demerol)
* Methylphenidate (Ritalin)
* Nortriptyline (Aventyl)
* Oxybutynin chloride (Ditropan)
* Orphenadrine (Norflex)
* Paroxetine (Paxil)
* Phenelzine (Nardil)
* Procainamide (Pronestyl)
* Protriptyline (Vivactil)
* Quinidine (Quinidex)
* Selegiline (Eldepryl)
* Sertraline (Zoloft)
* Tranylcypromine (Parnate)
* Tricyclic antidepressants (Amitriptyline, Elavil)
* Trimipramine (Surmontil)
* St. Johns Wort *
* Kava *
* Ephedra *
* Ginseng *
* Yohimbe *
* Sinicuichi *
* Using Tricyclic antidepressants within two weeks of taking MAOIs may cause serious side effects including sudden fever, extremely high blood pressure, convulsions, and death.
* Using Fluoxetine (Prozac) within five weeks of taking MAOIs may cause high fever, rigidity, high blood pressure, mental changes, confusion and hypomania.
* Using Meperidine (Demerol) with pharmaceutical MAOIs has resulted in deaths from a single dose.
* Using cocaine with MAOIs may cause a severe increase in blood pressure, increasing the chances for stroke and cerebral haemorrhage and making it possible to overdose on a relatively small amount of cocaine. (A fatality has been recorded involving combining Peganum harmala and cocaine.)
* Using Bupropion (Wellbutrin) within two weeks of taking MAOIs may cause serious side effects such as seizures.
* Using Buspirone (Buspar) with MAOIs may cause high blood pressure.
* Using Carbamazepine (Tegretol) with MAOIs may increase seizures.
* Using CNS depressants with MAOIs may increase the depressant effects.
* Using Dextromethorphan with MAOIs may cause excitement, high blood pressure, and fever, or brief episodes of psychosis.
* Using Tryptophan with MAOIs may cause disorientation, confusion, amnesia, delirium agitation, hypomanic signs, shivering.
* Using alcohol with MAOIs may cause side effects like angina (chest pain) or headaches. The headache may mask or be mistaken for hypertensive crisis caused by MAOI interaction.
* Using Kava with MAOIs may result in hypotensive crisis (severe blood pressure drop).
* Using Temaril with MAOIs may increase chance of side effects.
* Special note to diabetics: MAOIs may change the amount of insulin or oral antidiabetic medication that you need. It is critical you organise a sober guardian or facilitator to check your BSL and take appropriate action as required.
Other medications like some antibiotics, including some given for malaria prevention, are challenging to the liver, and do not combine well with Huachuma and Ayahuasca.
It is important that anyone who offers ceremony also describes in detail their lead in and follow out durations of dietary and substance restrictions, and that personal research is also undertaken. If one is not offered this information, reconsider the motivations of those offering ceremony.
Huachuma has a far less restrictive diet and duration than Ayahuasca, but following the prescribed diet faithfully is needed for both safety, and quality of experience. For example, drinking alcohol within the prohibition window is not only likely to negate many of the effects of either medicine, but in most cases will also see any journey experienced as distant or unpleasant. In traditional use, it is considered insulting to the spirit of the medicine.
Grandfather (Huachuma) is not as demanding in early journeys as Grandmother (Ayahuasca) tends to be. The prohibitions are as follows:
* No pork or offal for 7 days before and three days after ceremony.
* No red meat 3 days before or the day after.
* No oily or preserved fish or poultry the day before, no oily fish the day after.
* No meat products, sex, stimulants, mood modifiers, heavy oils or fats, salty/sweet the day before or after (salt may be used the day after, but should be used very sparingly while still in the force of the medicine).
Huachuma is best taken on an empty stomach, with a fast of no less than eight hours recommended in most cases. If blood sugar is an issue, a few strips of papaya or mango are acceptable early in the morning of ceremony. The digestion will accept the medicine more easily if not occupied by other tasks.
The Author’s personal experience suggests that 5-15 days of following the dietary restrictions, and 3-9 days following yields the most effective results. Sexual contact, including heavy petting and masturbation, is prohibited in most practices before an Ayahuasca ceremony for nearly the same period as they recommend for the preparatory restrictions in diet. Please note that the period of prohibition concerning sex is mandated by the spirit of Ayahuasca, so failing to remain ‘clean’ will be between the drinker and the Spirit, not the shaman. Unless an act of true and unselfish love, the journey is likely to be rough. Ayahuasca is reputed to be a jealous spirit, although in the author’s personal experience, she has proven quite lenient in general.
The following list is via Ayahuasca.com, with the author’s understandings added for Huachuma in trailing brackets and italics. The Huachuma prohibitions are directly above this section.
Basically foods that are aged, preserved, dried, fermented, pickled, cured (meats), rancid, old, outdated, overripe, or even slightly spoiled.
The following foods are recommended to be avoided with MAOIs:
* Meat that is not fresh, especially unfresh liver (fresh meat and fresh liver are safe) [Included in the pork and offal prohibition of Huachuma.]
* Smoked, fermented, pickled (herring) and otherwise aged or dried fish, lox; any fish that is not fresh [Included in the pork and offal prohibition of Huachuma.]
* Sausage, bologna, pepperoni, salami, corned beef [Included in the pork and offal prohibition of Huachuma.]
* Aged cheeses (cottage cheese and cream cheese are safe) [Included in the poultry and fish prohibition of Huachuma.]
* Protein extracts [Included in the pork and offal prohibition of Huachuma.]
* Liquid and powdered protein dietary supplements [Included in the poultry and fish prohibition of Huachuma.]
* Brewer’s yeast, yeast vitamin supplements, or yeast extracts [Included in the poultry and fish prohibition of Huachuma.]
* Fermented tofu, fermented bean curd, fermented soybean paste, soy sauce [Included in the poultry and fish prohibition of Huachuma.]
* Canned soups, or soups made with protein extracts or bouillon [Included in the fresh red meat prohibition of Huachuma.]
* Miso soup (contains fermented bean curd) [Included in the poultry and fish prohibition of Huachuma, but allowed the day following ceremony.]
* Shrimp paste [Included in the poultry and fish prohibition of Huachuma.]
* Sauerkraut [Included in the fresh red meat prohibition of Huachuma.]
* Fruits that are bruised or even slightly overripe, especially bananas and apples; raisins and other dried fruits, fig newtons, etc (banana peels also should be avoided — as though you’d eat them anyway) [Dried and preserved fruit are included in the poultry and fish prohibition of Huachuma, but allowed the day following ceremony.]
* Avocados, if ripe or overripe (slightly underripe avocados are fine in moderation). Guacamole should be avoided. [Avoid the day before Huachuma, not as a prohibition, but nausea during ceremony tends to be more of an issue with consumption of darker, riper or browned avocados the day before ceremony.]
* Red wine, especially Chianti; sherry, vermouth, champagne, brandy; beers and ales, including nonalcoholic; whiskey and liqueurs such as Drambuie and Chartreuse. [Included in the fresh red meat prohibition of Huachuma.]
* Dairy products that are close to the expiration date or that have been unrefrigerated (fresh yogurt is safe) [No issue identified with Huachuma, but may contribute to nausea with susceptible people during ceremony.]
* Aspartame (Nutrasweet) and Saccarin [Critical for avoiding potential liver toxicity! Included in the pork and offal prohibition of Huachuma.]
* Fava beans, especially if overripe. [Included in the fresh red meat prohibition of Huachuma.]
* Peanuts – in large quantities [Included in the fresh red meat prohibition of Huachuma, but allowed after the medicine is fully worn off, will cause significant sleep issues if consumed whilst still in the medicine’s effects.]
* Raspberries – in large quantities [No issue identified with Huachuma.]
* Spinach, New Zealand prickly or silver beet – in large quantities. [Included in the fresh red meat prohibition of Huachuma.]
* Chocolate – in large quantities [Included in the fresh red meat prohibition of Huachuma.]
* Caffeine in large quantities (note: in a few rare individuals, there may be a severe interaction with even small amounts of caffeine). [Included in the poultry and fish prohibition of Huachuma.]
Use of all electronic communication devices is discouraged in the strongest of possible terms from the evening before ceremony until the evening of the day after. The medicine aspects of the ceremony covers far more than just the ceremony day. To get the most out of your time and experiences, remaining present is critical. Social media, news media, even funny memes, are all distractions detracting from the processes and intent appropriate for participation.
If feeling it super important to communicate with the outside world, please keep it as brief and private as possible. To this end, if you do chose to use a digital device, please do it well away from the others and in full privacy. This is said to first honour your own process, and next, to respect the process other participants are going through, and to keep the environment as focused on everyone’s purpose for participating in a plant sacrament ceremony as is possible. Checking social media, hopefully, will be the furthest thing from anyone’s mind and intent.
Please refrain from photography during ceremony. It is easy to distract one’s self during ceremony, and photo opportunities will exist on non-ceremony days.
If wanting to show another participant a captured image, please do so respectfully. The medicine space will be active within all participants, and someone may be going through a deep process (talking with God) at the moment that another tries to show them a digital display, pulling them out of their space.
Please check all images before posting to Facebook, and ensure that anyone even remotely identifiable in any image has given explicit permission to be posted. Likewise, please tag other participants with their consent only. It must remain the choice of every participant to set their own level of privacy regarding their presence and participation. Many participants are in occupations where anonymity is required, and a part of the medicine circle is to act with the highest integrity around all aspects of the medicine and the circle.
No matter if a one-time ceremony, part of an ongoing series or a retreat, there is an implicit and imperative obligation upon all participants and facilitators to keep all details concerning other participants in the strictest of confidence. Heart and spirits are laid open only in an atmosphere of complete trust, which is part of the magic of the medicine circle.
Disclosure of involvement must be each individual participant’s personal choice. In many cases, careers could be endangered by association back home with Peruvian or Plant Spirit exposure. Discussions had within the circle or in active retreat must remain completely confidential, even from hints. This is part of every participant’s contract with the spirits of the plants.
Remain clear of harsh music, influences and scenes. Allowing your mind to focus on your intent for the coming ceremony is a beautiful opportunity to prepare for it. Your intent may be anything you choose to ask for. The author uses a common theme in all ceremonies, ‘To meet and sit with the Spirit of Huachuma (or Ayahuasca), and if the maestro/a chooses to speak, to listen, hear and learn with gratitude, full clarity and understanding.’ The spirits of Huachuma and Ayahuasca are shaman, and will offer required assistance when approached with respect.
It is best to sit in nature, to exercise gratitude and to hold yourself in a state of detached observation as much as is possible. Ensure you do not resent the food prohibitions, but consider them a small tribute to pay for the counsel that one is about to receive.
Huachuma is quite acidic (pH 4.1-4.3), despite containing ‘alkaloids’, and a fast rinse and spit with fresh water following drinking is suggested as appropriate for tooth enamel health.
If you purge with any plant sacrament, please take the time to rinse your mouth thoroughly to disperse and dilute stomach acid in the mouth, preventing damage to tooth enamel.
Do not resist purging, as it is governed by the plant spirit, and it is not vomiting as you may know it. Medicine purges are pieces of stagnant energy, old patterns and issues being released and dealt with. Embrace the purge, and instead of throwing up, work with the spirit of the plant to eject whatever it is from your life. There can be strong bowel reactions to Ayahuasca, far more than Huachuma, and these are another form of medicine purge. Release any industrialised or first world prejudices, and go with the shamanic model of purging; it will make your experience far easier.
Some shamanic guides prefer to work with people during their first (or more) purge of the day to ensure a clear energetic path. It might feel like one of those times where privacy is good, but your facilitators have worked with the medicine and its effects for a long time, and are more interested in ensuring that your release is complete and that the heavy energies of what you’re releasing are fully liberated and neutralised.
As a participant, your role is not to participate in or interfere with anyone else’s journey. Working with others is the shaman’s role. Your role is to be fully present in your own journey and to remain still and free of distractions, listening to the sensible counsel and teachings of Huachuma’s whispers within the winds, or experiencing the force of Ayahuasca’s challenging of everything you thought you knew.
There will be temptations to interact with others, to share a joke or an observation, or discuss a revelation. The issue is that the need to share is a distraction, both to your process and that of the other person/s being shared with. Likewise, you might see someone shaking and crying in a foetal ball and want to check on them/comfort them. If you are concerned, attract the attention of your facilitators, and allow their experience and guidance to offer appropriate care.
Please be well aware of personal space and not interfering with anyone else’s journey. This includes staring at people or following them if they are seeking solitude. If a leader/facilitator/shaman is doing one on one work, please avoid entering or transiting the area of that work; this is for your safety as much as it is for the safety of the person being worked on.
Sun! During daytime Huachuma ceremonies, you are one with the cactus, and cactus loves sun. Use copious sunscreen and sun smart measures from the start of the day. Andean sun has about a third less atmosphere to penetrate than at sea level, and is correspondingly faster to burn. (Think the burning Australian sun if you know it.)
The author has direct experience of a young lady from New York running away and hiding, disrupting the remaining ceremony for an extended search and rescue effort. It was not until dark that she realised her error and responded to the Fire Dept searching for her! Likewise, participants have been caught eating local flora or about to eat local fungi. For the record, very few naturally occurring fungi in the Andes are edible, with most being toxic to highly toxic. This might sound obvious or far-fetched, but every ceremony leader will tell of similar stories. Under the influence of Huachuma in the Andean country side is not the time or place for external distractions, but is a perfect time for internal exploration. Please, do not drink from any streams or rivers in the Cusco / Sacred Valley region, regardless of how clean or tempting it might seem.
Ayahuasca is only ever a night time ceremony, and has far less opportunities for distractions (and often a far higher level of physical incapacitation than Huachuma).
In ceremonies using either plant, do NOT leave the ceremony area without letting a leader know where you are going and how you are. Slipping away quietly and not being able to walk or find your way back is not going to help yours, or anyone else’s experience. It is every participant’s responsibility to be visible and seek acknowledgement when leaving the ceremony area. If a head count comes up short without explanation, a search will begin immediately, taking away from the care and attention available for other participants.
During ceremony, do not be brave or deceptive. If you are feeling bad, and a facilitator asks you how you are, there are no points for stoicism. Tell them you’re feeling bad. Often there is something they might be able to do to help, but unless you mention it, they will not interfere. Asking for help is a lesson many participants struggle with, and the facilitator’s job is to respond to requests from participants or Spirit, but not to interfere with a participant’s processes. If a facilitator asks and is told by a person that they are okay, even if clearly not ‘alright’, that is identified by the facilitator as their path and lesson.
Ceremony time is your time to commune with the spirit of the plant and learn as much as you can about yourself; this can not happen if you are distracting yourself with external concerns. Sit quietly, watch the distractions pass by and refuse to engage in them. The spirit of the plant will note this and come to you clearer and faster with your firmness of purpose holding you against your mind’s distractions.
Your ceremony leader/s will let you know when sipping and drinking water or eating fruit is appropriate during a Huachuma ceremony. During an Ayahuasca ceremony, a little water may be taken after the first few hours, but food is not recommended until well out of the force of the medicine. Your ceremony leader/s will advise you.
You are probably going to be tired, feeling a little hung over or otherwise quiet and ready for some quiet processing time. In a retreat situation, please honour this and approach others with care and respect to not interfere with their processes.
Take this time for quiet reflection. Often, by mid-afternoon of the day after, you will be ready to start talking about what you experienced. A circle or one-on-one with a facilitator is the appropriate time and place. Discussing with other participants without guidance can interfere in their process, and your own, and helping debrief after a ceremony is what your facilitators are specifically for.
Make sure you take the time to review all that you’ve experienced. Often as you meditate on the ceremony, more of the events and lessons will come to mind. In the Author’s experience, this can go on for days or weeks.
Ultimately, once cleared of pre-existing complaints and conditions (like those described above) that would make taking plant sacrament dangerous, the decision and personal responsibility belongs to the person drinking. In the developed world, one can access a world of information with a few minutes and a web browser. Education, self-education, is vital, and is the personal responsibility of anyone before deciding to swallow the medicine. Simply not enough is known about the many medications and conditions to state categorically that interacting with plant sacrament is universally safe.
What can be said with confidence is that in its traditional application, plant sacrament journeys and rituals are as safe as swallowing any psychoactive or physiologically active compound can be. Your life will not be the same after you drink, and you will know of things only imagined or believed in before. You will be disillusioned of falsehoods and these changes can be painful and challenging. Are the challenges worth it? Absolutely! But you have to be committed to doing the work to earn the prizes, and those prizes are beyond explanation or comprehension until experienced.
About the Author
Craig is an experienced shaman and clinical myotherapist with over thirty years of practice in Australia, (and now in Perú). This work brings together the works and experiences of many other practitioners representing a consensus of centuries of combined experience. Naturally, there are few traditional thoughts regarding drug interactions, but an increasing body of knowledge on pharmacological interactions is evolving, and will be presented in upcoming editions.
Keeping up to date on this publication and other publications is easy. Advice for updates, ways to contact the author, or ways to offer feedback that could make this guide even more complete are available at Facebook.com/Shamanshearth or ShamansHearth.com.