Ayahuasca: Spiritual Teacher or Serious Toxin?

Ayahuasca: Spiritual Teacher or Serious Toxin?

In today's day and age, there a noticeable shift occurring among younger generations, as they seek alternative methods to manage overwhelming stress and deal with their traumas. There is an undeniable trend towards holistic approaches for healing. A significant part of this movement involves exploring psychedelics, such as Ayahuasca, for their potential therapeutic benefits. This discussion will delve into the nature of Ayahuasca, exploring the reasons behind its use, its impact on the brain, and the risks associated with its consumption.

One idea we want to propose: Could the trend of using Ayahuasca be a result of poor sleep and poor coping mechanisms?

Ayahuasca, the Psychoactive Formula

The Ayahuasca plant is a vine that grows primarily in South American rainforests and is used in Ayahuasca ceremonies. The Ayahuasca plant is usually mixed with another plant (Chacruna) in order to prepare the psychoactive herbal brew. The drink is typically prepared as part of an Ayahuasca ceremony, these are typically led by a shaman or guide in order to help the user with any challenging parts of the experience. It is common for the user to vomit, have diarrhea, or feel nauseated to the point where they are incapacitated and unable to walk for a brief period of time.

While the symptoms may be temporary, they also aren't putting your system in an ideal state to deal with trauma. Many look at this period of time as a purge, removal of the pent up trauma stored in the body as a result of not being able to process it properly. While some experience these symptoms as a necessary suffering to overcome greater challenges, the experience in itself can cause additional trauma and associations - That one needs to take psychoactive, exogenous substances to change their behaviors and/or perceptions in everyday life. In the long-term, this can create a dependency on Ayahuasca to address issues when it seems like there are no other solutions.


Motivations behind Ayahuasca

Many individuals seek out Ayahuasca for the psychedelic effects it provides. The Ayahuasca plant has a high concentration of DMT (dimethyltryptamine). This compound has been associated with dreaming states when we are sleeping Ayahuasca compound changes brainwaves to vivid ‘waking-dream’ state | Imperial News | Imperial College London. Drinking the brew in an Ayahuasca ceremony or other setting seems to provide people with a dream-like state while they are awake for up to 30 minutes via the consumption of DMT. There are various reasons people seem drawn to the experience:

  • Alternative medicine for mental health: There seems to be a growing number of people who feel they are not getting the results they desire with traditional approaches in order to treat certain mental ailments. 
  • As a rite of passage for some cultures: Some backpackers and travelers treat Ayahuasca ceremonies as a rite of passage.
  • Personal transformations and insight: Many individuals appear to seek some knowledge or insight that will help them transform themselves.
  • Spiritual and ritual use: The most abstract and difficult to understand objectively are those seeking a form of spiritual experience/communication.

When it comes to the individuals that may be seeking to have a transformative or spiritual experience, it is unclear what you can expect from an ayahuasca ceremony as there do not seem to be standardized recipes or dosages. This leaves much open to interpretation as many people do not seem to have established clear metrics or goals of how they aim to improve themselves.

Another complication is the practical application of whatever is experienced may not be translatable as the state of mind is being altered dramatically by an exogenous substance. Experiences vary between individuals, and the abstract concepts of spirituality and self improvement provide very few predictable outcomes. 

As for using Ayahuasca as a rite of passage, this seems to be a form of peer pressure from travelers who feel the need to challenge others' egos. This reason in particular, is especially ironic, as many people consider the experience to provide some form of spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is an abstract concept which is difficult to define, but it seems to be often correlated with humility and ego death. The irony of pressuring others to do something because they were influenced to try it, seems like it is not coming from a place of deep wisdom.

Using Ayahuasca as an alternative for mental health unfortunately seems like it may not be sustainable as there appears to be no data looking at isolating the use of Ayahuasca as an alternative treatment for any time frame longer than 4 weeks Sub-acute and long-term effects of ayahuasca on affect and cognitive thinking style and their association with ego dissolution - PMC (nih.gov). In order to conclude if something can provide an alternative for mental health ailments, longevity and controlling for other variables is paramount as behaviors or symptoms may simply return when it is not clear which intervention is creating the results. Although, this is no reason to be pessimistic. 

In this study, Study provides evidence that DMT is produced naturally from neurons in the mammalian brain (psypost.org), there is evidence to show that the brain endogenously produces DMT. This means that we can produce it in our body. Knowing this, there may be ways we can facilitate the release of DMT by improving the quality of sleep as this compound seems to be correlated with melatonin secretion and deeper stages of sleep when we are dreaming. It may be possible to reap some of the benefits that an Ayahuasca retreat may or may not provide by improving your quality of sleep.


Pros and Cons

While there may be utility to experiencing reality from a different perspective, it is challenging to make a clear distinction as to how any observations or realizations in this altered state can be practically applied. One of the most mystifying characteristics of the Ayahuasca plant, is the fact that it has such varying effects for people. This makes repeatability of any supposed benefits a coin flip at best. Coupled with the real risk of permanent damage, Ayahuasca is not something to be taken lightly.


Since the body is capable of producing the main psychoactive compound people seek from the Ayahuasca plant, it seems that getting better sleep may be able to provide more utility at a much lower risk for the majority of people. Please checkout our blog post on sleep for more information on how to get the most out of your rest Beyond Sleeping Positions: Optimizing Sleep and Reducing Chronic Pain – Functional Patterns. Using the intelligence our body has developed to make our body a more efficient human seems to be one of the best ways to quantify what objective self improvement and transformations may be. Below is an example of how using more objective metrics, like posture and the gait cycle, we can improve mental and bodily health for the long term. 

Naudi Aguilar (@naudiaguilar) • Instagram photos and videos

 At Functional Patterns, one of the most fundamental concepts we aim to impart, is how to be more scientifically oriented. When abstract language and arbitrary rhetoric surrounds ideas, it makes repeatability an issue as the results can be open to interpretation. Our aim is to take the guesswork out of taking care of your body and create more predictability by living intentionally, not habitually.

For more information on how to cope better and heal using endogenous hormones, check out the articles below:


  1. https://www.imperial.ac.uk/news/193993/ayahuasca-compound-changes-brainwaves-vivid-waking-dream/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6182612/
  3. https://www.psypost.org/2019/07/study-provides-evidence-that-dmt-is-produced-naturally-from-neurons-in-the-mammalian-brain-54051+
  4. Beyond Sleeping Positions: Optimizing Sleep and Reducing Chronic Pain – Functional Patterns
  5. https://www.instagram.com/p/C3LBGAdLdSB/ 


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