Credit is given to Jo Lauder for writing this article in July, 2017. The original version can be found by following this link – https://www.abc.net.au/triplej/programs/hack/global-ayahuasca-survey/8699054
“It changed my life. Put me on my path. Made me realize my potential.”
If you’ve spent time with people who’ve taken the South American hallucinogenic tea ayahuasca, chances are you’ve heard these statements or something similar.
A researcher from the University of Melbourne is capturing what goes on in people’s lives after they drink ayahuasca, and how the experience influences major life decisions.
The initial results from the Global Ayahuasca Project survey are staggering: about 85 per cent of people who take ayahuasca go on to make a profound life change.
After drinking ayahuasca people are breaking up, hooking up, ditching miserable jobs, kickstarting new careers, enrolling in uni[versity], and having babies.[Link removed]
According to the lead researcher, Dr. Daniel Perkins, ayahuasca can offer people unique clarity about their life.
“There seems to be something interesting about ayahuasca that it gives people these life teachings that seems a bit unique and they seem to be mostly positive,” he told Hack.
Importantly, people aren’t just making significant life decision they come to regret; the vast majority feel like these decisions are “positive or very positive.”
So far, over 700 people from 35 countries have filled out the survey, which is translated into five languages, but Daniel is hoping for thousands of ayahuasca drinkers from around the globe.
“Half of the people we’ve had responses from so far feel like there’s this enhanced sense of life direction and life purpose.”
‘It put me on my path’
Dan is a cheery avocado farmer from northern New South Wales who did ayahuasca three times over eight days at a Brazilian retreat. He says the whole experience was beautiful and spiritual, two words that are commonly used to described ayahuasca.
“When I came out of my first ceremony, I remember thinking, ‘I cannot believe that was going to be anything other than the most beautiful situation I have ever been in in my life,’” he told Hack.
“That’s the thing about this ayahuasca, it’s put me on my path.”
Dan undertook the traditional preparation for weeks leading up to the ceremonies that involves abstaining from sex, ejaculation, meat, dairy, sugar, salt, alcohol and drugs. Six months later, Dan and his girlfriend were still living clean.
“I was a big drinker before that… not an alcoholic or anything just a standard Aussie mid-twenties binge drinker, we had big parties through Central America and we had a grand old time.
“But I haven’t had the need to drink alcohol or do any substances since.”
According to Daniel Perkins’s survey, 20 per cent of people who drink ayahuasca report abstaining from alcohol and drugs afterwards.
Another positive outcome that’s been reported is the healing of a longstanding rift or conflict, with just under 40 per cent of people saying that ayahuasca helped them in this process. Twenty per cent of people start intimate relationships the same amount report ending their relationship.
“In the qualitative data it’s people saying things like they got this new perspective and now they can reflect see the relationship they were in way abusive and they were putting up with it and now they’ve made the decision to leave,” Dr. Perkins said.
“It seems to be coming from the insight that people feel like they’re receiving after the ceremonies.”
As well as participating in ceremonies in the Amazon region, where ayahuasca has been brewed and used in Indigenous ceremonies for centuries, more people are drinking ayahuasca on home soil. The survey found those who drink ayahuasca in a local setting are still reporting the same positive effects as those who participate in a more authentic ceremony in South America, so you can’t chalk up these life changes to the impact of travelling.
There are a few caveats to this research. Firstly, the survey is voluntary, so it could be that people who complete it are could be more likely to have had a positive experience. Secondly, there might be confirmation bias where people are more likely to think their profound life changes are “positive.” Thirdly, a person who goes on an ayahuasca retreat may be already primed and ready to make a major life change.
The overwhelming majority of people have positive experiences, but that isn’t to say it’s all rosy.
‘It was like the ultimate existential crisis’
Josh was in a low place when turned to ayahuasca. He couldn’t lift his depression through conventional therapy and medicine, and heard about ayahuasca. He did his research, found a Peruvian retreat he thought looked good, booked his flights, and took the plunge.
“What brought me to ayahuasca initially was a way out of depression, a cure for depression, but in the end it turned depression into a crisis.”
Josh had a panic attack in his first ceremony, and now has what Dr. Daniel Perkins would describe as “reintegration” issues. That is, he’s still struggling to make sense of what he went through.
For Josh, ayahuasca showed him a darkness he didn’t want to see, and it’s pulled the rug out from underneath him. It’s been nine months since Josh went through the ceremonies, he’s carried it to term, and there hasn’t been a day he hasn’t thought about it.
“It can really be a life-changing experience and everything you believed to be true can be questioned. It can really meddle with your hope in the world and it messes with your perception.”[link removed]
Ayahuasca tourism is booming in South America, and taking part in an “authentic” ceremony is being added to lots of adventurous travelers’ bucket lists. Josh’s warning for tourists is simple: while the experience is readily available, the support afterwards is not.
“You can have this life-changing experience that turns into a crisis and find it very difficult to find the support to go through it.
“I don’t think I’m an isolated case and that there are a lot more other people out there like me that have had a negative experience,” he told Hack.
Dr. Perkins’s findings shows that some people do have a bad time – about 5 per cent report it being a negative experience on their life – and it’s something the researchers are keen to understand more. He said he did not think their research was going to drive people to ayahuasca and potentially put them at harm.
“Our goal with the research is to really understand where the harms occur and why they occur,” he said.
“It’s not like you can just go drink ayahuasca and it’s this magical immediate fix that gives you all these positives effects.”
Daniel also told Hack a few ayahuasca retreats in Peru have recognized the need for better support after the ceremony, and are working to offer follow-up services with psychologists and counsellors.