We have a lot to talk about…
I’ve split up the article so it’s easier to read (feel free to skip ahead):
- WTF is ayahuasca?
- Why I wanted to try ayahuasca
- Getting to the jungle
- Day 1 — to hell and back
- Day 2 — WTF just happened?
- Day 3 — reliving my childhood
- Day 4 — love, peace & dogs
- Day 5 — how is this even possible!?
- Day 6 — home
- The results
- Advice for future Ayahuascans
1. WTF is ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca literally means “dead person vine” and, according to Amazonian mythology, it was first found growing from the hair of a dead king.
It’s usually consumed as a drink, where it’s brewed with a bunch of other freaky Amazonian plants.
Chemically, all you need to know is the final concoction contains DMT (dimethyltryptamine) — a psychedelic drug — plus a bunch of inhibitors which allow this DMT to casually diffuse into your body (not possible directly consuming DMT).
So while DMT will make you trip, ayahuasca while make you trippppppp.
But ayahuasca isn’t some f*ck-off recreational drug.
For centuries it’s been used in the Amazon for deep spiritual healing…and now, in more recent decades, it’s being used to help treat serious mental health conditions (like depression or PTSD), or those in need of a radical perspective shift.
The science is still in its nascence but peer-reviewed research is showing how ayahuasca can literally switch off treatment-resistant depression, lower inflammation and increase neuroplasticity (facilitating the development of new healthier thought patterns).
So that’s why it’s becoming a big deal. This freaky Amazonian vine can literally save lives.
(Although I should note: it can also end lives — this is some serious sh*t.)
2. Why did I want to try ayahuasca?
I’ve suffered with depression for a long time…like since I was 8.
It wasn’t a big deal when I was younger because I just thought everyone was depressed all the time; and then as I got a bit older I kept myself occupied with superlative goals like getting the highest grades, becoming a professional boxer (lol) or starting a unicorn startup — all of which sufficiently distracted from my deeply repressed emotions and kept me relatively happy, as I continued to vie for greater and greater achievements.
But this all came to a flattening halt when I turned 23.
I finished my last big goal: to lose 30kg and get a six-pack. And as far as I was concerned, this was the last piece of the puzzle. I’d achieved everything I’d wanted—no more goals, it was time to just be happy.
And yet there I was…suicidally depressed.
I would randomly burst into tears at work and have to lock myself away in the toilet. When I got home I would spend hours solving my Rubik’s cube or watching Netflix. I needed seven alarm clocks to get out of bed in the morning. And as much as I tried to set new goals and push through the bleakness, I couldn’t seem to dig myself out of this depression.
After 10+ years of running — setting goals, overachieving, ignoring my emotions — it had finally all caught up with me.
Since then, I’ve made some radical changes in my life.
I prioritise people & happiness above all else. I’m constantly learning new things and following my curiosities & passions. I exercise and meditate religiously. Money has become deeply uninteresting. New experiences and deeper relationships have become everything.
It’s been up and down but as of January 2020 I had more or less ticked off all the boxes on my how to (actually) be happy checklist — which I’ll be posting soon— and I was in an all-round, genuinely happy place.
But there was still a residual fear I could fall back into a depression. A breakup here, a family tragedy there, and the tormenting ruminations could resurface.
I was absolutely not willing to waste another 3 to 6 months of extremely valuable human life, moping around feeling sorry for myself.
I wanted something to “consolidate” my happiness and heal the underlying childhood traumas that were responsible for my depression in the first place.
Oh, hello ayahuasca — didn’t see you over there…
I’d heard so many stories about ayahuasca’s healing abilities — from Joe Rogan & Tim Ferriss, to friends who’ve broken decade-long heroin addictions and totally reoriented their lives.
So I booked an ayahuasca retreat in the Peruvian jungle. 6 days long & 3 ceremonies — i.e. you drink the ayahuasca brew 3 times across a 6 day period.
3. Getting to the jungle
A week later, I heard back from the retreat:
“You’re in! Back your bags and get ready to trip balls in the Peruvian jungle.”
They didn’t actually say that but that’s what I read…along with a long list of dietary and lifestyle restrictions: no sex, no masturbating, don’t eat pork, no chocolate, low sugar, low salt, no alcohol, etc.
For the next two weeks, I obeyed the confirmation email’s commands. Naturally I f*cked up a few times, but as the retreat got closer I could easily have been mistaken for a level 9000 ascetic monk:
“Is this organic? Sorry, that strawberry has too much sugar. Actually, could you put your bra back on.”
I flew out to Peru a week before the start date. Went diving with seals in Lima, and bumped into at least a dozen other prospective ayahuasca-drinkers in Cusco. Usually at organic food cafes, where we’d swap childhood trauma stories and lament our dietary struggles.
I also met an ayahuasca guru, Xavier, who’d been tripping non-stop for the last 7 years. There was something utterly mysterious about him. He owned an organic quinoa cafe on top of a hill. His hair was dark black, slicked back, always dressed well, and he spoke like he was from another world. Talking to him I felt like I was in a videogame. Like I was meant to meet him. Like he knew something I didn’t. Like he knew more than his face could ever say. As if his quinoa cafe was a cover for something much more elaborate.
He told me the most important thing when drinking ayahuasca is to accept everything. Don’t try to fight it, just go with it.
The day before the retreat started, we had to go through a series of health checks with the on-site doctor. Here I met, Erik, a 40-year-old Canadian bloke who would be my roommate for the duration of the retreat. We were told to buy 3L of electrolyte solution and a roll of toilet paper. Apparently these would come in handy later on with the egregious vomiting and self-shitting that ayahuasca likes to induce.
The next day, we were driven to the retreat centre:
We meet our shaman (who would later guide the ayahuasca ceremonies and prepare the ayahuasca brew), plus the on-site psychologist and medical team.
They were actually very reassuring — I would not recommend trying ayahuasca without medical supervision.
We learnt about the chemistry and tradition behind the drink and passed the next few hours meditating and practising yoga.
And then finally, at 6am, Erik and I made our way into the shaman’s hut.
We were given a sleeping bag, blankets, and a bucket. We sprinkled soil on ourselves and sprayed essential oils. And then it was time to drink up our odorous cups of fresh-made ayahuasca.
4. Day 1 — to hell and back
The ayahuasca was disgusting…like drinking tree bark blended with burnt tyre.
(Fortunately, you can rinse out the toxic flavour with water immediately after swallowing.)
I sat back against the pillows and did my best to stay calm.
I knew I hadn’t followed the diet perfectly and this started to play on my mind —what if I have a bad reaction? — but before I could start worrying the ayahuasca had made its way into my system.
I was told to expect to begin “purging” (i.e. throwing up everything inside your body) very soon.
And very soon it did begin.
I actually didn’t throw up that much and my trusty bucket caught the best part of it.
As the “purging” continued, our shaman started playing Ikaros — ancient Amazonian songs which cast away negative energies.
The Ikaros immediately took me into a trance-like state and the hallucinations began.
I saw a pattern of colourful neon dots, which started connecting to form a wonderful tree woman, who sprouted into life and took me into the 4th dimension.
It’s really hard to explain what this 4th-dimension looks like but here’s more or less what I saw:
Now just imagine the dots and colours are moving in and out and dividing into new dots and clours — that’s the closest you’ll get without actually experiencing it yourself.
As the ayahuasca took me deeper into its trance, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and my head started to loosen from my body. At first I grabbed onto it, reluctant to let it just float off like that…but then I remembered Xavier’s advice: do not fight the ayahuasca, accept everything.
So I did, and off my head floated.
The tree woman started feeding me grapes. First with 2 arms, then 4…then 8?
Things quickly escalated. Soon all 8 arms were wrapped around me and we were having the most incredible sex.
My whole body lit up. Tickling, teasing, giggling. From my cheeks to nipples, every part of my body was in the most intense orgasmic state — one giant erogenous expanse. It’s impossible to describe. The intensity of pleasure was orders of magnitude beyond the average orgasm.
It was total ecstasy.
And then it began.
My trip to bloody f*cking hell.
I was transported to London where I relived my entire life in an instant. I saw flashes of exes dressed in playboy bunny outfits, friends, coworkers, family. The Experimental Cocktail Club. Lurid, flashing neon lights.
And then my head spun round like a globe and I landed in Peru. I saw Xavier, the jungle and then finally the tree woman — my Amazonian sex goddess.
And oh my f*cking god. We did it again. Total ECSTASY.
And then she tore her skin from her body to reveal her true form:
Yes, Venom from Spiderman — howling wildly at the moon. And then she asked me: do you get it?
Get what? I had no idea…and so she started the story loop again.
Back to London, then Peru, Xavier, jungle, tree woman. ECSTASY. Venom. And then again: DO YOU GET IT?
Everything started to intensify and once again I was thrown back to London, then Peru, Xavier, jungle. ECSTASY. Venom. And FINALLY, DO YOU GET IT!?
GET F*CKING WHAT?!
It wouldn’t stop. We looped round again and again. 40 times in total — every time just as insane.
I heard the voices of Tim Ferriss and Joe Rogan. I saw Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. I remember turning to my side to throw up…but there were so many sides? And then before I knew it, once again: ECSTASY.
And then I got it. FINALLY, I got it.
I was in HELL.
An endless loop of exhausting hyper-orgasms. A hedonistic prison to ironically punish me for all my mortal sins. My whole life had just been one big elaborate trap to lure me into hell.
And I’d totally fallen for it.
But why? What had I done that was so bad to end up in hell?
It didn’t make any sense but my “real life” no longer existed — I saw it dissolve before my eyes.
I was trapped here. In hell…forever?
And then I woke up. In a hospital room.
“¿Andrés, me eschuchas?” “¿Andrés?” “¿Andrés, por favor, Andrés, me escuchas?”
[“Andrew, do you hear me?”]
The residential doctor was lent over me and I had an IV stuck in my left arm.
Was this part of hell, too?
I couldn’t tell. I kept flashing between the doctor’s office and the hellish trance I was stuck in before. Back and forth, back and forth, until finally I came back to the real world.
In an attempt to escape hell, I had apparently tried to peel the skin off my face.
The nurse told me I had cut myself (repeatedly) during my spasmodic convulsions so she was bandaging me up. I had also torn open my T-shirt.
I still wasn’t sure if I could trust her. Was she real? Part of the hallucination? Was she in hell, too?
But she eventually convinced me to go up to my room and get some sleep.
Day 2 — WTF just happened?
The next morning I shared my crazy trip with my new ayahuasca buddies. They asked if I was an actor because of the performance I’d given last night while tripping.
I was totally confused but supposedly I’d confessed my undying love to my ex-girlfriend and narrated in explicit detail my sexual experience with the tree woman/sex goddess. Great!
An hour later, we gathered together with the shaman, the doctor and the psychologist to discuss the night before.
I related my visions, the doctor mentioned my convulsions and it became obvious that I had received an overdose of ayahuasca — hence the total loss of control and violent trance.
This is normal. The first dose you’re given is a test dose and is revised based on your experience. Next time I would take a lower dosage.
It’s also normal for your first trip to be totally f*cking terrifying. Ayahuasca first has to cleanse of you of all your negative energy, only then can it fill you up with positivity.
The orgasms, however, were not so normal. But according to the psychologist, ayahuasca is a feminine energy and can often manifest sexually.
I was supposed to drink again that second day but I felt like someone had sucked the blood from my veins. All I wanted to do was sleeeeep.
I spent the rest of day 2 in and out of intermittent 20-minute naps, awoken each time by terrifying flashbacks of Venom and the night before.
As awful as this might sound, by the end of the day I knew these flashbacks couldn’t hurt me, nor could anything I might see during an ayahuasca trip. It was all in my head.
That’s what I didn’t know the first time round. I really thought it was real. I really thought I was in hell. But having gone through it once, I now knew there was nothing to fear.
Tomorrow I would dance with the Mother Ayahuasca again.
Day 3 — Reliving my childhood
My next ceremony took place on Day 3.
I composed myself once more with the other participants, ready to ingest another burning-tyre-meets-tree-bark cocktail.
But this time the smaller dose — about 65% of what I’d consumed before.
Once again, the Ikaros started playing, the puking began…the dots, the neon colours, the 4th dimension. My penis turned into a snake. I pissed myself.
And then before I knew it I was back in hell — the incredible orgasms, the terrifying Venom, and the same voice as before:
DO YOU GET IT!? FINALLY…DO YOU GET IT!?
Again and again and again and again and again. And then it stopped.
Mother Ayahuasca lifted me out of hell and perched me on top of a tree in front of the Peruvian mountains.
Up in the sky, I saw the face of my late father in a constellation of stars. He looked solemnly into the distance and I knew he was proud of me. What a gift — I didn’t get to see my dad before he passed away so to “meet him” here was very special.
On the other side of the mountain range, I saw my mother, gazing on in earnest hope — perhaps hope that I would make it out of this alive.
And then I started to playback my childhood. But not from my perspective, from theirs.
All my life I had blamed my parents for my abusive upbringing and the problems that arose in consequence. But for the first time, I understood they never meant for things to be like that.
My parents did love me. My dad never wanted to be violent, he just couldn’t control his temper. My mum never meant to be neglectful, she just couldn’t manage the stress.
Intellectually, I’ve always known this. But to finally feel it. To finally feel my parents’ love…it was utterly overwhelming.
All the repressed feelings of low self-worth I had been carrying around for so so many years instantly f*cked off. In the same way a talented surgeon can remove a brain tumour in a matter of seconds, Mother Ayahuasca had torn out my childhood trauma and filled the abyss with love and compassion for my parents.
This is something I had never really experienced before. I had often felt sorry for them, often guilty for not spending enough time with them, for not seeing my dad before he passed away…but never quite love.
Soon after this, one of the supporting nurses came round to check I was okay.
“Puke in the bucket. Drink your electrolytes. Let’s take your blood pressure.”
I was fine. This trip was nothing like the first. Sure, it started off in hell but Mother Ayahuasca had taken me somewhere far more beautiful this time.
I spent the rest of the night half-tripping half-sober with the other ayahuascans. I felt like a lion, roaring with charisma, but exuding love and compassion for everyone there.
Eventually I went upstairs to sleep. I remember seeing Erik trying to fix one of the lights in our room — he smiled like he was 21 again, in love for the first time. It was beautiful.
I wrote a letter to myself in my sketchbook, and a series of messages I wanted to send to friends & family.
I had found everything I was looking for: peace, love, compassion — for others and for myself. Before sleeping, I asked Mother Ayahuasca whether I should I drink again. She manifested herself as a giant snake and winked at me — as if it to say: you already know the answer. No — I had found everything I was looking for, there was no reason to drink again.
A second after reaching this conclusion, the sky erupted into thunder and lightning. Coincidence, sure. But I took it as approval of my decision.
Day 4 — Peace, love and rescued dogs
The next day I felt wonderful.
Light on my feet, utterly grateful and totally inspired.
We spent the day at a dog rescue centre near Cusco. I’m usually terrified of dogs but I had so much love to share I couldn’t help but warm to them.
When we got back, I found out one of the girls had left.
The night before, while I’d been walking on sunshine, she’d been absorbing all of the negative energy emitted by the other participants. Mother Ayahuasca had taken her to a very dark place and she couldn’t bear to stay another day.
(I’m including this because, although I had an overwhelmingly positive experience, ayahuasca is absolutely f*cking terrifying and should be regarded with due gravitas.)
Day 5 — How is this even possible!?
There was a third and final ceremony scheduled for Day 5 but I decided to skip it.
My childhood trauma was gone after all…what more could I ask for? Why risk another bad trip like my first?
But Mother Ayahuasca’s work was not done.
The night of the third ceremony I was safely tucked away in my bedroom…far away from the shaman’s hut where the others were getting ready to trip balls.
But when the shaman started playing his Ikaros, I could hear it all—like every note.
The Ikaros put me into a nap…and when I awoke, I was still in my bedroom but now in a strange half-trance.
I slept less than an hour that night.
Every time I closed my eyes, I could see demons. And when I opened, them the demons were still there. I could feel negative thoughts creeping in through my skull. And I felt the rain from outside on my skin.
Going to the bathroom was the worst. The wallpaper looked like someone crying and I could hear voices every time I stepped inside.
I tried to stay positive but I couldn’t help but feel the enormous benefits from my second trip were slowly being drained away.
The craziest thing is back in the hut, according to the other drinkers, Erik (my roommate) was speaking with a British accent. More specifically, my British accent. Now that’s f*cking trippy.
Day 6 — hometime
The next day I awoke at dawn and went out into the woods to meditate with Erik.
I didn’t understand the night before but it didn’t matter. The demons were gone, for now at least, and my mind was at peace.
I went into the dining hall for breakfast and that’s when it FINALLY clicked. I FINALLY understood what the ayahuasca was trying to tell me!
Remember the 40 orgasms? My first trip to hell wasn’t about sex. It was about letting go.
DO YOU GET IT!? FINALLY…DO YOU GET IT!?
YES, I GET IT! I FINALLY F*CKING GET IT!
The orgasms were a metaphor.
Orgasm is the ultimate form of physical release, of letting go. The ayahuasca was using orgasm as a physical metaphor for how I needed to let go mentally — to release all the negative thoughts that had been eating away at me the last two years.
And in that moment, I finally confronted my negative thoughts. Instead of ignoring them, telling myself they were nothing to worry about, I looked them straight in the eye and accepted them.
Things have happened. Some of these things have caused you suffering. You can’t undo that suffering. You can’t pretend it didn’t hurt. Just accept what has happened as part of your life, let go and move on.
And just like that, I let go of everything.
The most wonderful mental orgasm.
We were taken back to Cusco in the afternoon.
I could finally break my ayahuasca diet! No more low salt, low sugar vegetarian goop.
I remember wanting to go to McDonald’s to celebrate but the self-love was so strong I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Why poison your body like that?
(To this day, two months on, I still haven’t eaten at a fast-food chain. And I have several friends who’ve broken serious smoking/drug addictions after drinking ayahuasca.)
In the evening, I met up with Erik for dinner and on my way back home, I burst into tears of happiness. I had never experienced such overwhelming self-love and compassion. I was so grateful to be me (as narcissistic as that sounds!) and I hope to continue this compassionate self-love into all parts of my life.
[My plan is to update this section every few months to document the long-term effects of ayahuasca]
1 Week Later
I’ve been extremely present this week. The ecstatic feelings of overwhelming love have subsided…but I feel at peace, deeply grateful and inspired to help others.
That’s during the day.
Nighttime is f*cking weird. I still see demons. Sometimes ghosts. I can hear faraway whispers — not sure if they’re imagined or not. I can sense things — like people behind me, subtle movements in the distance.
Oh, and the orgasms. I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night to the most intense orgasms. I still don’t understand the physics here because it’s not a sexual orgasm — it’s like my whole body is tingling with pleasure.
I won’t complain if these continue but hopefully the demons go away soon.
1 Month Later
I’m still very present day-to-day — much more than before. I used to get caught in all sorts of negative thought spirals but those are all gone.
Obviously I still have ups and downs like a normal human being and there are still things I’d like to improve, emotionally and spiritually. But on the whole, I’m very content with where I am.
The ghosts and demons have disappeared. Unfortunately, the orgasms, too.
I often think back to my ayahuasca experience — all the crazy sh*t I saw. It was so real. It’s hard to believe it was all just hallucination. There are days where I really don’t know what’s real and what it isn’t. Am I still in the jungle? Is this the hallucination?
Advice For Future Ayahuascans
So, despite starting off in hell, I came out of my ayahuasca experience cleansed of childhood trauma and free of my most pernicious negative thoughts.
If my story has encouraged you to try ayahuasca yourself, here are a few things I wish I had known beforehand:
- Choose an ayahuasca retreat with medical and psychological supervision (hopefully this is a no-brainer)
- Choose an ayahuasca retreat with fewer than 4 participants. My retreat saw 8+ people drinking simultaneously and the result was often chaotic. The girl who had to leave our retreat after a very negative trip blamed the low staff-participant ratio for her traumatic experience.
- Follow the restrictions religiously. It’s only 2 weeks and you don’t want to find yourself panicking over possible bad reactions because you ate a piece of chocolate last week. Despite following the restrictions relatively well myself, I still got very anxious before drinking because I knew I had slipped up a couple times. Yes, sex and chocolate are great but if you’re gonna do this, f*cking commit. Or just commit. No f*cking.
- A clear, positive headspace. I know people who’ve taken ayahausca on the brink of suicide — and it’s “cured” them — but in general I think it’s best to try ayahuasca when you’re feeling positive and emotionally robust. I can’t imagine enduring my first trip to hell when emotionally fragile.
- Be ready to face your fears. Ayahuasca does not show you what you want to see, it shows you what you need to see — the scary stuff from your past, the stuff you’ve been hiding away, repressing, pretending doesn’t exist. Ayahuasca will sit you in front of your darkest fears and most negative thoughts…you’ll shit yourself (literally) but you’ll come out stronger for it. If you’re not ready to face your fears, however, this isn’t the right time for you.
- Speak to a therapist beforehand. A lot of people on my retreat didn’t really know why they were there. There was a nebulous sense that something in their lives was amiss but nothing exact. Meanwhile, having spent several years in therapy prior, I knew my problems in very concrete terms and the exact intention behind my trip. The shaman and psychologist repeatedly emphasised how important setting an intention is for a successful outcome. I think a few therapy sessions prior to your ayahuasca retreat could be extremely useful to work out your intention.
If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch.