Ayahuasca has been found to be fundamentally safe by a large number of scientific studies (including McKenna, 2004; Gable, 2007; Bouso & Riba, 2011; Barbosa et al., 2012; dos Santos, 2013a and dos Santos, 2013b.) However, these analyses have also identified certain circumstances in which it should either not be used or should be used with care. Examples include if you have a serious cardiovascular condition; a personal or family history of psychiatric disorders; are taking certain medicines (including herbal medicines); or, have recently been eating certain foods.*
The safety of our guests is of the utmost importance to us here at Source Peru, so we take our Medical Guidelines very seriously. At the time of application for one of our retreats, everyone must complete a medical history form and acknowledge that they are responsible to disclose all known medical conditions and medications to us or run the risk of being asked to leave the retreat without refund. This is for your safety and that of the other participants and Source Peru staff.
Once again, it is imperative that all guests are completely honest with us about their health history and status – meaning full disclosure in complete confidentiality – before coming to Peru.
Contraindicated Medical Conditions
While we wish to share the benefits of Ayahuasca with everyone, there are certain medical & psychological conditions that are simply not compatible with this plant medicine. The majority of people that contact us with the intent to participate in Ayahuasca ceremonies are able to do so without any problems. However there have been certain cases that we have had to decline either due to their complexity or simple lack of compatibility with Ayahuasca.
The following conditions are not suitable for Ayahuasca:
- Cardiovascular conditions
- Psychological conditions such as Schizophrenia, bipolar and psychosis
- Liver and Kidney conditions
- Diabetes – Note that we have had several controlled diabetics participate in ceremony without any problem. Please contact us to discuss your specific case.
More About Cardiovascular Conditions
If you have a serious cardiovascular condition (a list of heart conditions is available here), you should not take Ayahuasca. Studies have found that Ayahuasca increases both blood pressure and heart rate. In healthy people and people with mild cases of high and low blood pressure this should not pose significant problems, except theoretically for those performing physical exercise and/or older people. Thus, care and awareness of your own body are important, as well as informing us of your condition, if you have one.*
More About Psychological Conditions
If you have a personal or family history of psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, psychosis, personality disorders, or bipolar disorder, among others, taking Ayahuasca can involve a high risk, especially if your disorder is active (Johnson, Richards & Griffiths 2008.) It is very important to openly discuss such issues with us before registering for a retreat. There are people with histories of mental disorders that have done well after taking Ayahuasca, but there are also others in whom symptoms have re-emerged. It is therefore very important to take that risk into account, and be sincere and honest with us about your medical history.*
Contraindicated Herbal Supplements, Drugs & Pharmaceuticals
It is well known in the plant medicine community that several prescription & non-prescription drugs, and some natural supplements & herbs are contraindicated to Ayahuasca and pose considerable health risks (possibly fatal) if consumed together.
To participate in Ayahuasca ceremonies at The Source, all prescription medications, certain supplements and all recreational drugs must be out of your system for at least 2-8 weeks from the retreat start date. The length of time depends on the type of substance and its reactivity with Ayahuasca.
In many cases, if guests are able to SAFELY wean themselves from the contraindicated medicines in sufficient time prior to the retreat, they are able to participate without any problem. Be aware that the process of weaning yourself from some medications can produce significant withdrawal effects, especially in the case of antidepressants. The longer you have been on the medication, the stronger the withdrawal may be. Plan far enough in advance that you can go slowly and honor your body as it works through the progressive decrease in medication.
More about Antidepressants
The interaction of Ayahuasca with antidepressants, and other medicines with effects on serotonin levels, are topics that require further research. However, it is thought that the combination of monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), such as the beta-carbolines in Ayahuasca, with substances that have an effect on serotonin and/or monoamine oxidase levels could lead to serotonin syndrome, which has the potential to be fatal (Boyer & Shannon 2005.) In practice, however, the risk appears to be low, largely due to the short-acting and reversible nature of the MAOIs in Ayahuasca. Nevertheless, awareness is important. Broadly, the safest approach is to avoid taking serotonergic medicines in conjunction with Ayahuasca (dos Santos 2013b; Brown 2010.)*
If you need to stop taking any medication prior to your Ayahuasca experience, please consult with your doctor about how far in advance the medication should be out of your system before consuming Ayahuasca and how to safely stop those medications. Be sure to explain that you will be taking a reversible MAOI. If your doctor is unwilling to assist you due to his or her own bias, you have the right to seek a second opinion from another physician.
The following herbal supplements must be completely eliminated from your body before consuming Ayahuasca:
- ginseng (Panaz sp.)
- St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum)
The following illegal and recreational drugs must be completely eliminated from your body before you consume Ayahuasca:
- amphetamines (meth-, dex-, amphetamine), MDMA (Ecstasy), MDA, MDEA, PMA
- opiates (heroin, morphone, codeine, and opium)
The following types of prescription and non-prescription medications must be completely eliminated from your body before you consume Ayahuasca:
- other MAOIs
- SSRI’s (any selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor)
- 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 (includes any drug containing DXM or with DM, DX or Tuss in its name)
- CNS (central nervous system) depressants
This above list is by no means exhaustive so check with your doctor if the medication you’re taking is not shown there or in the list below.
Some Specific Contraindicated Pharmaceuticals
- Actifed, Actifed DM
- Amantadine hydrochloride (Symmetrel)
- Amoxapine (Asendin)
- Bromarest-DM or -DX
- Bupropion (Wellbutrin)
- Buspirone (BuSpar)
- Carbamazepine (Tegretol, Epitol)
- Clomipramine (Anafranil)
- Cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril)
- Cyclizine (Marezine)
- Desipramine (Pertofrane)
- Dextromethorphan (DXM) and any drug containing it
- Dimetane-DX cough syrup
- Disopyramide (Norpace)
- Doxepin (Sinequan)
- Dristan Cold & Flu
- 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)
- Phenergan with Dextromethorphan
- Phenelzine (Nardil)
- Procainamide (Pronestyl)
- Protriptyline (Vivactil)
- Quinidine (Quinidex)
- Selegiline (Eldepryl)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Tranylcypromine (Parnate)
- Tricyclic antidepressants (Amitriptyline, Elavil)
- Trimipramine (Surmontil)
- Tylenol cold, cough, and flu preparations
- Vicks Formula 44-D
If you have any questions or concerns whatsoever, or would like any clarification in any way about your current medical status and your suitability to participate in one of our Ayahuasca retreats, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
*Note: Information in this section marked with * has been reprinted from open source material, The Ayahuasca Health Guide, under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. We use and follow these medical guidelines with gratitude for the exceptional work undertaken by The Ethnobotanical Stewardship Council to further studies, safety and standards in Ayahuasca use.