This article originally appeared on Entheonation.
Ayahuasca is one of the strongest, wildly potent psychotropic substances in the multiverse. She can catapult any brave soul who gobbles down her tea into a tirade of terror so intensely convincing, death can feel like a blessing. There are a bazillion tales of massive breakdowns caused by Ayahuasca on the web, and yet many are choosing to make their own brew and drink Aya all by their lonesome.
Is this a good idea? Should anyone ever drink Ayahuasca alone?
If you’re a Westerner reading these words and contemplating this option, the answer is a resounding, blazingly loud NO. DON’T DO IT.
But there are exceptions (aren’t there always?)
Let me explain.
Ayahuasca is Different than Other Altered States
Many who are called to drink Aya have already jumped down the rabbit hole many times. Aya is the ultimate consciousness expander, so it makes sense that many folks who find their way to the medicine have already journeyed with things like Ganja, San Pedro, mushrooms, LSD, etc.
Even if you’re an old pro at navigating these spaces, you are not trained to handle the true depths of Ayahuasca.
Aya is like other altered spaces in that she brings light to the unconscious, and has the capacity to take us on that delicious cosmic ride. There can be brilliantly colorful visions, incredibly expansive experiences, and awesome access to the secrets of the universe.
Her differences, however, need to be respected, or the results could be traumatic.
Ayahuasca is the medicine of duality. So although she takes us out into the cosmos, she also takes us deep, deep within ourselves. She is the ultimate teacher of, “as within, so without.”
This is where the chaos can kick in. The dark nights of the soul Ayahuasca can induce involve bringing our demons to light. Some of us surrender into that blessing, but most of us fight like hell, at least in the beginning.
Resistance creates suffering. Suffering creates a desire to escape. And an ego that wants to escape a psychedelic has just entered a full-on Chinese finger trap.
Try to fight with Ayahuasca, and you will lose. In this case, losing means potentially freaking out. Even if you’ve never been brought to your knees by another psychedelic, the Mother of Medicines can get you there.
If you need to be humbled, and most of us do, Ayahuasca will gladly take on the task. She will show you no mercy (which is actually a reflection of her love.). And if you’re by yourself when this occurs, there’s no limit to what might happen in that space of total panic.
Why it’s a Horrific Idea to Drink Ayahuasca Without a Guide
Would you ever contemplate doing your own dental work?
How about teaching yourself to skydive?
Would you ever perform surgery on yourself?
Choosing to do Ayahuasca without a trained shaman is just as ill-advised as taking on all of the above.
A trained Ayahuasquero has spent no less than 12 years (in traditional culture) with a maestro, learning the intangible lessons of this mysterious energetic process. They have already faced the darkness within themselves hundreds of times. While they may not be fearless, they have developed a deeply intimate relationship with the medicine that is anchored in unconditional trust.
They know how to handle psychotic breaks. They know how to handle a room full of intense purging and waves of traumatic release.
A great shaman is a guide into the beautiful unknown. They are confident and compassionate. And well equipped to handle any egoic meltdown.
Drinking Ayahuasca without the presence of an expert means that you’re on your own if the shit hits the fan. There is absolutely no possible way you are immune to a meltdown, no matter how many trips you have successfully navigated. And there is no possible way you can know how wildly intense this can be. How vulnerable you could become. How dangerous you could be to yourself if the medicine were to take you into the depths of your unconscious fears.
How a Shaman Provides Protection
If you drink alone, you likely leave yourself completely open to all the energies you are messing with. It smacks of disrespect. It reeks of ego, this notion that you can really handle anything that comes your way without years and years of training.
Messing with energies is not a joke. Taking a medicine that is a portal into all that remains unknown in your psyche should never be taken lightly.
Whether you hold that demons and devils are real or you believe it’s all just in our minds is actually irrelevant. The perception of danger equals danger. If you think you're in trouble, you are. Fear feeds on itself. So whether you externalize that experience or believe it’s all coming from within matters not. Darkness is, and when it hits you, there is no limit to how humbling that can be. This is what a shaman protects you from; the demons on the outside, and the demons within. They are one in the same.
If you’ve never experienced anything energetically that you felt you needed protection from, your turn to be humbled could be in the next dose you drink. You don’t know what you don’t know.
Talk to anyone who has drank enough Ayahuasca, and they will have tales of the darkness. They will have those shocking moments when it was finally their turn to beg for help.
It took me nine years, but when I finally hit that place of terror, I literally had to ask someone to make sure I didn’t drink Drano, or do anything to hurt myself. The energies were so unbelievably intense, my ego was willing to do anything to escape. The shaman poured himself into helping me move through this darkness, and I wept in gratitude.
Had I been alone, I might not be here to write these words. That’s no exaggeration.
Almost everything the shaman does for the circle involves protection. They call in the helper spirits and plants to guide us in our journeys. They sing powerful icaros to help move energies, heal our hearts, bring on the purge, and guide us into every conceivable emotional experience.
They hold that space with strength and love, so that we can all feel safe enough to go inside ourselves and do the work.
When you work alone, you are acting as the guide, the protector, and the participant. That’s just too many hats for most.
Why Aren’t There a Lot of Solo Ayahuasca Horror Stories?
So if all of this is true, why don’t we hear about all the nightmarish experiences from individual drinkers? They are out there, but not in droves. If I’m right about the dangers, how is this explained?
In the infinite wisdom of the medicine, it’s very, very common that those who work alone have milder experiences.
The reasons why are gorgeously complex.
First of all, shamans train for years to make a brew that is truly powerful. This is not a matter of ordering the right plants on the internet and reading an Erowid thread.
In this sense, our ignorance often saves us. It’s not easy to make a potent brew. Nor is it in any way intuitive to know how to integrate our own energies with the tea or to understand the esoteric ways a shaman imbibes it with love and protection.
Likewise, when we do anything alone, on some level we know the inherent risks. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, this creates a deeper sense of caution, and it inhibits our ability to totally let go.
Resistance to the depths of Ayahuasca can often result in a lighter experience. That’s another thing she gifts us when we work alone; she often keeps things more surface.
Yet that can be dangerously misleading. If your intention is entangled in any way with a disrespect of her potency, and/or a grandiose view of your abilities to navigate the darkest of energies, eventually, you’re going to learn your lesson. How that manifests is a mystery. Trusting that it will happen is not.
We also don’t hear a lot of singular horror stories because people are sometimes too shamed or humbled to publically share. Admitting that we were wrong, that we were arrogant, or that we were complacent to the power of a sacred plant is no easy task.
Quite often, these humbling experiences show up outside of ceremony, too. We may not see the correlation of our world falling apart to any disrespect for energies we have unconsciously toyed with. But it is absolutely all connected.
Just because we don’t see the truth of these entanglements doesn’t make them any less real.
When it’s OK, or Even Necessary, to Drink Alone
Here’s the flipside.
There are a few sacred reasons to drink Ayahuasca all by yourself.
The obvious is if you are training with a master, and he/she has told you it’s time.
I was in training for almost 6 years before I started solo work. And I did so under the guidance of my teacher. He always knew when I was embarking on a solo experience. He met me there in that space to guide me. I played his icaros on my iPad to keep his presence strong. I asked the medicine to be gentle at first, so I could find my own foundation and confidence with her in a solo setting.
It was a long, purposeful, uber-respectful process.
And it absolutely changed my life, and my relationship with her, in beautiful and connected ways.
You might also be a devout and experienced sitter, not necessarily called to facilitating, but desiring a deeper connection to the medicine. If the shaman you sit with agrees it’s a good idea, and is willing to supply you medicine that you trust is pure, this is an enormous blessing.
Finally, please note all of these cautions and concerns are directed to a primarily Western audience. I’m not picking on the Western world, but I am noting that the vast majority of us are very disconnected from spirit, and thus very connected to our minds. It’s this attachment to mind and ego that creates a potential schism in ceremony.
So if you’ve grown up in an indigenous culture or at least connected to one, and you’ve been around spirit most of your life, these warnings probably do not apply. I am aware of many folks in Brazil and Peru that do solo work, but they receive their medicine from local shamans and they are simply expanding their bond with an aspect of their cultural upbringing. That is a beautiful thing.
If This Hasn’t Convinced You….
If you’re renegade and grandiose enough to consider a solo journey, none of this may have landed yet. You may think you’re immune to the downfalls. You may think I’m crazy and dramatic and that my twelve years of experience with this process doesn’t supersede what you know about your ability to get altered and handle yourself.
Well then, I can’t stop you.
I just ask you to deeply consider your motivations for moving forward.
Intention is everything with this process (and with life in general.)
Keep yours deeply rooted in respect for the medicine, and this lineage. Keep yourself as humble and open as you possibly can.
I’m not looking to scare anyone, only to provide more educated information.
I want everyone to have a glorious experience with this life-changing medicine.
That requires awareness, reverence, and a lot of personal integrity.
If you feel any of that is currently lacking, do yourself a favor and find a circle to sit with, even if you’ve been successfully drinking by yourself. There are hundreds of choices, all across the globe.
No matter what, keep your heart open, and enjoy the ride.
So are you still going to drink alone?
About the Author
Tina “Kat” Courtney, The Afterlife Coach, has worked with Ayahuasca for almost a dozen years, with a decade as a shamanic apprentice. She works as an Ayahuasca Coach, guiding others through the integration and preparation process with all sacred plants and master plant dietas. She’s a transformational junkie with a major love of polarities, and she adores helping others love their darkness too.