Since 2010 we have been helping people approach Ayahuasca for the first time. Over the years we have met and worked with an extremely broad range of first timers. One point of conversation that comes up on a regular basis surrounds whether having past experiences with other psychedelics can help one prepare for the Ayahuasca experience. The simple answer is “maybe” and, more importantly, we are sure to put forth a clarifying add-on answer of “not necessarily”. As with many questions about Ayahuasca, the answer is dependent on many variables.
We can start with how past psychedelic experiences can be helpful in the preparation for the Ayahuasca experience and then we will move on to how extensive use of psychedelics can possibly be a hindrance.
For those of you who have taken psychedelics, you know that there is a “feeling” or a “space” associated with the psychedelic experience that can be disconcerting at first. Then as one learns to relax and let go, surrendering to the experience, this initially disconcerting feeling can morph from scary to to beautiful and pleasurable. Usually the “oh shit” feeling with psychedelics comes during a transition point, e.g., when the experience is first coming on, or when the experiential landscape changes dramatically- usually an uptick in intensity. One good analogy might be that it can feel like the “drop” on a big roller coaster.
Having experienced these transitions of intensity and having learned to surrender and let go into the experience definitely can be helpful in working with Ayahuasca. If one has worked with psychedelics before, the feeling of the “transition experiences” can be somewhat similar and in some cases feel familiar such that they are not so jarring. Knowing how to let go into intense experiences may allow one to avoid some of the fear and suffering that can come from resisting the experience (this also applies to life BTW).
To sum it up, based on the many people we have worked with over the years, the most valuable psychedelic experiences to draw upon as they relate to Ayahuasca would be the challenging past psychedelic experiences wherein the individual was able to relax into and surrender fully to the challenging experience such that there was a full realization that doing so allowed the experience to morph into one of beauty or ineffable ecstasy. Beyond these types of experiences, past usage of psychedelics is not significantly helpful to the Ayahuasca experience.
One of the major differences that Ayahuasca brings to the table is that it can be significantly more “somatic” (felt in the physical body) than other psychedelics. Most of you already know that vomiting and diarrhea can be part of the deal, but there are other physical manifestations that can happen as well. Here is a list of some normal somatic experiences with Ayahuasca:
Going to the bathroom
Body temperature fluctuations regardless of the environmental temperature
Tingling or vibrating feeling in parts or all of the body
Increased sensitivity around energy movement within the body
Feeling of pressure/slight pain on the 3rd eye
Losing the sense of the body’s physical boundaries.
The items in above list vary in terms of their commonality and every individual is different as to how somatic experiences manifest in the Ayahuasca experience. For example, it is entirely possible that one will not experience nausea or vomiting at all during an Ayahuasca ceremony. Every person is different as is every ceremony. The point is that Ayahuasca tends to be more somatic in the experience than other psychedelics and for those with past experiences with other psychedelics, this aspect can come as a bit of a surprise.
Another issue that can come with the past use of other psychedelics is that they are often taken in a recreational setting and without a safe “energetic container” put in place to keep out unwanted influences or energies.
When we take these substances we open up our energetic bodies such that we are more “open” and vulnerable to any energies that may be lingering in the space in which we take them. This means that when we take psychedelics in such a context, while the experience may be wonderful and insightful, some unwanted energies may sneak in unbeknownst to the user.
If this has happened and Ayahuasca encounters these unwanted energies, energies that do not serve the person who holds them, Ayahuasca goes right to work cleaning them out. This means that one who has an extensive psychedelic background might actually have a harder time with Ayahuasca at first as she needs to do more cleaning than she would with someone that has zero experience with psychedelics.
We are not saying that there is a direct relationship between psychedelic experience and having a harder time with Ayahuasca. It totally depends on whether the person who fits this profile inadvertently picked up unwanted energies during their experiences. The point we are trying to make is that past psychedelic usage does not necessarily mean that one will be able to “sail through” the Ayahuasca experience without having to do much personal work.
Extensive past usage of psychedelics can also produce a bit of arrogance or hubris as the “highly experienced” individual approaches Ayahuasca. Over the years, we have had a few guests come through that talked (bragged) about their extensive usage of psychedelics such as mushrooms, LSD, particularly DMT and to a certain extent MDMA. These people tended to be men, a bit older, and they tended to exhibit “bravado” about their knowledge and experience with other psychedelics. They tended to be very focused on the chemical aspects of the medicine such that they felt that they already knew how the medicine operates while having very little or no experience working with it.
These people tended to want a very strong “light show” and they had little interest in the idea that Ayahuasca is medicine or that Ayahuasca has a spiritual component to it. Because of this attitude, there was little desire to do any actual work and there was a disdain for the cleansing process via purging etc…
In a majority of these cases there was a request for very large doses as the desire was for a strong drug experience. The funny (funny in retrospect) thing is that almost every one of these cases ended up leaving their retreat early. The reasons for leaving ranged from not wanting to purge anymore or that the medicine was just too strong for them, i.e. the experience was too much. The irony is that they were all very adamant about taking the largest dose possible right from the “get go”.
On the surface there may be a tendency to think that Ayahuasca was exposing them to their own arrogance. This might be true and another way to look at it may be a situation wherein she simply gave them what they asked for… a very strong experience. In these examples, sometimes she encountered energies that had been acquired through the recreational usage of such substances. As I stated before, when we use substances like LSD, mushrooms, MDMA etc… It is not so much that the substances are “bad”, but that we tend to use them without the understanding that these psychedelics open our energetic field such that we are vulnerable to “negative energies” entering as we journey. Ayahuasca always does what she does best, she goes in an cleans those unwanted energies out, heals and teaches...
In the end, when one drinks Ayahuasca for the first time, regardless of experience with other psychedelics, it may be helpful to take the attitude of “don’t know mind”...i.e., that we have no idea how she will work with us. Respect, humility and patience are always good attitudes with which to approach Ayahuasca... and pretty much everything else in life.