Why Ayahuasca Is So Effective At Treating Depression

Ayahuasca depression

By Dylan Charles

Some great number of years back a maniacal psychiatrist wanted me to hop on the antidepressant bus. I asked him for how long I might need to be on the pills, to which he replied, “Forever.”

You see, according to this esteemed professional I had a chemical imbalance that would require the ongoing supplementation of mass-produced chemicals into my body and brain. It was not my fault, he suggested, just bad luck in the procurement of serotonin, he supposed.

Turns out he was dead wrong. And lucky for me, I was able to muster the courage to dump his free-sample pills in the trash and pursue a different healing path.

Instead of psychotropic drugs, what I personally needed was exercise, a better diet, and better lifestyle choices. I also needed to think about my purpose in life and move in a direction that made it possible, and then to experience the feeling of success in accomplishing small goals and realizing dreams along the way. I also really needed deeper meaning in my life, better connection with people and to mother nature, and a greater sense of community.

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Along this path I was called to journey with ayahuasca, and my experiences with this sacred medicine helped me to understand the healing process I was going through at that time. Most importantly, though, ayahuasca helped me to recognize that I was free to allow myself to be healed so I could get back to the good business of living life.

Having direct personal experiences, I know exactly how effective this medicine is in treating depression, although it’s not something easily put into words. Also, it’s not something that can be backed up or proven with empirical data.

Today though, neuroscience researchers are working to explain exactly how ayahuasca positively affects those fighting through depression. In one such endeavor, scientists took brain scans of individuals participating in ayahuasca ceremonies to note which areas of the brain were activated as a result of drinking the brew.

Neuroimaging of the brains of the participants eight hours after ingesting ayahuasca revealed increased blood flow in areas of the brain whose diminished activation is usually associated with depression and increased activation is commonly associated with antidepressant effects.

The researchers attribute the antidepressant effects of ayahuasca to DMT, the principal psychoactive ingredient in ayahuasca, as it is an activator of serotonin receptors in the central and peripheral nervous systems. [Source]

Ok, that’s very informative and interesting, but it reduces an exceptionally complex and fascinating experience down to something very cold, mechanical, and very clinical.

Scientists like to have a reliable formula that produces repeatable results before they will endorse the efficacy of something like the establishment considers an illegal and dangerous drug. That’s understandable, but ayahuasca works in mysterious ways. It is, after all, a spiritual medicine, not a pharmaceutical drug.

Many people liken a one night ceremony with ayahuasca to the cumulative experience of many years of high-quality psychotherapy.

This metaphor is rather astute, and it helps to grasp the profound amount of progress one can make in a very short time. For some reason, though, most people are blown away by the fact that it doesn’t have to take a lifetime to overcome depression.

This is perhaps so astonishing because we’re accustomed to the wellness model mentioned above: take a forever pill to forever fix what’s wrong with you, forever. You don’t get healed, you don’t get to move on. You get to manage and you get to cope… with assistance from a trillion dollar chemical industry.

Therefore in order to convince people who’ve never tried ayahuasca that it really does work in such a remarkable way, the scientists continue to search for evermore convincing data points.

The medical-consumer paradigm is quite different from cooking up wild jungle vines, dialing in your intention, asking for guidance from a great and wise spirit, then letting go of any resistance to the purge.

And there is something critically important about the purge. It’s an intense concentration of negative energy and emotional baggage that is forced from the metaphysical and physical self. It’s energetic, emotional and physical crap you’ve been carrying around with you forever that holds you back and needs to be gone.

In Chinese medicine, negative experiences, aggravating and irritable emotions, worry and anxiety are carried and stored in the stomach. In ceremony, very often the purge is triggered by the arrival of a thought or vision which brings into view some negative aspect of the person’s being, then is immediately expelled physically as a purge. The connection between mind, body and spirit is exceptionally palpable under the influence of ayahuasca.  

Healing is supposed to be a task, not an occupation, but without a cultural history of shamanic healing nor acceptance of psychedelics and plant medicines as healers and teachers, we are at the whim of our established practices.

To help connect these two perspectives, the shamanic view and the materialist view, ayahuasquero Maestro Don Howard Lawler speaks lucidly to Amber Lyon in an interview from 2014. With decades of direct experience in working with this sacred plant medicine and leading ceremonies to heal people of these very types of mental health issues which are becoming so prevalent these days, his thoughts are quite enlightening.

Noting that this medicine is not for everyone, he talks about the healing process of ayahuasca, and how it works to help people realize the true nature of their condition and to understand their own role in resolving the condition once and for all so that they may be of service to others.

The interview in its entirety is fascinating and sheds tremendous insight into process of healing offered by this sacred medicine. The following embed starts at a point in the conversation where they begin to talk about how it specifically address the healing of mental health issues which may ordinarily be treated with medication. For those interested in a deeper understanding of this medicine, this is an important conversation.

Read more articles by Dylan Charles.

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