During the last few days, several journalists have asked me about ayahuasca. Apparently, Harry Windsor said in an interview that it changed his life! However, the family of a young woman who took her own life after using ayahuasca has joined campaigners condemning his comments. Others – including myself – claim that Harry is sending a worrying message talking about his ‘positive’ experience with ayahuasca, saying it ‘brought me a sense of relaxation, release, comfort, a lightness that I managed to hold on to for a period of time’.

So, what is ayahuasca?

This paper explains it quite well:

Ayahuasca is a hallucinogen brew traditionally used for ritual and therapeutic purposes in Northwestern Amazon. It is rich in the tryptamine hallucinogens dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which acts as a serotonin 5-HT2A agonist. This mechanism of action is similar to other compounds such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and psilocybin. The controlled use of LSD and psilocybin in experimental settings is associated with a low incidence of psychotic episodes, and population studies corroborate these findings. Both the controlled use of DMT in experimental settings and the use of ayahuasca in experimental and ritual settings are not usually associated with psychotic episodes, but little is known regarding ayahuasca or DMT use outside these controlled contexts. Thus, we performed a systematic review of the published case reports describing psychotic episodes associated with ayahuasca and DMT intake. We found three case series and two case reports describing psychotic episodes associated with ayahuasca intake, and three case reports describing psychotic episodes associated with DMT. Several reports describe subjects with a personal and possibly a family history of psychosis (including schizophrenia, schizophreniform disorders, psychotic mania, psychotic depression), nonpsychotic mania, or concomitant use of other drugs. However, some cases also described psychotic episodes in subjects without these previous characteristics. Overall, the incidence of such episodes appears to be rare in both the ritual and the recreational/noncontrolled settings. Performance of a psychiatric screening before administration of these drugs, and other hallucinogens, in controlled settings seems to significantly reduce the possibility of adverse reactions with psychotic symptomatology. Individuals with a personal or family history of any psychotic illness or nonpsychotic mania should avoid hallucinogen intake.

In other words, ayahuasca can lead to serious side effects. They include vomiting, diarrhea, paranoia, and panic. Ayahuasca can also interact with many medications, including antidepressants, psychiatric medications, drugs used to control Parkinson’s disease, cough medicines, weight loss medications, and more. Those with a history of psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, should avoid ayahuasca because this could worsen their psychiatric symptoms. Additionally, taking ayahuasca can increase your heart rate and blood pressure, which may result in dangerous consequences for those who have a heart condition.

Thus ayahuasca is an interesting albeit dangerous herb (in most countries it is illegal to possess or consume it). Currently, it is clearly under-researched, which means we know very little about its potential benefits and even less about the harm it can do.

Considering this, one would think that any half-intelligent person with loads of influence would not promote or encourage its use – but, sadly, it seems that one would be mistaken.

18 Responses to Ayahuasca: its risks and its potential benefits

  • People talk about all sorts of things that have benefited them, legal and illegal. Why should Ayahuasca comments be censored? Censorship and controlled speech seems to be a theme in the So-called Skeptic world.

    • thanks for this intensely stupid comment.

    • @stan
      So let’s tell a lot of happy stories about how wonderful fentanyl makes you feel? Or for instance crystal meth? Because disapproving of those reports from genuinely satisfied users would of course be tantamount to censorship, as well as an infringement on the right to free speech – much like your comments are always censored here for being an insult to human intelligence. Oh, wait …

      • “So let’s tell a lot of happy stories…”
        No, according to Stan, let’s encourage privileged VIPs to tell them. If we do it, hardly anyone would listen, but if someone like Harry does it…

        • @Edzard

          No, according to Stan, let’s encourage privileged VIPs to tell them

          Ah yes, of course, how silly of me. When a famous person(*) shares their positive experiences, any criticism is wrong and should be (wait for it …) censored.

          *: There’s a long list of famous persons who had wonderful experiences with all sorts of substances – until they hadn’t.

    • “Why should Ayahuasca comments be censored?” asks ‘stan’.
      Not censored – contextualised.

      Because ‘celebrities’ should not opine on matters they have little general knowledge about, even if they have their own experience. It is a matter of regret, but they do influence many gullible and vulnerable people.
      IMHO, celebrities have a duty of responsibility to be wise when commenting to the public.

      Mr Windsor was ill-advised to comment on the number of his kills when in the army.
      He is ill-advised to comment on health issues on the basis of N=1.
      (On a videocast at £19.00 a pop including a book covering his ‘trauma’.)

      Mr Windsor has himself been ill-advised.
      He may be more ill than he is prepared to reveal publicly.
      Very sad.
      He deserves our sympathy, but owes his acolytes a duty of care.

    • Criticism is not censorship Stan – You can google it

  • So Harry Windsor shoud make the same as his father- use a lot oh homeopathic globuli. This is normaly not risky bat useless. one claim of Homeopaths ist, that use of HP reduces antibiotic use. So the use of psilocybin must be reduced by using HP -high potencies.

    But dont use this HP pills

  • So the solution is to make an official list of everything that people can talk about. And someone or some organization (hopefully some card carrying So-called Skeptics) ranks everything on that list as to helpfulness. Then they give everyone an influencer rating. You multiply your influencer rating by the helpfulness rating which gives a rating as to whether you can say anything on the subject or must shut up about it, and the big tech outlets enforce this. Coming soon… oh, wait, seems like that has already been implemented (read the Twitter files), with some exceptions (for royalty) that slip through the cracks apparently. You must be very happy about how well its working otherwise. You are doing your bit to keep us on the straight and narrow, and point out the few exceptions that must be policed.

    • @stan

      Can’t wait to read the book “stan: The Art of the Stupid” you are going to be publishing soon.

    • @stan

      So the solution is to make an official list of everything that people can talk about.

      Great idea! I suggest you get cracking right away – that way, you’ll beat the crowd, and you have maximum control over that list!
      And, of course, while you are very busy drawing up that list, we will not miss you at all over here. Bye!

      • @Murmur Have you been completely oblivious to the Twitter Files? Time to catch up. FBI and others were telling big tech what to censor. Yes, Virginia, in the land of the free there is censorship happening.

        @Richard Rasker, I will have to leave that up to you, as a card-carrying So-called Skeptic. You have that strong censorious tendency that a free society needs to clean up the rif-raf.

        • @stan
          Oh yes, I’m a great proponent of censorship – as you can clearly see, I advocate that you be banned every time that you post something!
          Just one question: are you by any chance competing for the ‘Dumbest Troll of the Year’ award?

        • And what your FBI does, apparently, has what relevance to a discussion of The Spare and ayahuasca and what relevance to me, a non-Twitter user, in the UK?

          And I’m not sure that I will be following suggestions from someone who has repeatedly not answered a couple of simple questions.

    • Oh come off it. Nothing has been “censored”, has it?

      The Spare has clearly been allowed to get his opinions out into the public sphere, yet again. And, oddly, most of us know what ayahuasca is.

      On the other hand, personal experience of psylocibin and the experience of several friends of tat and LSD suggest very strongly that one should be very careful about how and when one takes it: it can be good or it can be bad and that can easily be influenced by starting mood and environment.

      None of these things are automatically either good or bad.

    • People can talk about anything Stan – but they should do so responsibility.
      And in cases where they know their opinions might well influence gullible and vulnerable people without the necessary knowlege or understanding to assess the evidence rationally, the influencer should exhibit more restraint, and wisdom.
      Why not Stan?

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