My husband, Andy Larson, MD, and I are back from our first ever Ayahuasca experience and although it is a bit hard to put into words how it has affected us both, I am going to try my best to describe the impact it had on me. I will have to leave it to my husband to describe his experience and how it has helped him personally as well how he feels it could potentially help his patients in his own words in a separate blog post, which he will do in the next few weeks. But let me just say, the impact has been enormously positive in more ways than I could have possibly imagined on both of us.
My Personal Ayahuasca Experience
In addition to sharing my personal experience, I also want to share a bit more about what led me to seek this journey in the first place. And it most definitely was a journey…
In my last blog post I said we would be going on what I believed would be a life-changing journey to a retreat in Central America but I was rather evasive about what we would be doing, mostly because I was well aware that the whole idea would seem a bit “out there” to many of our readers.
I admit, some of what I read online about Ayuhuasca experiences sounded downright bizarre and potentially even scary. Some articles made it appear as though people ventured off to the Amazon to go on some psychedelic trip to lose their minds (you absolutely do NOT lose your mind by the way–unlike a drug where you escape your mind, Ayuhuasca brings you deep, deep into your psyche. It is absolutely not a “mind escape” my any means.)
And yet even though I would read about these bizarre Ayahuasca encounters, I still felt this incredible attraction to try it that I can only describe as a definitive energetic pull. I realize that concept may be incredibly hard to comprehend (especially if you have never had an Ayahuasca experience or studied energy) and so when my husband does his blog post he will try to explain in scientific terms what we both learned about “energy” on our journeys, but all I can say is that I found it fascinating that almost everyone who was at the retreat in Central America with us said they had all felt the same bizarre magnetic draw to Ayuhuasca that I had felt. Talking with the others made me feel as though I was not crazy (or at least that I wasn’t alone in being crazy!)
Bu in all seriousness, the Shamans that we worked with on our retreat were adamant that when a person is ready for Ayuhuasca they will be drawn to “the plant medicine” (and yes, that is what it is called.) Unless you have experienced it though, it all sounds very hokey, trust me, I know.
It Had to Be Safe
Anyone who knows me and knows my story knows I am far from a self-destructive person and that I work incredibly hard at trying to stay healthy and take care of myself. So, even though I felt what can only be described as an energetic pull to try Ayuhuasca, I absolutely had to make sure it was safe before hoping on a plane to Central America.
It was after watching the documentary The Reality of Truth with Deepak Chopra, M.D., Ram Das, Shiva Rea, Foster Gamble and many other influencers and after stumbling on the work of Emmy award-winning investigative reporter Amber Lyon and her Reset.Me website, that I started to feel a sense of reassurance that I could safely explore an Ayuhuasca experience. The more I started to read and research, the safer I felt.
But I still needed to dig deeper just to make 110% sure. I had heard the “plant medicine” had incredible physical and mental healing capabilities so I decided to head on over to PubMed to see what I could find….
I found articles in mainstream medical journals reviewing the pharmacology and neuroscience of Ayahuasca, and the potential psychological mechanisms underlying its therapeutic potential. I learned there was a growing body of evidence suggesting that Ayahuasca may be useful to treat substance use disorders, anxiety and depression.
I was fascinated to read Ayahuasca and plant-based Shaman medicine was actually being studied by scientists in a large scale research project for a number of different conditions, including autoimmune diseases (of which I have.) On a side note, the Shamans who work with the “plant medicine” treat it very sacredly. They believe God didn’t create a disease without creating a cure and that the cures are there; we just need to find them. This is a concept I have always believed in my heart even before I knew Shaman medicine existed.
I was no longer even sick, but the more I read, the stronger the magnetic pull became to explore Shamanic healing and Ayahuasca.
Although it was beyond my comprehension, I was fascinated to read that many people reported saying that having an Ayahuasca experience was like 25 years of psychotherapy in one evening. It had been used to help patients recover from sexual and physical abuse and to help soldiers recover from PTSD. Apparently Ayahuasca intake increases certain mindfulness facets related to acceptance and to the ability to take a detached view of one’s own thoughts and emotions as a way to self-analyze. In other words, Ayahuasca teaches you to become your own therapist.
Research showed Ayahuasca increased introspection and positive mood and activated frontal and paralimbic regions. It also improved planning and inhibitory control, boosted working memory, and showed incredibly positive anti-depressive and anti-addictive potentials.
Reassuringly, I discovered long-term Ayahuasca use has been associated with increased brain function, including enhanced mood and cognition and cortical thickness, (a brain marker associated with higher intelligence.)
After considerable research, both my husband and I decided Ayahuasca was in fact definitely safe. Considering that my husband is a surgeon who has the professional training necessary to interpret the medical studies we were reading added an additional layer of security. We made the decision that we were definitely going to give Ayahuasca a go!
But Why Did I Even Want to Do Ayahuasca in the First Place?
Ok, so here’s the thing, I didn’t have anything specifically wrong with my health or my life that I could pinpoint needed changing. In fact, I have a life that I am beyond grateful for and I am well aware that I have been blessed in so many ways. But still, I was not feeling super excited about life anymore. Like Bill Murray in the 1993 comedy, Groundhog Day, I had started to feel like I was in some sort of time loop where I found myself repeating the same day again and again and again. I was 40 years old and I had already accomplished all of the things I thought I wanted to accomplish in life and was not feeling the sense of peace and satisfaction I thought I would have certainly felt at this stage in my life.
“Now what?” was all I could think day after day, week after week.
I was also noticing a subtle and highly disturbing shift in myself where I was becoming a glass-half-empty-kind-of-girl. A negative person was NOT the “real” me and certainly not who I wanted to become, but there was no doubt I was slowly but surely becoming more pessimistic. Maybe this is middle age I would silently wonder? But then the glass-half-full-girl in me secretly kept nagging to search for more.
There has to be something more…
I Already Had God in My Life
I tried to talk about the way I was feeling with some of my good friends and some simply felt that all I really needed was to create a closer relationship with God and that would be the answer.
In my heart however, I did not feel that God was missing in my life. It is true I was not nearly as religious as some of my good girlfriends because I didn’t go to church every week and I had not studied the Bible since I was in grade school. However, I have always had my own personal relationship with God since as far back as I can remember. I have always asked God for help and I have always felt His presence in my life.
In fact, throughout some of the most difficult times in my life when I have prayed the most intensely, I believe I have always been shown an answer—the answer has not always been easy to accept or easy to put into practice, but I have always been shown a way out of my troubles. In many instances, I have had the answer shown to me but I have had to do the work to fix the problem. For example, when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) almost 20 years ago my entire family prayed more than I think we ever had in our lives (my dad even organized a prayer chain around the country for me) and I believe we were shown a path for me to take that was certainly not easy on my part, but it did answer our prayers. And ultimately the path I took ended up helping a lot of other people along the way. I don’t think any of that happened out of coincidence.
The point is, I didn’t feel I was missing God in my life or that God had ever abandoned me. I felt instead that it was something not working right in my brain that was making it hard for me to experience the amazing life I had the way I knew I should have been experiencing it. I can’t say I was depressed or terribly sad or anything like that, but rather that I was more or less in a rut. No matter how hard I tried I simply couldn’t get super excited or even motivated to do the things that in the past had always been exciting or rewarding to me. It was almost like I was becoming bored with life. It was also as if my brain simply was incapable of generating new and creative thoughts. And yes, some may call that a mid-life crisis, but I was not particularly accepting of it.
Of course I was also aware that because MS is a disease that affects your brain that certainly the disease could be progressing and that could be the reason for why I was feeling the way I was. I knew very well that MS had the potential to change my brain in a way that potentially could even change my personality. However, since I had no other symptoms of MS, I just wasn’t convinced the disease was playing a role. I simply seemed too healthy otherwise.
I have been praying about this for a long time now and I believe in my heart that I was led to Ayahuasca as an answer.
There are numerous reasons people may decided to take Ayahuasca and for many spirituality is a big reason. But spirituality was not entirely what drew me to it. I absolutely wanted a spiritual experience if it was possible to get one, but I was drawn to Ayahuasca more for the cognitive and psychological healing benefits and for it to potentially break me out of a rut because of the way I knew it had the ability to “rewire” the brain.
In my heart I believed that the rut I was in had much more to do with my brain than my heart. I felt comfort in prayer and comfort going to church with my friends and comfort reading the religious books they gave me (by far the best was The Purpose Given Life given to me by two dear friends, Gisela and Gilda), but none of that was helping me think any clearer or make my brain work any better or any faster. Rather, it simply settled me into a more “comfortable rut” where I tried to tell myself that this is what happens as you age, life just becomes more boring and your brain doesn’t work as fast. Plus, it was still Groundhog day.
But I simply could not ignore the little voice inside of me that insisted “No, this is not the way it needs to be. There is SO much more to life. You need to expand your mind.”
Can an Ayahuasca Experience Give You a Younger & Healthier Brain?
Whatever the cause of the way I had been feeling, I knew from reading about the healing benefits of Ayahuasca that the plant medicine had the ability to “reset” the neurotransmitters that affect mood, motivation and happiness. Ayahuasca had also been shown to stimulate neurogenesis (the growth of new brain cells) and to make the brain more “flexible”, which is the hallmark of a young and healthy brain. I know that a healthy and young brain has plasticity, which is one of the reasons young people are so creative and find it easier to do jobs that require imagination, all of which I was having some serious issues with the older I got. I also knew that neuroplasticity played a very important role in our overall cognitive function. I figured whatever cognitive problems I was having that if Ayahuasca could boost the level of my “feel good” neurotransmitters and also improve neuroplasticity without negative side effects that it didn’t seem there was a downside to trying it.
In addition, I knew there was research linking Ayahuasca to improvement in neurological conditions such as Parkinsons and Alzheimer’s. And since I have MS, I was especially interested in the research linking Ayahuasca to improvement in multiple sclerosis, ALS and other brain disorders.
Apparently the proanthocyanidines, epicatechin and procyanidine, in Ayahuasca all have powerful antioxidant activity. This antioxidant activity is what is needed for treating neurodegenerative diseases and conditions of the brain. In other words, Ayahuasca has the ability to make your brain younger in certain ways.
According to Dr. Juan Ramos, head of the neurological disease department at the South Florida University, initial studies show that natural substances in Ayahuasca stimulate the development of new cells in areas of the brain. This could potentially prove to be an eventual cure through complete restoration of damaged or destroyed cells in certain neurological diseases.
The more I read the more crystal clear I began to see why Ayahuasca was considered a “plant medicine” and why an Ayahuasca experience had the potential to be healing on many, many levels.
Even if the “plant medicine” did not help me get out of my rut, I figured why at 40 years old would I not want a part of me (especially my brain!) to be younger?
So What Happened?
I have now participated in five Ayahuasca ceremonies over the course of eight days and I truly believe they have collectively “reset” my brain. I have greater clarity about my life, more ability to truly appreciate the numerous and amazing blessings in my life and more of a sense of joy and peace than I have ever had, ever.
Learn more about exactly what I experienced in the nightly Ayahuasca ceremony HERE.
P.S. I Would NOT Just Head to the Jungle for My 1st Ayahuasca Experience
If you are thinking about exploring an Ayahuasca experience it is is very important you make sure you go to a safe location. After considerable research, we settled on Rythmia in Costa Rica. I can’t imagine how we could have gone to a better or safer retreat. Rythmia is actually a medically supervised center where people go from all over the world to seek mental and physical healing. The fact that they served amazing organic food was the icing on the cake!