What Could You Gain by Taking the Indigenous, Plant-Based Medicine, “Ayahuasca”?

I went on a 7-day ayahuasca retreat to find out.

Jeff Valdivia
9 min readJun 9, 2022


Photo by Cesar Carlevarino Aragon on Unsplash

In May 2022, I didn’t meet nine perfect strangers but 20 of them. We had all signed up for a retreat in Costa Rica where we would drink an ancient, indigenous, plant-based medicine called ayahuasca.

For most of us, it was our first time — myself included. In retrospect, it was a leap of faith putting my mental health in the hands of two plants that, taken together, allow the molecule N,N-dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, to enter the brain.

How the ayahuasca “brew” was discovered is somewhat miraculous. DMT is broken down during the digestive process, thereby losing its psychoactive properties. To prevent this from happening, the brew includes a plant containing a monoamine oxidase inhibitor, which allows DMT to move through the digestive tract and cross the blood-brain barrier.

What happens next is as unique as the person who drinks it. This is what’s so powerful about this medicine. It doesn’t provide a generic experience; rather, what happens under its influence is catered directly to the person based on his or her life experiences.

Does the idea of participating in one of these ceremonies sound fascinating? Or, perhaps, terrifying? How do you prepare for an ayahuasca ceremony? Do you feel like you’re losing your mind under its influence? What could you hope to gain? Are there any negative, long-term consequences?

Below, I’ll try to address these questions.

Mental and physical preparation

In my opinion, mental and physical preparation is essential before drinking ayahuasca. It should not be taken on a whim nor viewed as a “recreational drug.”

In many secular societies, we don’t use words like reverence or sacred but I think the attitude these words express should be carried into these ceremonies. We need to understand at a deep level that what is going to happen to us will be profound, and we need to take that seriously.

I carried a good amount of fear with me into this retreat. But I don’t think that was a problem. On the contrary, my fear kept me in check — it…



Jeff Valdivia

Following my curiosity and hoping it will lead me to wisdom. I write about psychology, meditation, self-development, and spirituality.