It's become so popular in major metropolitan centers in the United States that lengthy articles have been written about it in LA Weekly and The New Yorker. So, is ayahuasca a legitimate shortcut to the divine that everyone should try? No, and here's why.
Ayahuasca is serious medicine
Chemotherapy is serious medicine. It works quite well to cure all sorts of cancers. But using it to cure diabetes is ridiculous. It's the same with ayahuasca. It has a chemical composition and way of working with the body-mind-spirit that is unique, and it should be used for only those ailments that it is best able to address. To understand that, we must first understand what it does.
On the level of neurochemistry, Ayahuasca contains a powerful anti-depressant and powerful hallucinogen. The combination of these two chemicals, as well as whatever yet-unidentified compounds assist with the visionary state reported by ayahuasca users, serves to interrupt the "default mode network" of our brains, and allows people access to states of consciousness normally only accessible to those who have been devotees of trancendental meditation for many years. In this new state of mind, people are capable of great leaps of understanding about themselves and their life situations. In addition, the antidepressant compounds provide a boost of energy that lasts two to three weeks, providing drinkers extra courage to make positive life changes before the boost wears off and regular reality starts to creep back in.
In my opinion, what ayahuasca does is to drag people's consciousness back to a state of being aligned with their essential divinity as it was at the moment of their soul's creation. For those who are already living in a way that is in alignment with the divine, who have done their "work" either through therapy or other means, the process seems to be quite mild. Unnecessary, even. For those who are so separated from their divine nature that they're not even sure what that would look like, the process tends to be more intense. They are forced to see - either in one sitting or during multiple sessions over time - how far they've drifted from their divine purpose, and while it can be very intense, they are cradled in the bliss of that powerful antidepressant and feel loved and well during the entire process (provided that a competent shaman is on hand, of course).
Like all powerful medicines, ayahuasca can have serious side effects. One of the most troubling ones that I've personally witnessed is that it can bring on a manic episode in those with bipolar tendencies, even in those who have never experienced a manic episode before. In addition, it can exacerbate delusional states in those that struggle with them, whether due to latent schizophrenia, traumatic brain injury, or some other reason. For these reasons, responsible ayahuasca practitioners should always ask about previous personal and family history of mental health concerns.
Ayahuasca isn't just a spiritual experience
Due to the chemicals involved in the ayahuasca brew, a lengthy physical preparation is needed to ensure that the brew will be safe to use, such as abstaining from certain foods, beverages, and medications. For some, this alone will make the taking of ayahuasca difficult, if not impossible. And that's okay. There are many routes to the divine.
For those who want to experience ayahuasca and are good candidates, the physical affects are obvious: many people "purge" during their experience. For some, this will be a literal purging of material from the body. For others, the purging will be more on the energetic levels of the body, the mental, or on the spiritual level. Or perhaps all at once.
Ayahuasca interacts with all parts of our human vehicle: the body, mind, and spirit. It is excellent at moving knowledge from a purely intellectual understanding to an understanding that "lives in the muscle". It can provoke a deep knowing of the rightness of certain actions one might take or beliefs one might hold, a knowing that can result in healthy behaviors becoming much more easy and automatic.
Ayahuasca can also show in a physical way where toxins may be accumulating in the body as a result of errors in the "human interface", the system created by the union of body, mind, and spirit. When we think thoughts or act in ways that are in non-alignment with our divine essence, a record of this non-alignment can take root in the body and grow into a physical illness over time. When under the influence of ayahuasca, the body may seek to throw off non-aligned energy that has taken root in the physical.
Ayahuasca wears off
The biggest problem I've seen with "the medicine" is simply that it wears off. Yes, one can receive great leaps of understanding while under the influence of the brew, but if one is unwilling to afterward take the actions necessary to align their daily lives with those new understandings, the benefit of the experience itself is irrelevant. In my opinion, using ayahuasca should be limited to only those who are really serious about doing the hard, dirty work that is required after the visionary experience to make positive changes in their daily lives.
In addition, ayahuasca can be addictive. I don't care what the articles say; I've seen it and I know it's real. The comedown from the antidepressant effects of the brew can be tough to deal with, and there are those who would simply rather not. In addition, for those who are already caught in spiritual bypassing, the connectedness felt during the ayahuasca experience can be too good to set aside long enough to actually do the real work of the soul.
So who shouldn't use ayahuasca?
People with mental or physical health conditions that make the ayahuasca experience dangerous.
People who are already living in alignment with their divine blueprint. You'll just be messing with your neurochemistry for no reason.
People who are currently engaged in spiritual bypassing. At first, bypassers may derive some benefit from "the medicine" as issues of physical alignment are cleaned up, but eventually, I believe the harm of facilitating continuing bypassing outweighs that initial benefit.
Those who are not on a path of deep, active personal transformation. Ayahuasca isn't a recreational drug and shouldn't be used as one. It will give you homework, and you must do the homework to get the benefit.
People who don't feel any particular call to it. If you came here looking to be talked out of it because you know, somewhere deep down, that it's not for you, then it's not for you. If you came here looking for confirmation that you have made the right decision to pursue an ayahuasca experience, then you might be a good candidate. Ask your local shaman for more information.