Is sipping this popular spiritual brew healing or harmful?
Mighty Leaf, Lipton, Tea Forte, Twinnings, Bigelow, Republic of Tea, Yoga Tea. Caffeinated or decaf. Traditional or artisanal blends. Hot or iced cold.
Which kind of tea is steeping in your cup? There’s Mighty Leaf Green Tea in mine.
And while you won’t find it on grocery store shelves, ayahuasca tea, powered by a chemical known as DMT, is rapidly gaining attention across the U.S.
What is Ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca (aka iowaska or yagé) is an ancient, sacred plant-based medicine. It has been used spiritually and ceremonially in tea form by tribes in South America for centuries, and came to the United States in the early 1900s.
Today, despite some ambiguity regarding its legal status in the U.S., it’s quickly gaining increasing popularity with a range of urban, suburban, and rural dwellers.
Social media posting about Ayahuasca tea are on fire! The healing and spiritual connection that a cuppa Ayahuasca affords has garnered serious fans and followers everywhere. And unlike what’s happens during experiences with other hallucinogens like LSD or psilocybin “magic” mushrooms, users remain fully aware of their journey all the way through.
What is DMT?
By definition, DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine or N,N-DMT) “is a chemical substance that occurs in many plants and animals and … is both a derivative and a structural analog of tryptamine [which] can be consumed as a psychedelic drug and has historically been prepared by various cultures for ritual purposes as an entheogen. [Clinical psychiatry professor] Rick Strassman labeled it ‘the spirit molecule’.”
More specifically, it is active well-being chemical hallucinogen in steeped Ayahuasca tea leaves and vines.
It’s chemical role is quite attractive. DMT is a relative to the brain’s serotonin production, and similar to the anti-migraine drug sumatriptan. This is the reason intermittent users who deal with conditions such as depression and social anxiety like the feelings of well-being ayahuasca tea affords. Some use their increased insights into their feelings to enhance and further their healing processes in psychotherapy.
The effects of a tea trip last somewhere between 15 and 45 minutes, or may extend hours longer for the long-steeping, slow sippers. The feature of time is distorted, however, an experience can feel like it lasts for days.
Ayahuasca experiences include intense visual and auditory hallucinations, which are part of the adventure.
It’s unpredictable, though, which can be adventuresome or worrisome depending on the user. Your brain gets to pick.
How can DMT affect you and your brain?
Many celebrities have shared their own experiences:
Some strength experts in the field of bioenergetics say the ayahuasca experience delivers results that otherwise take years of bioenergetic practice. The release of deep emotional blocks that inhibit physical performance goals can occur on a single tea trip.
What if you simply want a spiritual experience or a deeper understanding of yourself or find deeper healing, even from past traumas? Could be this be the best tea to sip for you?
Here’s where it gets tricky. So, listen up.
If you have a history of alcohol or drug dependence or addiction, whether you are currently in recovery or not, you may want to put your tea cup back on the shelf.
While DMT itself has not yet been determined to be addictive, you may have a wired predisposition toward addictive behavior drinking ayahuasca tea might activate.
Remember, chocolate chip cookies are not considered to be addictive, but my 30-year-old client, who has alcoholic parents and Type 2 diabetes, binges on a dozen or so for self-soothing when stressed. Alcohol is essentially sugar to the brain, so, yep, she has a sugar addiction.
And, the only “tea” she got out of her experience on an ayuhuasca trip was “T”, as in trauma.
Another two clients, each born to different generations, landed themselves in addiction recovery programs after partaking. Neither had been given a heads-up about what loomed in their tea cups.
The first, who has a family history of alcohol and drug use, had been sober before their unintentional trip, and has this to say about her experience:
“I’m someone addicted to the speed of the start-up, the thought of future stock options, clicking or phone-checking … My partner says I feel less and less. Yeah, true, and I speed up to do more and more. That tea took over. It made me feel. What a relief to feel human again. I didn’t wanna stop …”
The second, who also has a personal and family history of addiction, says:
“Hey, of course I read the studies! I’m in biosciences. It’s what I do. There’s not enough time for just me, ever! Full-time work, a mom, and he’s gone for work a lot. Two of my mom friends do an annual getaway trip to “trip”. DMT. It looked cool. I could go away. Get “lost” and come back. Easy. No booze. I’m in AA. Tripping got outta hand. Took it back home. Guess I can’t use anything?
Shifting gears, in contrast, a 26 year old client made a conscious decision to take a “tea trip” just once with a friend who is an experienced “guide”.
After, she had the courage to reach out to start therapy, saying to me, “I’m ready to deal with my childhood sexual abuse. I heard you do EMDR, too.”
What an honor it’s been to help this courageous woman help herself! Brava! She’s working hard.
What happens during a “bad trip”?
The following are some potential negative effects you might experience on DMT:
- Your blood pressure spikes and stays there (hypertension)
- You vomit or lose control of your bowels, which can be unexpectedly fatal, as both may cause severe dehydration and mineral depletion
- Your heart rate speeds up
- Your physical coordination becomes highly compromised
And for some, while the trip itself isn’t bad, the transition back to daily life can be a problem.
Two clients who don’t know each other have continued to have similar, concerning experiences.
They see alien lifeforms and past-life versions of themselves, and they can’t predict when or where these “visions” will occur. One was at a back-to-school night when it first happened. The other was at a work team meeting.
It’s been a couple of months since their tea trips and each still feels out of their bodies a bit. They describe daily life as seeming to happen around them. Even though they’re back to managing their daily tasks and responsibilities, they simply don’t feel connected to their day-to-day lives.
So, should Ayahuasca tea be on your beverage menu?
Do you buy Lotto tickets or visit casinos regularly? Are you interested in taking a gamble on the potential of a possibly life-enhancing — or life damaging — Sip Trip?
No judgement here.
I’ll just be over here warming up my now-cold cup of Mighty Leaf Green Tea in the microwave.
Paula-Jo Husack is a counselor, coach, and EMDR certified marriage and family therapist with a private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area and online. She has 20-plus years experience helping clients with addiction/recovery, couplehood, parenting …the full range of issues life brings.