Drugs. They’re bad, right?

Well, let me begin by stating that when I ask the question ‘is ayahuasca a drug?’ I don’t mean the literal definition of the word which Oxford Dictionaries defines as “a medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body.”

When I pose the question ‘is ayahuasca a drug?’ I’m referring to what the word brings to mind. For most of us, when we think of the word ‘drug’ we usually associate it with harmful substances like cocaine and heroin. To call someone a ‘drug user’ is usually a dismissive term, implying that they are an addict or experience negative consequences in their lives due to drug use. From childhood we are taught ‘Drugs are bad! Don’t do drugs!’ Yet today, substances like ayahuasca, iboga, marijuana, mushrooms, peyote, LSD and the like are still lumped into the ‘drug’ category and we are still fed the same old propaganda warning us all of the dangers of psychedelic substances.

The whole concept of ‘is ayahuasca a drug’ came to me after a heated discussion with a close family friend regarding the topic (to keep their anonymity I will refer to them only as ‘he’). I myself am a former drug user, a heroin addict, dope fiend, whatever you want to call it. He would call himself a ‘recovering drug addict’, has 12 years sobriety and is actively involved in NA. He and I have never been particularly close, but we touch base on occasion and I was wondering if he had any interest in the work that I do and was also curious on his opinion of ayahuasca coming from a believer of the ’abstinence only’ approach to recovery.

When I asked him what he thought of ayahuasca, the response was ‘I look at it the way I view any other drug like alcohol, cocaine or heroin.’ Honestly, it threw me off. For a minute I didn’t quite know how to respond. Sometimes I forget that not everyone has a basic understanding of the scientifically proven benefits of ayahuasca and other psychedelics. I thought surely I can explain this. I can make him understand. I also hated the idea that someone I have been close to my whole life thinks of what I do (and what I credit for my continued sobriety) as nothing more than ‘giving drugs to people’.

So here is the argument I use to defend ayahuasca and other psychedelics to anyone who tries to categorize them as nothing more than ‘drugs’ – Take any substance such as alcohol, cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, etc.. and apply the use of any of those substances to an individuals life and no matter what you will always see some kind of decline in the quality of their life. Whether it is as small as suffering a hangover to as debilitating as ending up on the streets or in jail – without fail there will always be some kind of decrease in the over-all quality of life with the use of non-psychedelic substances.

Now, take psychedelics. Of course psychedelics can be used in a way to get ‘high’ but I am referring here to the people that use psychedelics with a specific intention. When you take any person or group of people and apply the responsible use of psychedelics you will almost always see some kind of increase in the overall quality of life. Worst-case scenario there will be no change what-so-ever from before to after use.  What you will almost NEVER see is any kind of decrease in the users overall quality of life.

is ayahuasca a drug

Yet we still associate two vastly different categories of substances (psychedelics and non-psychedelics)  with such opposing effects (one increases quality of life, one decreases quality of life) under the same word – ‘DRUGS’. The lack of distinction between the two is holding back the acceptance and recognition in the public opinion of the true healing properties of ayahuasca and other psychedelics despite the multiple scientific reports proving their benefits. It is time to shift the current paradigm.

Too often we have guests here that have to attend our retreats in secret. They are ashamed and/or scared to tell their families or friends for fear of being judged because of the stigma attached to using a ‘drug’. They say “My mother/husband/wife/brother/employer would never understand me doing this.” Its time we start making the distinction and embrace these medicines privately and publicly for the amazing healing properties they possess.

Ayahuasca and other psychedelics have scientifically proven benefits across the spectrum of health care. We see evidence that psychedelics can drastically ease the fear of death for terminally ill patients. We see people finding relief from depression, anxiety and PTSD. We find that marijuana can significantly help people suffering from seizures and Parkinson’s. The list goes on and on.

So, to finally answer the questions, NO – ayahuasca is NOT a drug. It is a powerful, healing substance for those who take it with the intent of improving their lives.

For those who would like to learn more or get information on upcoming retreats, please visit New Life Ayahuasca.

Featured image: Banisteriopsis caapi vine. Photo by Jairo Galvis Henao.