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What's It Like to Try Ayahuasca?

Ayahuasca leaf
Ayahuasca leaf
Emily Utne

[Editor's Note: Our cover story this week focuses on the the drug ayahuasca and its growing popularity. The following is a first person account.]

It is well past midnight and I am squatting next to a ripe compost pile in a backyard in Encino, vomiting. And then crying. And then laughing at the fact that this is how I've chosen to spend my Saturday night.

Tonight I am on ayahuasca. Before we began, the guide told the 25 or so of us -- all dressed in white and sitting in a circle -- that 10 percent of people in the world know what ayahuasca is, 10 percent of those people have access to it, and 10 percent of those people have access on a regular basis. "If you're here," he says, "it's because you're meant to be here."

We get up two at a time to drink the ayahuasca, which tastes like dark chocolate and bile. I close my eyes, focus on swallowing the thick liquid, and then return to my spot on the lawn, where I will sit for the next five hours.

Around me, there is music, singing, crying, giggling, hysterical laughter and the intermittent sound of puking. I have a vague sense of time. I write things down in a notebook and the handwriting looks like someone else's. "There is only one presence here, and it is the presence of love," the guide announces, burning sage over each of us. The trees and the bushes and the flowers and the stars all swirl and pulse, and each thing blends into the next and the whole world and everything beyond breathes as one entity.

My brain is on overdrive, reviewing my life. Some inner voice tells my mind to slow down, and it does. The ayahuasca provides perspective. In sad memories, I see beauty. The happier stuff makes me marvel at how fantastically lucky I am. Even the shittiest memories -- which usually level me to a snotty, weeping mess -- are contextualized to seem poignant, victorious, part of the learning curve of being human. I whisper "thank you" to the sky while suppressing my urge to throw up.

And then, for a moment, my mind is silent, and I feel I can literally talk to God. I can't explain it better than just a total sense of knowing, but God responds. "Take care of yourself. Be kind. Don't text and drive." These are the lessons to incorporate into daily life, what they call the work between the work. And, as the guide says, if you don't do the work between the work, you're just tripping.

And then a sad thought hits and I cry and then vomit, both ways of purging. Exhausted, I fall asleep at maybe 3 a.m., feeling lighter.

See also: Musicians Talk About Using Ayahuasca

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