Ayahuasca Paranoia: That Time I Nearly Died in the Amazon

Ayahuasca Paranoia: That Time I Nearly Died in the Amazon

Ayahuasca Paranoia: That Time I Nearly Died in the Amazon

Words by Alisha Smith  & Illustrations by Aidan May


People say that ayahuasca is a truth serum, but I think it’s a fear venom. It drives its viney tendrils deep into the sludge of your soul. It has an arsenal of machinery ready to excavate the shittiest beliefs you hold about yourself. It can make you live your worst nightmares, often in the most creative of ways. And if you’re lucky, it may even kill you.

It was my fifth time working with ayahuasca on a 23-day immersion somewhere in the emerald belly of the Peruvian Amazon, and I was getting pretty used to the drill:

5 pm — Flower Bath

Be doused with a bowl of sweet cinnamon smelling liquid. Air-dry, so the tiny orange flowers stick to your skin and help to integrate the coming lessons.

5:45 pm — Prep

Grab ceremony essentials: headlamp, blanket, water bottle, pillow, crystals, lighter.

5.55 pm — Set-up

Head to the large jungle hut called the Maloca, and arrange belongings. Remember the protocols:

  • Lie water bottle flat to prevent knocking it over and scaring everyone mid-ceremony
  • Practice putting headlamp on the red-light setting to not blind everyone mid-ceremony.
  • Tie headlamp around wrist so that you’re not trying to look for it on the ceiling mid-ceremony (I learned that one the hard way).
  • Carefully position plastic vomit bucket
  • Pray to baby Jesus that ayahuasca will be gentle

6:00 pm — Yoga

Set intentions and do an hour and a half of candlelit yin yoga. I try to keep a clear mind but my brain insists on thinking about pesto pasta, Thai beaches, and my long history of questionable life choices.

The Shipibo healers arrive, a husband and wife team with plant medicine in their bones. Maestro Americo whistles a song into an old soft drink bottle filled with ayahuasca, while Maestra Olga rips perfect squares of paper to place the rolled tobacco mapachos on. I’m called up, and they pour a shot glass half full of the lumpy swamp sludge. I say a prayer (again), down the medicine, and gracefully holdback an insta-purge.

Apart from the facilitator, Allen, and the door guys, everyone drinks — even the healers. Then the lanterns are taken away, and we are left in the dark limbo lands.



Nothing’s happen-Whooooooooomph

My mind was strapped to SpaceX and launched to a land where enthusiastic elves competed to show me their geometric mega-devices, yet my body remained in the inky black madhouse of a maloca. Whimpers echoed from the bathroom, red lights flashed like police sirens, and every ten seconds a very loud thud booms through the space.

Reality dissolves into a webbed sea of menacing energy. My eyes itch and puff up, my throat closes….smaller, smaller until it’s difficult to breathe.

I saw a movie screen flashback of the assistant who makes the medicine smirking while stirring a killer plant into a pot of bubbling ayahuasca. A plant that would cause a very long, slow and painful death.

I’d been poisoned! It was his plan all along. He’d charmed the retreat guests with his friendly smile, earned our trust, then sneaked a deadly plant into the ayahuasca so he could watch everyone die in the middle of the jungle.

There was no point in getting Allen’s attention now — he knew what was going on, and it was too late. He was busy shining a light into the eyes of the thumping culprit, who was now limp and silent. He must have passed away, I thought. Me next.

I crawled towards the door to escape, with the thought that I’d rather die within the quiet walls of a lantern-lit bathroom than an asylum.

My eyes blink closed and a trillion visions strobe: barbie pink butterflies dance in a kaleidoscopic pop-art painting that fractals into infinity. My eyes blink open and the floor starts breathing again.
Ayahuasca Paranoia: That Time I Nearly Died in the Amazon
I’d royally fucked up this time, hadn’t I? Newspaper headlines projected onto the bathroom walls “12 Found Dead in Amazon Poisoning”. I’d forever be known as the girl who died drinking ayahuasca in the jungle.

After teleporting back to the maloca, the medicine kept me in its claws for hours. I was dragged, drugged, stalked, poked, prodded, X-rayed, dissected, and disinfected. I told my family I loved them. I accepted my own death.

Then, silence.

The shamans stopped singing.

Allen’s comforting voice lit up the room.

‘Alright beautiful people, the ceremony is now closed, gracias para La Medicina’.

And in that moment I was back. I was a shattered shell, unable to move, but holy moly, I was Alisha and praise the starry skies, I was alive!

I lay sprawled on my mattress, eyes wide open until the roosters called and early morning rays shone through the mosquito-netted walls.

As I stumbled back to my hut, silent tears rolled at seeing this world for the first time. I had to hold myself back from shouting: OH MY GOD look how green the grass is! I was mesmerized by the trail of ants, and even the cat was a mystical and magical being.

Ayahuasca helps us to remember.

Remember that we spend our lives trapped in a backwards bitch of a society, so hell-bent on becoming that we miss the beauty of being. The joy of a sweet smile, the rustling of leaves, a gap in thoughts, a petal, a deep inhale and full exhale. Oh, what a gift it is to simply breathe.

Ayahuasca helps us to remember.

That one day we won’t breathe anymore.

With Maestro Americo, Maestra Olga, Tanya and Haroldo (the poor subject of my imaginary poisoning) at the Temple of the Way of Light in Peru.