Disclaimer: ayahuasca is a potentially illegal substance, and we do not encourage or condone the use of this substance where it is against the law. However, we accept that illegal drug use occurs, and believe that offering responsible harm reduction information is imperative to keeping people safe. For that reason, this guide is designed to ensure the safety of those who decide to use the substance. We do not encourage using this drug outside of a legal or traditional context.

Ayahuasca is an ancient psychoactive brew, intertwined in numerous South American cultures and traditions. Experienced shamans can dedicate days to producing a batch of ayahuasca, adhering to various traditional preparation methods and rituals. The resulting brew is drunk in ceremonies under the supervision of a shaman – after an initial purging (most commonly vomiting), ayahuasca induces a prolonged psychedelic experience that can be traumatic, joyful, healing, and usually all three!

Considering there have been no confirmed deaths from ayahuasca use, it’s strange that this sacred brew is illegal in many countries. Here we explain why ayahuasca is illegal in some forms and in some places, and what opportunities are available to people who want to experience ayahuasca without breaking the law.


Ayahuasca is thought to have numerous healing effects, and the experience is often described as being like “100 hours of therapy in one moment”. Although there have been no clinical studies on the therapeutic effects of ayahuasca, several observational studies suggest that it could help combat addiction: one study of regular ayahuasca users found that they are considerably less likely to become addicted to alcohol and other drugs compared to non-users; another survey of religious ayahuasca users found that almost all of those who had previously had substance abuse issues were now addiction free; and finally, adolescent members of a Brazilian ayahuasca church were found to be less likely to consume alcohol than non-ayahuasca using controls in a 2005 survey.

The ayahuasca experience lasts several hours, and often forces users to confront their darkest fears and vices. This is considered by many to be the reason why ayahuasca can have such a healing effect; the experience provides you with an outside perspective to your life, helping you see how you can help yourself. Many people report that ayahuasca has helped to cure their depression; for example, this user of the ayahuasca subreddit:

“It was by far the most terrifying experience of my life. Imagine cramming like 50 years of therapy into 5 nights, going down to the core of your being and being forced to confront and release all the emotions and negative thought habits you’ve been holding on to and repressing. Not only did it cure my depression, but also several physical ailments which I learned were physical manifestations of mental problems (eczema, heart palpitations, and digestive issues). If you are at the end of your rope (or even if you’re not) I can’t recommend it highly enough.”

But despite these documented healing effects, ayahuasca is illegal in many countries. What is the reason for this?

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