Anyone who has looked into drinking ayahuasca, the sacred Amazonian hallucinogenic brew, has probably come across the concept of the dieta (diet). The ayahuasca diet is a set of guidelines for physical and psychological preparation that people are highly encouraged to adhere to prior to this type of ceremony.
While the extent to which you are advised to follow a specific diet will vary from one retreat center to another, there is a general set of recommendations that the majority of places will advise to follow. Some substances, foods, and activities are to be completely avoided because of medical contraindications and potentially adverse physical effects, while others are strongly advised against because of how they may potentially interfere with the connection to the plant during ceremony.
Let’s break down exactly what you need to avoid prior to an ayahuasca ceremony and why it is important to stick to the guidelines as best you can.
Foods to Avoid Before Drinking Ayahuasca
If your current diet consists of sugary drinks and fast food, there will be a lot you will want to cut out. If you mainly stick to an eating regimen of plant-based, whole foods, then the dieta will be less of a change from your norm.
Essentially, the idea is to stick to clean, nutrient-dense, non-processed food and drinks as much as possible. Avoid red meat, pork, spicy foods, caffeine, alcohol, dairy, and excess sugar and salt for at least three days, but ideally up to two weeks, before the ceremony. It is also necessary to avoid foods or drinks that contain tyramine, which is found in aged cheeses, yeast, fermented foods (like sauerkraut, kombucha, soy sauce, or tofu), yogurt, some nutritional supplements, and excess amounts of chocolate and peanuts. In the few days before the ceremony, it is often also advised to avoid strong flavors like garlic and onion, excessive oil, and overripe fruits.
The reason it is important to avoid drinks and foods rich in tyramine is that the ayahuasca vine contains a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI). MAOIs prevent the breakdown of tyramine, which is an amino acid. This combination of foods and brew could create a challenge for the body to process, potentially increasing the chances of a nasty headache, increased blood pressure, or increased nausea
So, what can you eat?
Unfortunately, the blander, the better with the ayahuasca diet. A healthy diet before the ceremony consists of lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains (like rice, quinoa, and oats), and legumes (like beans, lentils, and peas). While cooking, be sparing with oil (olive or coconut are preferred), salt, spices, and sugar. And on the day of the ceremony itself, keep things light and plant-based, and drink only water or herbal tea. While you may not want to go into the ceremony with a completely empty stomach (as you will likely need that energy later in the night), avoid loading up on heavy animal products. Fruits, vegetables, and some easily digestible carbohydrates are good choices. It is also important to stop eating at least four hours before you are to drink the brew.
Substances to Stay Away From
As well as the foods outlined, it is important to refrain from taking any recreational drugs and some medications during the weeks prior to the ceremony. It is important to consult with your retreat leader beforehand to go over any possible prescription interactions.
Most retreat centers advise the discontinuation of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for at least six weeks before the experience. Combining SSRIs with ayahuasca can induce serotonin syndrome, with potentially fatal effects. Other MAO inhibiting medications (see full list below) should also be discontinued for at least six weeks.
Drug Contraindications with Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) due to potential for Severe Toxicity*
*List may not be all inclusive; most drugs listed are contraindicated due to risk of severe serotonin toxicity, however others may cause hypertensive crisis or extreme vasoconstriction. Medications that are substrates of CYP2D6 may be increased by ayahuasca. Table adapted from Thomas K, Malcolm B. Handbook of Medical Hallucinogens, Ch. 22. Adverse Effects. Guilford Press. 2021
When taking herbal supplements such as St. Johns Wort, Kava, or Kratom, make sure you check with your retreat center about how long these need to be discontinued before the ceremony.
All other recreational drug use should be avoided for as long as possible before the retreat, including cocaine, MDMA, LSD, or amphetamines. While there are reports of some people combining cannabis with ayahuasca, many facilitators believe that the plant spirit of marijuana interferes with that of ayahuasca, and it should be avoided at least two weeks prior to the retreat.
Preparing the Mind
The ayahuasca dieta not only includes what is fed to the body but also what is fed to the mind. In addition to purifying the body, there can also be benefits from preparing psychologically and spiritually before the experience.
Leading up to the retreat, it is advisable to avoid stressful situations (and people) that could steer the mind into a more negative space. If possible, take a few days off from work prior to the ceremony, spending some time away from technology to meditate, be outside and set some intentions. If this is not possible, then try to limit exposure to social media and TV.
Lastly, it is advisable to abstain from sexual activity, including masturbation, before the ceremony. Sex can create big energetic shifts in the body, which can deplete energy and impact focus during the ceremony.
While it can be tempting to gorge on everything you have been abstaining from once you get home from the retreat, it is important to continue the pre-ceremony guidelines during your initial integration period.
This post-ceremony commitment is an opportunity to maintain the clarity of mind to explore the insights gained from the ayahuasca experience. Your future self will thank you if you continue the dieta during this period.
Why Do the Ayahuasca Diet?
The list of restrictions may seem like an intimidating commitment. You may question if it is even necessary to follow this diet since there is little risk of bodily harm (aside from the contraindications already mentioned).
So, why do it?
Many practitioners claim that going into an experience with ayahuasca as physically and emotionally “cleansed” as possible will allow for a clearer and deeper connection with the plant. It is like creating a “blank slate” for the medicine to do its work, which can help you to be more fully open to its insights. Ignoring the dieta can create layers of resistance in the form of additional mental and physical purging, creating more obstructions for the medicine to navigate.
Additionally, adhering to the diet pays tribute to the traditions of the communities from which the ayahuasca ritual comes. Indigenous shamans (and others trained from outside of the community) will usually train extensively on the dieta. Committing to these restrictions shows respect for the ayahuasca brew and its lineages, which could impact how deeply you are able to connect with the plant spirit.
Want to find out more about other ways to maximize the impact of your ayahuasca experience? Check out this article on How to Have an Amazing Ayahuasca Experience (Even If You Vomit).