The effects vs. the power of psychedelic plant medicines

I recently had the opportunity to partake in a 4-day shamanic ceremony in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. This article is part of the larger story, if you would like to read the full version that includes discovering my spirit animal and Ayahuasca, you can do so here.

Context: A lot of people take  psychedelic substances because they want to “trip”. They want to have some funky visions, think a bit differently, and have a fun experience they can tell their friends about. The same  can be said about many people who try meditation or yoga. People are always looking for their next “altered state” – And this is a mistake. In the world of Ayahuasca, downright dangerous and irresponsible. This article dives into responsible usage of these powerful plant medicines and the mindset one needs throughout. In my honest opinion, this is the perspective that more people need when they go into exploring plant medicines, and if you’re a serious practitioner, take this perspective seriously 🙂

Before we could dive into the world of Ayahuasca, our Shaman Apolo wanted to stress an important topic and mindset that is essential when taking plant medicines – the effects of plant medicines vs. their medicinal power.

His breakdown was as follows –

Effects” are the “psychedelic” aspects of things like Ayahuasca. These are what we would commonly refer to as “tripping” — The distortion of the five senses. We might have strange visions, see geometric patterns, feel strange sensations, or gain enhanced clarity of thought and creativity.

On the other side of the coin, the “power” is the healing aspects of these plant medicines. The things going on behind the scenes. While you might not see it going to work, or feel it’s effects, it is still doing what it needs to do in order to heal you of your ailments — be it mental, physical, spiritual, or all three.

He discussed how the “white indian” or western mind is (usually) obsessed with the effects. Many people take plant medicines like Ayahuasca simply because they want to trip out and have some funky visions.

He believes that the “effects” are mere distractions without much importance. He explained how, while we might have beneficial visions or gain clarity in thought — this is merely your conscious mind piecing together things that you already knew in a new way. It’s a self-confirming bias of sorts where you’re affirming things you have already known all along.

(see my first post on my Ayahuasca experience and this makes all the more sense).

He explained that most people place far too much importance on the effects — and because of this — if there are no “effects” (which can often happen with Ayahuasca and other plant medicines), people get discouraged and think “this isn’t working”….thus ignoring the “power”.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

In the same way you take an antibiotic or medicine, although you’re not tripping out from it, it’s doing the work it needs to behind the scenes. It is healing you even if you don’t know what is going on at a conscious level.

Similarly, although you might not be having visions from Ayahuasca or feeling the “effects” — that doesn’t mean it’s not doing its job. Ayahuasca (and other plant medicines), work in a variety of ways through a variety of mechanisms. This is why every time you take it, you will have a different experience. Sometimes you might have visions, other times you might be throwing up the whole time, and other times you might want to move and dance.

Ayahuasca (and many other plant medicines) gives you what you need, not what you want, and it operates differently every time depending on where you need the most assistance.

When I reflect back on my own experiences with Ayahuasca, this makes a lot of sense to me. One time I had beautiful visions and reaffirmed a lot of what I already believed about meditation. Another time was an emotional trip where I thought about my mother and got clarity on family dynamics. Another time was with a girl I love and the two of us intertwined into one and I experienced the world of love.

Every time was a different experience. Different visions. Felt like a different drug entirely.

Similarly, I’ve had moments (especially in my first experience), where I felt stone cold sober…and because of this I was frustrated. I thought that the medicine wasn’t working and I wasn’t getting the effects that I desired.

In reality I was merely distracted and chasing after the effects of Ayahuasca, instead of keeping my mind focused on the power and trusting that it is doing the work it needs to.

When we search for the effects, we undermine it’s true power. When we don’t feel the effects and get frustrated, we violate our trust of the medicine.

The shamans believe that your thoughts have power. Your intentions have power. How you think about the experience has an effect on its ability to properly heal.

When we question the power of the plant medicine, we don’t allow ourselves to receive the full benefit. We fight and resist it.

Interestingly, when speaking to a friend about her experience after the ceremony, she echoed a similar sentiment.

She said to me, “At one point I was stuck in my head, questioning everything. ‘This isn’t working. Why am I here? I’m going to have to sit here all night. My back hurts. I feel nauseous.’ All of my doubts, worries, and concerns, distracting me from the present moment. But then I remembered his talk on effects vs. power and I tried to let go of my thoughts and put my faith in the medicine. As I did that, visions started to occur. I began to puke. And then cry. And then dance. And then more visions.”

When the skeptical part of the mind goes to work, and we’re distracted from the present moment searching for experiences that aren’t there, creating expectations about what we think should be happening, we don’t allow the medicine to do what it needs to do.

When we chase after “effects” we can create delusional beliefs or egomaniacal senses of grandiosity instead of receiving the fat dose of humility and groundedness that we need.

When we surrender to the medicine, let go of expectations, and trust that it is doing what it needs to, we open ourselves up to the vulnerability we need to allow the medicine to do what it does best.

Let me reiterate these words again, because I believe that they are very important.

Surrender. Trust. Belief. Vulnerability.

These are what most of us struggle with to begin with. To let go of our clenching to life and merely float along the river to wherever we need to be taken to.

When you take Ayahuasca you must surrender to the experience, trust the medicine, believe in the power of healing, and be vulnerable enough to allow it to give you the warm hug or harsh bitch slap that you need.

To all of the people out there who want to take Ayahuasca (or any psychedelic), please keep this in mind: Stop chasing after the effects. They might be fun or educational, but they are a distraction from the larger truths that exist. If you feel nothing, don’t worry, trust that the Ayahuasca is doing what it needs to. Open yourself up to the experience and let go of what you want, in order to allow the medicine to give you what you need.

I think a great example of this lies in meditation as well.

Many people go into meditation with an expectation that they are going to feel the “effects” – they seek the calm, relaxing, meditative effects – but don’t realize that the true power lies in sitting with your discomfort, and that meditation isn’t all that pleasant of an experience.

Thus, when they experience their own monkey mind for the first time, they get frustrated. They don’t reach that “in the zone” effect they had expectations for, so they give up and say “it isn’t working” or “it’s not for me” – This is because they were chasing effects instead of trusting in the power of meditation.

I didn’t feel many of the “Effects” of meditation for years. I’ve never once reached an extended “meditational state” like I imagined before I began the practice. My first 10 day retreat I thought I would start tripping around 7 days in and have visions – none of that ever happened. Nonetheless, meditation has had countless other benefits I never anticipated.

You might not feel like progress is happening, you might feel that you’re not doing it right, but you are! Trust in the power of the process.

Look at alcohol for example. We chase the “effects” when the “power” is one that will slowly kill you rather than heal. Or coffee – we drink it for the “effects” but the “power” lies in how it effects your brain chemistry. We eat crappy foods for the great taste “effect” when the “power” is another one that will slowly deteriorate your body.

Chasing effects without understanding the underlying power is a big mistake that can cost you your health, happiness, and life in the long run if you’re too reckless. It’s a slippery slope.

This is a principle and framework that is meant to help us distinguish between how something makes us feel vs what it is doing behind the scenes. Sometimes the effects are unpleasant, but the power is healing. Sometimes the effects are pleasant, but the power is destructive. We must understand both sides of the coin to get the full perspective.

The next time you explore into the world of substances of any kind, take notice of this dynamic. Apply it to how you live your life and search for experiences, and use it to your benefit to heal and become the best version of yourself that you can be!


Also published on Medium.

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