Choosing Between an Ayahuasca Retreat and an Ayahuasca Ceremony

Traditionally brewed Ayahuasca is composed of only two plants; the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and the leaves of either the chacruna (Psychotria viridis) or chagropanga (Diplopterys cabrerana) bush. They are cooked together in water over a wood fire by the healer close to where the Caapi vine was found and harvested.  Ayahuasca that contains other plants or that is given by a healer who does not produce his own medicine can be dangerous and should not be imbibed.

The chagropanga leaves contain Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and the vine, (which is called Ayahuasca before it is brewed), acts as the Monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI).  It is the vine that allows the DMT molecule to remain intact in the body after the brew has been drunk.  Some believe that it is only the DMT in the chacruna or chagropanga which produces visions, many healers teach that it is the spirit of Mother Earth as contained in the Ayahuasca vine in combination with the leaves that produce those effects.  It also may be of interest to note that DMT is a structural analog of serotonin and other psychedelic tryptamines.

Ayahuasca has experienced a meteoric rise in popularity over the past decade in the West, as citizens of the United States, Canada, Australia, and European nations have turned to the Amazonian plant for medicinal healing and consciousness expansion.  Besides choosing the right healer to take Ayahuasca with, the main decision facing Westerners is whether to go to a single Ayahuasca ceremony or to a multi-day, guided Ayahuasca retreat. 

This article will explain the benefits of each and will assume that the following criteria have been met to create a safe experience in either the ceremony or the retreat:


  • The medicine was brewed using only water, Ayahuasca, and either chacruna or chagropanga
  • The healer comes from a clear lineage of healers with whom he has trained and from whom he received the blessing to heal with Ayahuasca
  • The healer harvested and brewed the medicine himself
  • The ceremony space is cared for as a sacred temple of healing
  • The participant is not taking any pharmaceuticals or other substances that would interfere with the Ayahuasca
  • The participant does not have any physical ailment that would put his or her health at risk during ceremony


If you have questions about how to choose a safe Ayahuasca ceremony, please consult the article linked here.


An Ayahuasca Ceremony vs An Ayahuasca Retreat:


A single Ayahuasca ceremony can be an amazing experience and it should not cost you an arm and a leg. 

In one night the plant can show us a lot and begin to heal us on the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual levels.  If we have prepared properly for the ceremony, we may also experience a feeling of unity with the elements of earth, air, wind, and fire, and with all living things.  Through this feeling of unity it becomes clear that while we are part of the universe, we also contain the universe inside ourselves and even inside each one of our cells.  In special cases, we may even experience a type of ego-death followed by our own rebirth.  These experiences are profound and produce a sense of clarity, self-confidence, and self-love after the ceremony ends. 

In addition, it is common for Ayahuasca ceremony participants to feel extraordinarily happy after a ceremony ends.  On an energetic, shamanic, or spiritual level, this can be attributed to the enlightening revelations that the plant produces, to the spirit of the plant entering our subtle bodies, and to the purging of toxins and energetic imbalances that are typical of an Ayahuasca ceremony. 

But it can also be attributed, scientifically, to the fact that Ayahuasca increases the production of serotonin and dopamine, two modulating neurotransmitters which inhibit GABA, the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the mammalian central nervous system.  Surges in dopamine and serotonin produce a rise in our overall happiness and a decline in tendencies toward depression.

Unfortunately, all of these incredible feelings and revelations quickly fade for some ceremony participants. For that reason, a single ceremony, or ceremonies spaced over time, is recommended for healthy individuals who have disciplined spiritual and personal practices already in place in their daily lives.  Those people are the most likely to be able to integrate the teachings into their thought patterns and behavioral habits outside of a guided context.  If you choose to attend a single ceremony, please do so at a time when you can rest and reflect for at least 48 hours afterward. 

On the other hand, if you are seeking Ayahuasca because you looking for a transformative shift in your life, a retreat is the right option. 

For example, in order to address a more serious health concern, we need to go through a series of ceremonies.  This is true for a few reasons.  A responsible healer will start by introducing the first-time drinker to the medicine with a smaller dose to see how he or she reacts.  The healer will also typically do a one-on-one cleanse with the patient, during which he or she can better identify the sources and symptoms of the illness.  In the subsequent ceremonies, the healer may choose to increase the dosage and perform other cleanses, and that is typically where the illness is addressed and healed more directly and aggressively. 

It is also said that a deeper understanding of the root causes of your self-abusive or self-limiting behaviors or thought patterns is necessary to heal any physical ailment.  According to the field of traditional medicine in the Americas, all physical illnesses and diseases come from energetic imbalances in our other subtle bodies.  These imbalances can be caused by past traumas, addictions, unhealthy identifications, or even ancestral karmas that we have inherited.  It is often the case that we need to attend more than one ceremony in a short period of time to comprehensively address these deep-seeded imbalances.     

The decision to take time away from our jobs, our families, our social scene, and our personal identifications to participate in a retreat also lends itself to healing the unhealthy elements of those parts of our lives.  We need to step away to gain perspective, detach, and change. 

Many of our personal relationships carry with them communication and behavioral patterns that are at once unhealthy, limiting, and deeply ingrained.  When we take Ayahuasca in an intentional, sacred environment, we start to realize that we are the agents of positive change that can alter those patterns.  We begin to understand that in order to heal those relationships, we have to heal ourselves first. 

In order to change we need to be selfish with our energy, focus on ourselves, and allow our intuitive voices to gain strength in a safe and supportive environment.  This focus lends itself to developing the internal peace, self-love, self-confidence, and courage required to be those agents of change.  When we take Ayahuasca one night and head home or to work the next morning, we often do not have sufficient time and space to reimagine and substantially affect our relationships and our paths.   

In terms of the ceremonies themselves, when compared to a typical public ceremony, ceremonies during an ayahuasca retreat offer:


  • More focus and intention from other participants
  • More intimacy with the healer
  • Less participants and less distractions
  • Support and care from dedicated facilitators
  • More comfort and space in the ceremony hut


In a more obvious way, an ayahuasca retreat is also an opportunity to connect to like-minded individuals in a conscious and loving environment.  The retreats that I have facilitated have fostered many friendships, and those connections often become a critical form of support for participants during the integration process after the retreat. 

In summary, a single Ayahuasca ceremony is a valuable experience that can help us understand ourselves better, heal, and feel happier.  In order to integrate the teachings and healing we receive into our daily lives, we need to be highly disciplined individuals with healthy spiritual and personal practices already in place.  However, if we are in need of a transformative experience in a supportive and safe environment, we should invest the time and money into an Ayahuasca retreat.  A retreat gives us the best opportunity to gain a fresh perspective on our lives, to alter unhealthy behavior and thought patterns, and to courageously, positively, and harmoniously integrate the lessons we learn into our daily lives. 


Aho Mitakuye Oyasin,

The ECA Family