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After my first three Ayahuasca ceremonies, in which I felt hardly anything, I lay on my mat listening to the throes of vomiting beside me from a man who was surely expelling the devil. Yes, it sounded just like that. Like evil. Like an exorcism. The sound that came from deep within his body resounded that notion; a guttural, demonic like howl derived of unimaginable torture. Scared the bejesus out of me, but was an instantaneous healing for him. In fact, many people say they feel like they were vomiting out a dark entity or shadow being. Or expunging from themselves the suffering of all who walk the earth. No one likes to throw-up, but on an Ayahuasca journey, intense though it may be, it’s sweeping and efficient in its healing effect.

On the scientific level, these effects come from the plant medicines direct hit on the serotonergic system—involving the neurotransmitter serotonin—which influences mood and visual and auditory perceptions. The vomiting, in particular, comes from its action on the postrema, the part of the brainstem that controls the urge to throw up. In this region of the brain Ayahuasca acts on 5HT3 serotonin receptors, which are also in the gut, and a likely contributor to nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Adding to this, Ayahuasca also increases serotonin levels in both the gut and the brain. Because Ayahuasca’s impact on the area postrema is so powerful, the vomiting one experiences is more violent than usual upchucks. It’s a deep sort of purge. The kind of purge that leaves one feeling as though they’ve released every toxic chemical ever ingested since the day of birth. The mere strength of this kind of vomiting can easily explain why it feels like you’re throwing up all negative thoughts, painful emotions or traumatic experiences from self and everyone else on the planet. It hits you at the core. At the soul level. At the emotional level.

Shamans, however, do not believe it is the Ayahuasca that makes one nauseous and sick during ceremony, but the negative things that exist in our body, such as sadness, anxiety, pain, fear, depression or anger, all of which resist leaving the body. But once the purging takes place and leaves the body, however many ceremonies it takes, Ayahuasca then takes that person into an ecstatic, blissed state of being so high, mere words could never do justice to describe it.

The body is where our emotions live, where knowledge lives. If we ever hope to get balanced and healed, the almighty purge is an absolute must.