What is Ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca is the name given to both the vine ( banisteriopsis caapi ) and the psychotropic drink prepared by boiling the vine together with various admixtures plants. Here in Iquitos the most common admixture used is “chacruna” ( psychotria vidris ) or “chalipunga”, another plant in the chacruna family.
Ayahuasca is unique in that its effectiveness depends on the synergistic interaction between the active alkaloids present in the plants:
- ayahuasca – Mao inhibiting B carboline alkaloids
- chacruna – N,N-dimethyltriptamine (DMT)
Variously known as ayahuasca, caapi or yage, in Peru it is usually known as ayahuasca, a Quechua term meaning “vine of the souls” or “vine of death”:
- aya = death or soul
- huasca = vine
History of Ayahuasca
No one really knows when ayahuasca was first concocted but it’s safe to say that it has been used for centuries. How the ayahuasca brew was first discovered is shrouded in mystery and different stories abound, depending on who you talk to. Most shaman agree that the idea for combining the plants was indicated to them by the plants themselves. I recently spoke with a Shipibo shaman who told me the information was given by the toê plant, to one of her ancestors. There is little likelihood that the brew was discovered by accident considering the number of different plants growing in the amazon.
Legal Status of Ayahuasca in Peru
On June 24, 2008 the Peruvian National Institute of Culture declared that ritual ayahuasca ceremonies are part of the national cultural heritage of Peru and are to be protected. Ayahuasca, the Institute says, is
” A plant species with extraordinary cultural history, by virtue of its psychotropic qualities and its use as a drink combined with the plant known as chacruna. This plant is known to the indigenous Amazonian world as a wise or teaching plant, which shows to the initiates the very foundation of the world and its components. The effect of its consumption is to enter the spiritual world and its secrets.”
The Hoasca Project
This project took place in Manaus, Brazil, in 1993. The study investigated 15 long term users of ayahuasca and 15 matched controls. The Hoasca Project established a model and precedent for the biomedical investigation of ayahuasca in its natural setting..
All the long term ayahuasca using subjects reported they had undergone a personal transformation following regular participation in ritual ayahuasca use. They reported a radical restructuring of their personal conduct and value system. Subjects emphasized the importance of “doing good deeds”, “watching ones words”, and having respect for nature. Subjects also reported having improvement in memory and concentration, persistent positive mood states, fulfillment in day-to-day interactions and a sense of purpose, meaning and coherence to their lives.
“improvement in memory and concentration, persistent positive mood states, fulfillment in day-to-day interactions and a sense of purpose, meaning and coherence to their lives.”
All subjects were members of the UDV church, and it is unclear how much influence the structure of their organization had on the results. However, the results showed only positive long term effects of consuming ayahuasca on a regular basis.
MEDICAL ADVICE AND PRECAUTIONS:
Ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi) contains monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) in the form of harmine and harmaline. We suggest, therefore, that you consult your medical advisor if you are taking medications which may affect your serotonin levels (known as serotonin selective re-uptake inhibitors or SSRIs) as the combination of MAOIs and SSRIs can lead to higher levels of serotonin in the body. SSRI medications generally require 6 weeks to clear the body and should be reduced gradually.
If you are taking antibiotics or anti-depressants or receiving other medical treatment it is also good practice to see your doctor and ask his or her advice about the effects of your medication in combination with ayahuasca. There may be no problem but it is best to check.
Non-prescription medicines such as antihistamines, dietary aids, amphetamines and their derivatives and some herbal remedies (e.g. those containing ephedrine, high levels of caffeine or other stimulants) should be discontinued for at least a week prior to and following work with ayahuasca. Please check with your herbalist or homeopath as even otherwise innocuous remedies like St John’s Wort/hypericum may not be suitable in combination with ayahuasca.
Avoid all chemically-based recreational drugs, in particular MDMA (ecstasy), cocaine, speed and heroin. The use of non-chemical recreational drugs such as marijuana should also be discontinued for a period of at least two weeks prior to and following work with ayahuasca.
Ayahuasca and the diet that goes with it are not always ideal in combination with certain medical conditions (e.g. some stomach, heart, colon or mental health problems, etc) so, again, please check with your doctor and take his or her advice about participation.
***VET does not condone or advise the illegal or irresponsible use of ayahuasca in any way. Please do your own research on the laws and regulations as well as the physical risks associated with the use of ayahuasca or any other drug.