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What is Ayahuasca?

Young caapi
Young ayahuasca plant
Ayahuasca is an Amazonian plant mixture that is capable of inducing altered states of consciousness, usually lasting between 4 to 8 hours after ingestion. Ranging from mildly stimulating to extremely visionary, ayahuasca is used primarily as a medicine and as a shamanic means of communication, typically in a ceremonial session under the guidance of an experienced drinker.

The main ingredient of this jungle tea is a vine, Banisteriopsis caapi, which like the tea itself is also called ayahuasca (which means ‘vine of the soul' or 'vine with a soul’). The secondary ingredient is either chacruna (Psychotria viridis) or chagropanga (Diplopterys cabrerana), plants that contain a relatively high amount of the psychedelic substance DMT.

Nobody knows for sure how long this drink has been used. First recorded Western contact with ayahuasca was made in 1851 by Richard Spruce, the famous ethnobotanist from England. When taking into account archeological evidence of comparable native plant use, it seems likely that its use dates back to at least two millennia ago.

Currently there is a lot of interest in the use of these sacred plants and one can regularly read about them in articles and magazines. This website keeps track of such publications in the news section.

Why are people using ayahuasca?

Urarina shaman
Urarina tribe ayahuasca shaman
Ayahuasca induces a psychedelic, visionary state of mind and this effect is employed by various people for various reasons.

Shamans or medicine men take ayahuasca to communicate with nature or to see what is causing a patient’s illness on a spiritual level. In Brazil several religions can be found that pivot around gatherings where ayahuasca is taken by all participants. Drinking ayahuasca and singing together takes them into a healing and inspiring kind of trance.

In the past few decades ayahuasca is slowly gaining interest from Western society as well. Not only academic researchers in the field of psychotherapy have shown an increased interest. Psychonauts, i.e. people who practice responsible and conscious use of mind-altering substances, use ayahuasca to confront themselves with the richness of the mind, the infinity of the universe, and their deepest fears, so as to experience ecstasy resulting from facing and overcoming these fears.

One effect of ayahuasca is that it makes a lot of people vomit and many drinkers get diarrhea. One tribe calls ayahuasca 'kamarampi', which stems from 'kamarank': to vomit. It is also called ‘la purga’, as it purges the body through this physical effect, and purifies the mind through the meaningful psychological experiences or visions. You usually feel totally refreshed and reborn after a strong experience.

What makes ayahuasca so interesting?

Although not unique to ayahuasca, there are many fascinating reports about people who have been healed from comprehensive problems, like addiction or depression, during one or more sessions. This, however, can also be achieved using LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, iboga, other psychedelics or various breathing and meditation techniques, and always involves heavy psychological work.

Ayahuasca is not a miracle cure in the sense that you drink the brew and all your troubles have vanished within a couple of hours. It is a miracle cure though, in the sense that it brings unconscious and seemingly other-worldly processes to surface, which enables you to work with it while the effects last.

What is more unique about ayahuasca, is that the effects rely on a specific combination of two plants: Banisteriopsis caapi and chacruna (or chagropanga, depending on the region). How and when exactly the discovery of combining these two plants was made by native Americans remains unclear, although many tribes and shamans have their own mythical tales explaining this event.

Second, the primary ingredient of chacruna and chagropanga is also a neurotransmitter found in all human beings and plays a key role in all kinds of extraordinary states of awareness. This neurotransmitter is called dimethyltryptamine, or DMT for short, and is found in the brain, blood, lungs and other parts of the human body. There is strong evidence pointing towards the pineal gland ("the third eye" in esoteric traditions), located in the center of the brain, as the main factory of human DMT. Apart from human beings, DMT can be found in every mammal and in a variety of plants.

Pijnappelklier
Illustration showing the location of the pineal gland


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