Ayahuasca also known as the tea, the vine, and la purga is a brew made from the leaves of the Psychotria viridis shrub
along with the stalks of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, though other plants and ingredients can be add as well.
This drink is use for spiritual and religious purposes by ancient Amazonian tribes
and is still use as a sacred beverage by some religious communities in Brazil and North America, including the Santo Daime.
It is a psychedelic and entheogenic brew commonly made out of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, the Psychotria viridis shrub or a substitute, and possibly other ingredients;
however, a chemically similar preparation, sometimes called “pharmahuasca”, can be prepared using N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and
a pharmaceutical monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI), such as isocarboxazid. B. caapi contains several alkaloids that act as MAOIs, which are required for DMT to be orally active.
Ayahuasca is prepared in a tea that, when consumed, causes an altered state of consciousness or “high“, including visual hallucinations and altered perceptions of reality.
Traditionally, a shaman or curandero an experienced healer who leads
Ayahuasca ceremonies prepares the brew by boiling torn leaves of the Psychotria viridis shrub and stalks of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine in water.
The Banisteriopsis caapi vine is cleaned and smashed before being boiled to increase the extraction of its medicinal compounds.
When the brew has reduced to the shaman’s liking, the water is removed and reserved, leaving behind the plant material.
This process is repeated until a highly concentrated liquid is produced.
Once cooled, the brew is strained to remove impurities.
How Ayahuasca Works
The main ingredients of Ayahuasca — Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis — both have hallucinogenic properties.
Psychotria viridis contains N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a psychedelic substance that occurs naturally in the plant.
DMT is a powerful hallucinogenic chemical. However, it has low bioavailability, as it gets rapidly broken down by enzymes called monoamine oxidases (MAOs) in your liver and gastrointestinal tract,
For this reason, DMT must be combined with something containing MAO inhibitors (MAOIs), which allow DMT to take effect.
Banisteriopsis caapi contains potent MAOIs called β-carbolines, which also have psychoactive effects of their own.
When combined, these two plants form a powerful psychedelic brew that affects the central nervous system,
leading to an altered state of consciousness that can include hallucinations, out-of-body experiences, and euphoria.
How is Ayahuasca used?
Though Ayahuasca was traditionally used for religious and spiritual purposes by specific populations,
it has become popular worldwide among those who seek a way to open their minds, heal from past traumas, or simply experience an Ayahuasca journey.
It’s strongly advise that Ayahuasca only be consume when supervise by an experience shaman,
as those who take it need to be looked after carefully, as an Ayahuasca trip leads to an altered state of consciousness that lasts for many hours.
Many people travel to countries like Peru, Costa Rica, and Brazil, where multi-day Ayahuasca retreats are offered.
They’re led by experienced shamans, who prepare the brew and monitor participants for safety.
Before partaking in an Ayahuasca ceremony, it’s recommended that participants abstain from cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, sex, and caffeine to purify their bodies.
It’s also often suggested to follow various diets, such as vegetarianism or veganism,
for 2–4 weeks prior to the experience. This is claimed to free the body of toxins.
POTENTIAL SIDE EFFECTS OF AYAHUASCA
People who have consumed ayahuasca report having mystical experiences and spiritual revelations regarding their purpose on earth,
the true nature of the universe, and deep insight into how to be the best person they possibly can.
This is viewed by many as a spiritual awakening and what is often described as a near death experience or rebirth.
It is often reported that individuals feel they gain access to higher spiritual dimensions and make contact with various spiritual or extra-dimensional beings who can act as guides or healers.
The experiences that people have while under the influence of ayahuasca are also culturally influenced.
Westerners typically describe experiences with psychological terms like “ego death” and understand the hallucinations as repressed memories or metaphors of mental states.
However, at least in Iquitos, Peru (a center of ayahuasca ceremonies), those from the area describe the experiences more in terms of the actions in the body,
and understand the visions as reflections of their environment sometimes including the person who they believe caused their illness as well as interactions with spirits.
While taking part in an Ayahuasca ceremony may seem alluring, consuming this psychedelic brew can lead to serious, even deadly, side effects.
POSITIVE SIDE EFFECTS
First, even though many of the unpleasant side effects that are usually experienced during an Ayahuasca trip,
such as vomiting, diarrhea, paranoia, and panic, are considered normal and only temporary, they can be extremely distressing.
Some people report having miserable Ayahuasca experiences, and there is no guarantee that you will react favorably to the concoction.
What’s more, ayahuasca can interact dangerously with many medications, including antidepressants,
psychiatric medications, drugs used to control Parkinson’s disease, cough medicines, weight loss medications, and more.
Those with a history of psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, should avoid Ayahuasca, as taking it could worsen their psychiatric symptoms and result in mania.
Additionally, taking Ayahuasca can increase your heart rate and blood pressure, which may result in dangerous side effects if you have a heart condition.
There have been several reported deaths due to Ayahuasca consumption, but they may be due to the addition of other ingredients or dosing issues.
Death has never been reported in a clinical trial on Ayahuasca.
Aside from these dangers, participating in an Ayahuasca ceremony means putting your life in the shaman’s hands,
as they’re in charge of the ingredients added to the brew, as well as determining proper dosing and monitoring you for potentially life-threatening side effects.
There have been reports of Ayahuasca retreats being offered by untrained individuals,
who are not well-verse in the preparation, dosing, or side effects of Ayahuasca, putting participants in danger.
Moreover, though there have been promising findings related to the health benefits of Ayahuasca,
these benefits were mostly related to clinical studies in which the preparation and dosing of the concoction were carefully controlled.
Treatment for psychological disorders, such as depression and PTSD, should only be offered by medical professionals, and those living with these conditions
should not seek symptom relief by participating in Ayahuasca ceremonies.
Overall, more research is needed to determine whether Ayahuasca can be used as a potential treatment for certain medical conditions by doctors in the future.
Potential benefits of Ayahuasca
Many people who have taken Ayahuasca claim that the experience led to positive, long-term, life-altering changes.
This may be due to the effects of Ayahuasca on the neurological system.
Recent research has shown that Ayahuasca may benefit health particularly brain health in a number of ways.
May benefit brain health
The main active ingredients in Ayahuasca DMT and β-carbolines exhibit neuroprotective and neurorestorative qualities in some studies.
DMT activates the sigma-1 receptor (Sig-1R),
a protein that blocks neurodegeneration and regulates the production of antioxidant compounds that help protect your brain cells.
A test-tube study indicated that DMT protected human brain cells from damage caused by lack of oxygen and increased cell survival.
Harimine, the main β-carboline in Ayahuasca, do have anti-inflammatory,
neuroprotective, and memory-boosting effects in test-tube and animal studies .
It has also been observe to increase levels of brain-derive neurotrophic factor (BDNF),
a protein that plays an important role in nerve cell growth and promotes nerve cell survival .
Additionally, a test-tube study demonstrated that exposure to harmine increased the growth of human neural progenitor cells by over 70% in 4 days.
These cells generate the growth of new neural cells in your brain.
May improve psychological well-being
Research has shown that taking Ayahuasca may increase the mindfulness capacity of your brain and improve your overall psychological well-being.
A study in 20 people indicated that consuming Ayahuasca once weekly for 4 weeks was as effective as an 8-week mindfulness program at
increasing acceptance a component of mindfulness that plays a fundamental role in psychological health.
Other studies have found similar results, noting that Ayahuasca may improve mindfulness, mood, and emotional regulation.
A study in 57 people shows that ratings of depression and stress were significantly decrease immediately after the participants consume Ayahuasca.
These effects were still significant 4 weeks following the Ayahuasca consumption.
They’re mostly link to the DMT and β-carbolines in Ayahuasca.
May help treat addiction, anxiety, treatment-resistant depression, and PTSD
Some research suggests that Ayahuasca may benefit those with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and addiction disorders.
A study in 29 people with treatment-resistant depression showed that a single dose of Ayahuasca
led to significant improvements in depression severity compared with a placebo.
Other studies report rapid antidepressant effects of Ayahuasca as well .
Additionally, a review of six studies concluded that Ayahuasca showed beneficial effects in treating
depression, anxiety, mood disorders, and drug dependence.
Several studies have focused on the effects of Ayahuasca on addiction disorders,
including addictions to crack cocaine, alcohol, and nicotine with promising results.
In one study, 12 people with severe psychological and behavioral issues related to substance abuse
participated in a 4-day treatment program that included 2 Ayahuasca ceremonies.
At a 6-month follow up, they demonstrated significant improvements in mindfulness, hopefulness, empowerment, and
overall quality of life. Plus, self-reported use of tobacco, cocaine, and alcohol significantly declined.
Researchers hypothesize that Ayahuasca may help those with PTSD as well, though more research in this area is neccesaary.
LEGAL STATUS OF AYAHUASCA
Internationally, DMT is a Schedule I drug under the Convention on Psychotropic Substances.
The Commentary on the Convention on Psychotropic Substances notes, however, that the plants containing it are not subject to international control:
The cultivation of plants from which psychotropic substances are obtained is not controlled by the Vienna Convention… Neither the crown (fruit, mescal button) of the Peyote cactus nor the roots of the plant Mimosa hostilis nor Psilocybe mushrooms themselves are included in Schedule 1, but only their respective principals, mescaline, DMT, and psilocin.
“Consequently, preparations (e.g. decoctions) made of these plants, including ayahuasca,
are not under international control and, therefore, not subject to any of the articles of the 1971 Convention.”
Despite the INCB’s 2001 affirmation that ayahuasca is not subject to drug control by international convention,
in its 2010 Annual Report the Board recommended that governments consider controlling (i.e. criminalizing) ayahuasca at the national level.
This recommendation by the INCB has been criticized as an attempt by the Board to overstep its legitimate mandate
and as establishing a reason for governments to violate the human rights (i.e., religious freedom) of ceremonial ayahuasca drinkers.
Under American federal law, DMT is a Schedule I drug that is illegal to possess or consume; however, certain religious groups have been legally permitted to consume ayahuascha.
A court case allowing the União do Vegetal to import and use the tea for religious purposes in the United States,
Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal, was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on November 1, 2005; the decision, released February 21, 2006,
allows the UDV to use the tea in its ceremonies pursuant to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
In a similar case an Ashland, Oregon-based Santo Daime church sued for their right to import and consume ayahuasca tea.
In March 2009, U.S. District Court Judge Panner ruled in favor of the Santo Daime, acknowledging its protection from prosecution under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
In 2017 the Santo Daime Church Céu do Montréal in Canada received religious exemption to use ayahuasca as a sacrament in their rituals.
Religious use in Brazil was legalized after two official inquiries into the tea in the mid-1980s, which concluded that ayahuasca is not a recreational drug and has valid spiritual uses.
In France, Santo Daime won a court case allowing them to use the tea in early 2005;
however, they were not allowed an exception for religious purposes,
but rather for the simple reason that they did not perform chemical extractions to end up with pure DMT
and harmala and the plants used were not scheduled.
Four months after the court victory, the common ingredients of ayahuasca as well as harmala were declared stupéfiants, or
narcotic schedule I substances, making the tea and its ingredients illegal to use or possess.
In June 2019, Oakland, California, decriminalized natural entheogens.
The City Council passed the resolution in a unanimous vote, ending the investigation and imposition of criminal penalties for use and possession of entheogens derived from plants or fungi.
The resolution states: “Practices with Entheogenic Plants have long existed and have been considered to be sacred to human cultures and human interrelationships with nature for thousands of years,
and continue to be enhanced and improved to this day by religious and spiritual leaders,
practicing professionals, mentors, and healers throughout the world, many of whom have been forced underground.
In January 2020, Santa Cruz, California, and in September 2020, Ann Arbor, Michigan, decriminalized natural entheogens