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This entry focuses on the Ayahuasca brew; for information on the vine of the same name, see Banisteriopsis caapi

Ayahuasca (ayawaska pronounced [ajaˈwaska] in the Quechua language) is any of various psychoactive infusions or decoctions prepared from the Banisteriopsis spp. vine, usually mixed with the leaves of the Psychotria bush. It was first described academically in the early 1950s by the late Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes who found it employed for divinatory and healing purposes by Amerindians of Amazonian Colombia.


[edit] Preparation

Ayahuasca being prepared in the Napo region of Ecuador.
Freshly harvested caapi vine ready for preparation

Sections of B. caapi vine are macerated and boiled alone or with leaves from any of a number of other plants, including Psychotria viridis (chakruna in Quechua) or Diplopterys cabrerana (also known as chaliponga). The resulting brew contains the powerful hallucinogenic alkaloid N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and MAO inhibiting harmala alkaloids, which are necessary to make the DMT orally active. Though B. caapi is a central ingredient in traditional ayahuasca brews, harmala-containing plants from other plant-medicine cultures, such as Syrian Rue, can be used instead of the vine.[citation needed]

Banisteriopsis caapi preparation
Beaten caapi ready for boiling
Caapi cooking over an open fire

Brews can also be made with no DMT-containing plants; Psychotria viridis being substituted by plants such as Justicia pectoralis, Brugmansia, or sometimes left out with no replacement. The potency of this brew varies radically from one batch to the next, both in strength[clarification needed] and psychoactive effect, based mainly on the skill of the shaman or brewer, as well as other admixtures sometimes added and the intent of the ceremony.[citation needed] Natural variations in plant alkaloid content and profiles also affect the final concentration of alkaloids in the brew, and the physical act of cooking may also serve to modify the alkaloid profile of harmala alkaloids.[1][2]

Individual polymorphisms in the cytochrome P450-2D6 enzyme affect the ability of individuals to metabolize harmine.[3] Some natural tolerance to habitual use of ayahuasca (roughly once weekly) may develop through upregulation of the serotonergic system.[4] A phase 1 pharmacokinetic study on Ayahuasca (as Hoasca) with 15 volunteers was conducted in 1993, during the Hoasca Project.[5] A review of the Hoasca Project has been published.[6][clarification needed]

[edit] Names

  • "cipó" (generic vine, liana), "caapi", "hoasca" or "daime" in Brazil
  • "yagé" or "yajé" (both pronounced [ʝaˈhe]) in Colombia; popularized in English by the beat generation writers William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg in The Yage Letters. The name yajé is also mentioned in an X-files episode.
  • "ayahuasca" or "ayawaska" ("Spirit vine" or "vine of the souls": in Quechua, aya means "vine" while huasca or waska means "spirit") in Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru, and to a lesser extent in Brazil. The spelling ayahuasca is the hispanicized version of the name; many Quechua or Aymara speakers would prefer the spelling ayawaska. The name is properly that of the plant B. caapi, one of the primary sources of beta-carbolines for the brew.
  • "natem" amongst the indigenous Shuar people of Peru.
  • "Grandmother"

[edit] Chemistry

Harmine compounds are of beta-carboline origin. The three most studied beta-carboline compounds found in the B. caapi vine are harmine, harmaline and tetrahydraharmine. These compounds block MAO A and MAO B. This inhibition allows DMT to diffuse past the membranes in the stomach and small intestine and eventually get through the blood-brain barrier. Without the MAOIs, DMT would be metabolized and would not have an effect when taken orally.

[edit] Usage

Urarina shaman, 1988

Ayahuasca is used largely as a religious sacrament. Those whose usage of ayahuasca is performed in non-traditional contexts often align themselves with the philosophies and cosmologies associated with ayahuasca shamanism, as practiced among indigenous peoples like the Urarina of Peruvian Amazonia. The religion Santo Daime uses it.

While non-native users know of the spiritual applications of ayahuasca, a less well-known traditional usage focuses on the medicinal properties of ayahuasca. Its purgative properties are highly important (many refer to it as la purga, "the purge"). The intense vomiting and occasional diarrhea it induces can clear the body of worms and other tropical parasites,[7] and harmala alkaloids themselves have been shown to be anthelmintic[8] Thus, this action is twofold; a direct action on the parasites by these harmala alkaloids (particularly harmine in ayahuasca) works to kill the parasites, and parasites are expelled through the increased intestinal motility that is caused by these alkaloids.

Dietary taboos are almost always associated with the use of Ayahuasca. In the rainforest, these tend towards the purification of one's self - abstaining from spicy and heavily-seasoned foods, excess fat, salt, caffeine, acidic foods (such as citrus) and sex before, after, or both before and after a ceremony. A diet low in foods containing tyramine has been recommended, as the speculative interaction of tyramine and MAOIs could lead to a hypertensive crisis. However, evidence indicates that harmala alkaloids act only on MAO-A, in a reversible way similar to moclobemide (an antidepressant that does not require dietary restrictions). Psychonautic experiments and the absence of dietary restrictions in the highly urban Brazilian ayahuasca church União do Vegetal also suggest that the risk is much lower than conceived, and probably non-existent.[9]

Today, the name 'ayahuasca' can mean a variety of botanical concoctions containing one or more MAOIs and DMT or one of its chemical analogues. The synthetic pharmahuasca is sometimes called ayahuasca as well. In this usage, the DMT is generally considered the main psychoactive active ingredient, while the MAOI merely preserves the psychoactivity of orally ingested DMT, which would otherwise be destroyed in the gut before it could be absorbed in the body. Most ayahuasqueros and others working with the brew claim the B. caapi vine to be the defining ingredient; according to them, it is not ayahuasca unless B. caapi is in the brew. The vine is considered to be the "spirit" of ayahuasca, the gatekeeper and guide to the otherworldly realms.

In some areas, it is even said that the chakruna or chaliponga admixtures are added only to make the brew taste sweeter. This is a strong indicator of the often wildly divergent intentions and cultural differences between the native ayahuasca-using cultures and psychedelics enthusiasts in other countries.

In modern Europe and North America, ayahuasca analogues are often prepared using non-traditional plants which contain the same alkaloids. For example, seeds of the Syrian rue plant are often used as a substitute for the ayahuasca vine, and the DMT-rich Mimosa hostilis is used in place of chakruna. Australia has several indigenous plants which are popular among modern ayahuasqueros there, such as various DMT-rich species of Acacia.

Ayahuasca cooking in the Napo region of Ecuador.

In modern Western culture, entheogen users sometimes base concoctions on Ayahuasca. When doing so, most often Rue or B. caapi is used with an alternative form of the DMT molecule, such as psilocin, or a non-DMT based hallucinogen such as mescaline. Nicknames such as Psilohuasca, Mush-rue-asca, or 'Shroom-a-huasca, for mushroom based mixtures, or Pedrohuasca (from the San Pedro Cactus, which contains mescaline) are often given to such brews. Such nicknames are considered by many to be inappropriate and culturally insensitive. Further, the psychedelic experimentalist trappings of such concoctions bear little resemblance to the medicinal use of Ayahuasca in its original cultural context, where ayahuasca is usually ingested only by experienced entheogen users who are more familiar with the chemicals and plants being used, as the uninformed combination of various neurochemicals can be dangerous.

It seems unlikely that Ayahuasca could ever emerge as a "street-drug", given the difficulty of making the brew and the intense experience it provides. Most Western users employ it almost exclusively for spiritual purposes, in line with both traditional, animist usage and organized churches such as the União do Vegetal (or UDV). With the exception of UDV, a diet is almost always followed before use, including a day of fasting. In traditional settings, the "dieta" is followed to spiritually cleanse the body before and after the experience.

[edit] Introduction to the West

Ayahuasca is mentioned in the writings of some of the earliest missionaries to South America, but it only became commonly known in the West much later.[specify] The early missionary reports generally claim it as demonic, and great efforts were made by the Roman Catholic Church to stamp it out. When originally researched in the 20th century, the active chemical constituent of B. caapi was called telepathine, but it was found to be identical to a chemical already isolated from Peganum harmala and was given the name harmaline. The original botanical description done was the Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes. Having read Schultes's paper, Beat writer William Burroughs sought yagé (still referred to as "telepathine") in the early 1950s while traveling through South America in the hopes that it could relieve or cure opiate addiction (see The Yage Letters). Ayahuasca became more widely known when the McKenna brothers published their experience in the Amazon as the Invisible Landscape. Dennis later studied the pharmacology, botany, and chemistry of ayahuasca and oo-koo-he, which became the subject of his master's thesis.

In Brazil, a number of modern religious movements based on the use of ayahuasca have emerged, the most famous of them being Santo Daime and the União do Vegetal (or UDV), usually in an animistic context that may be shamanistic or, more often (as with Santo Daime and the UDV), integrated with Christianity. Both Santo Daime and União do Vegetal now have members and churches throughout the world. Similarly, the US and Europe have started to see new religious groups develop in relation to increased ayahuasca use. PaDeva, an American Wiccan group, has become the first incorporated legal church which holds the use of ayahuasca central to their beliefs. Some Westerners have teamed up with shamans in the Amazon rainforest regions, forming Ayahuasca healing retreats that claim to be able to cure mental and physical illness and allow communication with the spirit world. Anecdotal reports and scientific studies affirm that ritualized use of ayahuasca may improve mental and physical health,[10] but it is thought to be a potential risk for a psychotic outbreaks in susceptible individuals, although no supporting scientific research data is available.

Several notable celebrities have publicly discussed their use of ayahuasca, including Sting (detailed in his 2003 memoir Broken Music), Tori Amos, and Paul Simon (who wrote the song "Spirit Voices" about his experience with the brew in the Amazon).

In the Travel channel series, Mark & Olly:Machigenga, the 2nd episode features the two title characters taking the powerful hallucinogen.

Recent years have seen notable media attention to the position of the UDV church in the United States. After having their importation and use of Hoasca tea challenged by the U.S. Department of Justice, and then having the issue settled in their favor by the U.S. Supreme Court, the church gained some notoriety. This mirrors in some ways the experiences of UDV and Santo Daime churches in Europe, where legal authorities have taken interest in their activities in France, Germany, Holland and Spain.

Holland was an early Western context for the spread of ayahuasca use. Supporting a large Brazilian population, Santo Daime members in particular made efforts to spread the philosophy of ritualized ayahuasca use. In the mid-to-late 1990s one group, the Amsterdam-based Friends of the Forest, was formed by Santo Daime members to introduce ayahuasca to Europeans and others with "allergies to Christianity." They did this by introducing "New Age" rituals incorporating basic ritual structure, celebrating with songs in the Daime tradition (Portuguese waltzes), English language songs, ambient music and mantras and kirtan. They existed at least until the Dutch authorities raided a Santo Daime ritual in progress, and other ayahuasca-oriented groups sensed that an obvious public profile was not in their best interest. Amsterdam is also among the few cities in Europe where one can find, in addition to cannabis, psilocybin mushrooms and peyote, ayahuasca vine, chacruna leaves, and plants for ayahuasca analogues in the tradition of Jonathan Ott's so-called "ayahuasca borealis."

[edit] "Ayahuasca tourism"

"Ayahuasca tourist" refers to a tourist wanting a taste of an exotic ritual or who partakes in modified services geared specifically towards non-indigenous persons. Some seek to clear emotional blocks and gain a sense of peace. Other participants include explorers of consciousness, writers, medical doctors, journalists, anthropologists and ethnobotanists. Ayahuasca tourism is greatest in Peru, and attracts visitors from all over the world, especially from Europe, USA and Australia, but also from other Latin American countries like Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Mexico.

[edit] Initiation

Usually a visitor who wishes to become a "dietero" or "dietera", that is, a male or female apprentice-shaman learning the way of the teacher plants, undergoes a rigorous initiation. This can involve spending up to a year or more in the jungle. This initiation challenges and trains the initiate through extreme circumstances involving isolation; deprivation from utilities available in civilization and its conveniences; and enduring the harsh environmental conditions of heavy rains, storms, intense heat, and insects.[citation needed]

[edit] Modern descriptions

Wade Davis (author of The Serpent and The Rainbow [non-fiction][11][12]) describes the traditional mixture as tough in his book One River: "The smell and acrid taste was that of the entire jungle ground up and mixed with bile." [p.194]

Writer Kira Salak describes her personal experiences with ayahuasca in the March 2006 issue of National Geographic Adventure magazine[13][14] The article includes a candid description of how ayahuasca cured her depression, as well as provides detailed information about the brew. Here is an excerpt from the article about Dr. Charles Grob's landmark findings[15]:

The taking of ayahuasca has been associated with a long list of documented cures: the disappearance of everything from metastasized colorectal cancer to cocaine addiction, even after just a ceremony or two. It has been medically proven to be nonaddictive and safe to ingest. Yet Western scientists have all but ignored it for decades, reluctant to risk their careers by researching a substance containing the outlawed DMT. Only in the past decade, and then only by a handful of researchers, has ayahuasca begun to be studied. At the vanguard of this research is Charles Grob, M.D., a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at UCLA’s School of Medicine.
In 1993 Dr. Grob directed the Hoasca Project, the first in-depth study of the physical and psychological effects of ayahuasca on humans. He and his team went to Brazil, where the plant mixture can be taken legally, to study members of a church, the União do Vegetal (UDV), who use ayahuasca as a sacrament, and compared them to a control group that had never ingested the substance. The studies found that all the ayahuasca-using UDV members had experienced remission without recurrence of their addictions, depression, or anxiety disorders. Unlike most common anti-depressants, which Grob says can create such high levels of serotonin that cells may actually compensate by losing many of their serotonin receptors, the Hoasca Project showed that ayahuasca strongly enhances the body’s ability to absorb the serotonin that’s naturally there [4]. 'Ayahuasca is perhaps a far more sophisticated and effective way to treat depression than SSRIs [antidepressant drugs],' Grob concludes, adding that the use of SSRIs is 'a rather crude way' of doing it. And ayahuasca, he insists, has great potential as a long-term solution in maintaining abstinence.

Chilean novelist Isabel Allende told The Sunday Telegraph in London that she once took the drug in an attempt to "punch through" writer's block[16]. The paper wrote:

But after forcing down the foul-tasting brew, she was catapulted to a place so dark her husband feared he had 'lost his wife to the world of spirits'. Her life flashed before her as the hallucinogen took hold. She faced demons, saw herself as a terrified four-year-old and curled up on the floor, shivering, retching and muttering for two days.

'I think I went through an experience of death at a certain point, when I was no longer a body or a soul or a spirit or anything,' Allende says matter-of-factly. 'There was just a total, absolute void that you cannot even describe because you are not. And I think that's death.'

Nevertheless, the process proved transformative. Allende emerged aching but lucid and was able to complete [a trilogy she was writing], now being adapted for film by the co-producers of The Chronicles of Narnia.

[edit] Related phenomena

There have been reports that a phenomenon similar to folie à deux had been induced most recently by anthropologists in the South American rainforest by consuming ayahuasca[17] and by military experiments for chemical warfare in the late 60's using the incapacitating agent BZ. In both incidents there were very rare claims of shared visual hallucinations.

[edit] Plant constituents

[edit] Traditional

Traditional Ayahuasca brews are always made with Banisteriopsis caapi as a MAOI, although DMT sources and other admixtures vary from region to region. There are several varieties of caapi, often known as different "colors", with varying effects, potencies, and uses.

DMT admixtures:

Other common admixtures:


DMT admixture sources:

[edit] Legal status

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 plant itself is excluded from international control:[18]

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 principles, mescaline, DMT and psilocin.

A fax from the Secretary of the International Narcotics Control Board to the Netherlands Ministry of Public Health sent in 2001 goes on to state that "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."[19]

The legal status in the United States of DMT-containing plants is somewhat questionable. Ayahuasca plants and preparations are legal, as they contain no scheduled chemicals. However, brews made using DMT containing plants are illegal since DMT is a Schedule I drug. That said, some people are challenging this, using arguments similar to those used by peyotist religious sects, such as the Native American Church. A court case allowing União do Vegetal to 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.

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.[20]

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.[citation needed]

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Ayahuasca churches

[edit] Law

[edit] Native Centres in the Amazon

[edit] Other

[edit] Literature

[edit] Nonfiction

[edit] Fiction

[edit] Filmography

[edit] Documentaries

  • Alistair Appleton, The Man Who Drank the Universe, 30 minutes 2005
  • Dean Jefferys; Shamans of the Amazon, 52 min. Australia 2001
  • Jan Kounen, Autres mondes
  • Glenn Switkes, Night of the Liana, 45 min. Brazil 2002
  • Armand BERNARDI, L'Ayahuasca, le Serpent et Moi, 52 min. France 2003
  • Anna Stevens, Woven Songs of the Amazon, 54 min. 2006
  • Rudolf Pinto do Amaral & Harald Scherz, ["Heaven Earth"], 60 min. Peru/Austria 2008
  • Keith Aronowitz "METAMORPHOSIS" 95 min. / 2009 [6]

[edit] Fiction films

[edit] References

  1. ^ Callaway JC (2005). Various alkaloid profiles in decoctions of Banisteriopsis caapi. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 37(2): 151–155
  2. ^ Callaway JC, Brito GS & Neves ES (2005). Phytochemical analyses of Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 37(2): 145–150.
  3. ^ Callaway JC (2005). Fast and slow metabolizers of hoasca. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 37(2): 157–161.
  4. ^ Callaway JC, Airaksinen MM, McKenna DJ, Brito GS & Grob CS (1994). Platelet serotonin uptake sites increased in drinkers of ayahuasca. Psychopharmacology 116(3): 385–387.
  5. ^ Callaway JC, McKenna DJ, Grob CS, Brito GS, Raymon LP, Poland RE, Andrade EN, Andrade EO (1999). Pharmacology of hoasca alkaloids in healthy humans. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 65(3): 243–256.
  6. ^ McKenna DJ, Callaway JC, Grob CS (1998). The scientific investigation of ayahuasca: A review of past and current research. The Heffter Review of Psychedelic Research 1: 65–77.
  7. ^ Andritzky, W. (1989). Sociopsychotherapeutic functions of ayahuasca healing in Amazonia. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. 21(1), 77-89.
  8. ^ Hassan, I. 1967. Some folk uses of Peganum harmala in India and Pakistan. Economic Botany 21: 384.
  9. ^ Ott, J. Jonathan Ott. Ayahuasca Analogues: Pangaean Entheogens. Kennewick, WA: Natural Books, 1994.
  10. ^ See research by Doctor John Halpern in New Scientist
  11. ^ There is a 1988 American horror film, directed by Wes Craven and starring Bill Pullman. The film is very loosely based on a non-fiction book by ethnobotanist Wade Davis. Statement by Mr. Davis: ''Davis has frequently voiced his displeasure with the final film. "When I wrote my first book, 'The Serpent and the Rainbow', it was made into one of the worst Hollywood movies in history. I tried to escape the hysteria and the media by going to Borneo."
  12. ^ http://www.ed.psu.edu/icik/2004Proceedings/section7-davis.pdf
  13. ^ Salak, Kira. ""HELL AND BACK"". National Geographic Adventure. http://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/0603/features/peru.html. 
  14. ^ Salak, Kira. ""Ayahuasca Healing in Peru"". http://www.kirasalak.com/Ayahuasca.html. 
  15. ^ Grob CS, McKenna DJ, Callaway JC, Brito GS, Neves ES, Oberlander G, Saide OL, Labigalini E, Tacla C, Miranda CT, Strassman RJ, Boone KB (1996). Human psychopharmacology of Hoasca, a plant hallucinogen used in ritual context in Brasil. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 184(2):86-94.
  16. ^ Isabel Allende: kith and tell - Telegraph
  17. ^ Ayahuasca: Human Consciousness and the Spirits of Nature, edited by Ralph Metzner, Thunder's Mouth Press, NY
  18. ^ MAPS: DMT - UN report
  19. ^ Erowid Ayahuasca Vault : Law : UNDCP's Ayahuasca Fax, Jan 17 2001
  20. ^ More on the legal status of ayahuasca can be found in the Erowid vault on the legality of ayahuasca.
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