Ayahuasca Legal Status by Country

Image credit: Elizabeth Rosemary Banker

Disclaimer: we do not condone illegal activity, and only support ayahuasca consumption in countries where it is legal. The following information is correct at the time of writing. 

Ayahuasca, an ancient Amazonian sacred brew, is primarily used as a medicine in shamanism. It induces altered states of consciousness, which ranges from mildly stimulating to extremely visionary.

Fascinating reports have been made on its use, where people claimed that they found relief from certain health conditions, examples of which include addiction, depression, and PTSD.

Despite its potential health benefits, and its importance in many religious practices, ayahuasca is illegal in some countries. This is often due to the fact that it sometimes contains the psychoactive substance DMT (dimethyltryptamine), which has been classified in the US and many other countries as a highly dangerous drug.

Interested in an ayahuasca experience? Then take note that there’s a possibility that this is not allowed in your country. Ayahuasca may have a different legal status depending on where you are in the world.

Ayahuasca and International Law

The reason why ayahuasca is prohibited in some countries is due to the widespread prohibition of DMT, and the fact that some ayahuasca preparations contain naturally-occuring DMT.

DMT is illegal under international conventions; more specifically, in the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, which was signed by most UN countries. But the International Control Board stated in 2001 that plant materials that contain DMT and those that are in their natural state are not subject to the 1971 Convention, which makes the legality of ayahuasca all the more confusing. The Board recommended that governments address ayahuasca use at a national level – which has meant that countries have to make their own specific laws about ayahuasca.

People in countries like Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, and Bolivia are free to use ayahuasca because it’s part of their history, and is used as a religious sacrament by many indigenous groups. The rules for other countries can be found below, in alphabetical order:

Is Ayahuasca Legal in Argentina?

The legal use of ayahuasca in Argentina is uncertain. DMT, harmaline, and harmine, the most common components of ayahuasca brews, are “Schedule I” controlled substances. While ayahuasca is not specifically identified in the country’s drug control laws, its DMT content makes it a prohibited concoction except when used in medicinal or scientific context. Administering ayahuasca in exchange for money is a crime and you could get imprisoned and fined for it.

While this may be so, ayahuasca is still being used in Argentina in a variety of contexts. It continues to grace rituals conducted by shamans from Peru and Colombia and in local therapy and healing centers, used as a treatment for certain disorders like addiction. Religious practices also seem to be able to use ayahuasca safely.

If you want to drink ayahuasca in this country, then caution should be exercised. Do take note that there have been a considerable number of arrests made since 2011. Until now, legal proceedings involving ayahuasca use are still pending, uncertain, or unverified. Even the religious use of ayahuasca is not technically protected by the law of Argentina.

Is Ayahuasca Legal in Australia?

While there is no specific law that deals with ayahuasca use in Australia, they do have a strict drug policy. There are still no prosecutions with regard to its use or supply, and ayahuasca ceremonies operate in the country. However, some sources indicate that there’s a likelihood of getting prosecuted when one is being careless with its use.

Is Ayahuasca Legal in Belgium?

DMT is a controlled substance in Belgium. However, the plant ingredients used in ayahuasca are not recognized as scheduled substances. The legal use and safety of those who want to try out the brew in Belgium remains unclear. Some legal interpretations deemed ayahuasca as a preparation that contains the controlled substance DMT and is therefore illegal. There have been reports of confiscations, but ayahuasca is a low priority for the police and customs.

Is Ayahuasca Legal in Bolivia?

Ayahuasca is legal in Bolivia, since it is an important part of indigenous culture. There does not seem to be much regulation of its shamanic use, and its ingredients can even be purchased at markets.

Is Ayahuasca Legal in Brazil?

Although DMT is prohibited in Brazil under drug control law, ayahuasca is not. Ayahuasca was authorized for use in ritual and religious contexts in 1987 by the infra-legal regulations of the National Council on Drug Policy, an agency under the Ministry of Justice.

Ayahuasca use is widespread in the country, carried out by the likes of highly organized Brazilian ayahuasca religions, indigenous peoples in the Amazon, and even urban centers. There now exist multiple ayahuasca retreats within the country, where one could enjoy and consume the brew in a spiritual setting. People are also allowed to grow the plant ingredients themselves and are free to use it in their homes.

Is Ayahuasca Legal in Canada?

Canada does not provide legal protection for ayahuasca users apart from the religious groups Santo Daime, church Céu do Montreal, and the União do Vegetal, which were granted exemption by Health Canada for ayahuasca use for their religious practices. For anyone else, it is illegal to import, sell, distribute, or administer ayahuasca. 

DMT, harmine, and harmaline, substances often present in ayahuasca, are all classified as Schedule III drugs under the 1996 Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. This means that you can be prosecuted for importing these substances, or selling them.

Is Ayahuasca Legal in Chile?

In Chile, contradictory evidence makes the legal status of ayahuasca unclear. There are no specific laws concerning it, but people have been arrested for administering ayahuasca. One court case on the other hand implied that the brew is not harmful: the defense argued that the DMT level in the ayahuasca brew is minimal, which does not put it in the same category as pure DMT. The court agreed in this case.

Is Ayahuasca Legal in Colombia?

There are no specific laws regarding ayahuasca in Colombia, and it is assumed that with most other South American countries, ayahuasca is considered a religious sacrament. As such, indigenous peoples feel empowered to practice with ayahuasca. Organizations oversee retreat centers and ceremonial spaces, making sure the facilitators are qualified and using ayahuasca in a respectful manner.

Is Ayahuasca Legal in Costa Rica?

The status of ayahuasca in Costa Rica is unregulated, although DMT is a controlled substance under the Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Law #8204. There are no specific laws concerning ayahuasca, and so far there have been no legal consequences for people participating in ayahuasca retreats in Costa Rica.

The country is home to an abundance of retreat centers, and has a growing ayahuasca tourism industry.

Is Ayahuasca Legal in Denmark?

Just like in most countries, many of the ingredients used in ayahuasca brew are not classified as controlled substances in Denmark, but DMT is under the country’s Euphoric Substances Act of 2008. While this may be so, their judicial and penal systems are progressive and criminal offenses involving DMT are noticeably lighter compared to other countries.

According to the Danish High Court, it is illegal to import ayahuasca and its use in religious ceremonies is not protected by the religious freedom law. It can be observed though that different neo-shamanic organizations are still advertising its use in ceremonies in and around Copenhagen. The Santo Daime brought a civil case forward for the protection of their right to use ayahuasca in religious services in Denmark, but the results were unfavorable. In the verdict, the court implied that there might have been a violation of their religious freedom, which led to an appeal. The Supreme Court of Denmark granted the organization “free process” where the litigation and lawyer’s fee expenses are paid for the state, which some say is a positive sign.

Is Ayahuasca Legal in Ecuador?

Traditional plant medicines, including ayahuasca and Sen Pedro, are legal in Ecuador. However, privilege is given to traditional shamans, considering how sacred these plant medicines are in the country. Not just anyone can call themselves a shaman, and ayahuasca use is considered a carefully maintained sacrament.

Is Ayahuasca Legal in Finland?

The Supreme Court in Finland has yet to decide whether ayahuasca is illegal or not. Ayahuasca is not specifically listed as illegal in Finland, however the DMT molecule is prohibited by the National Narcotics Act. Some plant ingredients in ayahuasca, B. caapi and P. viridis, are in Finland’s herb list, which implies that these can be legal or illegal, depending on whether these are used for medicinal purposes or not.

The plant medicine has been on the radar of media attention because of ayahuasca being seized by Finnish customs. A case involved a student who received a 400 Euro fine for importing two liters of ayahuasca brew. While there have been court cases with regard to the importation of ayahuasca, its legal status will continue to remain uncertain until a case lands in the supreme court. It is also unclear if Brazilian ayahuasca religions or neo-shamanic practices are covered by religious freedom law.

Is Ayahuasca Legal in France?

It is now against the law to possess ayahuasca in France. Initially things looked positive; in January 2005 a Paris court of appeals concluded that ayahuasca is not a preparation of DMT and decided that this is not a controlled substance. However, just a few months later, France specifically prohibited ayahuasca after Santo Daime won their religious freedom in the US. Authorities were afraid of “cult-like” activities of religious groups, and decided to prohibit a number of natural plants including the ayahuasca vine Banisteriopsis caapi, and the DMT-containing plants Mimosa hostilis and Psychotria viridis.

Is Ayahuasca Legal in Germany?

Germany does not specifically forbid ayahuasca, but DMT is illegal under the Betäubungsmittelgesetz or the German narcotics act, classified as a Schedule I substance. Those who supply, cultivate, or manufacture DMT can be subject to criminal penalties of five years imprisonment or even up 15 years when large quantities are involved. 

This implies that sale and production of ayahuasca with DMT content will bear criminal penalties. Like in most countries, the plants Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis are not classified as controlled substances. But there are reports saying that customs agents have seized parcels of Mimosa hostilis, a DMT-containing plant, where these reportedly ended in arrest warrants and criminal charges. This has been prevalent since 2012.

Even the Brazilian ayahuasca religions are not protected in Germany. Ayahuasca was demonized following the raid on a campsite of Santo Daime members. The raid was executed by almost 100 heavily armed policemen. The charges against the Santo Daime members in Germany were eventually dropped.

Is Ayahuasca Legal in Israel?

Israel does not specifically mention ayahuasca in its drug laws, but DMT is considered illegal under the country’s Dangerous Drugs Act of 1973. One can be made liable for criminal penalties with the importation of DMT-containing plants or drinks like ayahuasca.

Some people have already been charged and prosecuted following importation and distribution of ayahuasca in Israel. A television and theater actor was arrested after he was suspected of attempted ayahuasca importation under a fake name, addressed to his house.

Current reports indicate that importing ayahuasca in the country is strictly controlled. It can be noted though that ayahuasca culture exists in Israel. There are scientific studies involving ayahuasca and underground circles that use it, some of these are connected to Peruvian vegetalismo and even groups related to the Santo Daime. Some of these groups consider their work as “spiritual”, where they create bridges for Jewish and Palestinian populations. Some war veterans claim that they drink the brew to help ease PTSD.

Is Ayahuasca Legal in Italy?

There exists no specific laws that prohibit ayahuasca in Italy, and it was even declared a “non-narcotic substance” in the mid-2000s, meaning you can not be prosecuted for supplying it in the same way as DMT.

Italy’s general drug policy is based on the 1990 Presidential Decree 309, which rules that manufacturing, importing or selling DMT is a criminal offence. However, possession of drugs for personal use only carries administrative punishments.

In one recent case a member of Santo Daime was arrested and held in jail for four days, after importing ayahuasca. He was released without charge, but be aware you could spend time in jail for ordering ayahuasca into the country.

Is Ayahuasca Legal in the Netherlands?

DMT is illegal in Netherlands, covered by the Opium Act. DMT is classified as a Schedule I substance under this law. However, the Opium Act does not specify plant materials or preparations that contain DMT, just the molecule itself. This means that ayahuasca ceremonies are a regular occurrence in the Netherlands.

A court case in the early 2000s granted the Santo Daime church the right to use ayahuasca as a legal sacrament, protected under the European Convention on Human Rights. However, in 2018, a Dutch court legally declared ayahuasca as the same thing as DMT. The government decided that although ayahuasca was crucial for the religious freedom of the Santo Daime group, DMT was a “threat to public safety” that negated their religious rights.

An appeal in the Dutch Supreme Court has also failed, with the court confirming the initial ruling, effectively making ayahuasca illegal in the Netherlands. Following that court case, ayahuasca ceremonies have started becoming less obvious in the Netherlands, as facilitators know they can now be prosecuted. 

See our full article about the ayahuasca situation in the Netherlands here.

Is Ayahuasca Legal in Peru?

Peru is one of the countries where it is freely legal to use ayahuasca. The indigenous peoples have used the brew for divination, healing, hunting, and diplomacy since the ages. Although Peru is a signatory in the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, it specifically made a reservation for ayahuasca and the cactus San Pedro. Peru has officially recognized the traditional use of ayahuasca, being the fact that it is a part of the national cultural heritage of their indigenous peoples.

Because ayahuasca use is widespread in the country among the tribes, Peru has made it as the number one destination for ayahuasca tourism. Its popularity grew even more following the expansion on ayahuasca research. In other countries, the religious rights to use ayahuasca remains unprotected. In Peru, it’s the opposite – the rights of the indigenous peoples and the traditional use of ayahuasca were the main considerations for their reservation in the legislation. 

Is Ayahuasca Legal in Portugal?

Since 2001, there has been a basic drug decriminalization initiative in Portugal. This decriminalization means that all drugs are no longer technically illegal to possess and use, in small amounts. Anyone caught with any quantities larger than “ten days’ worth of personal use” could go to prison, and selling/trafficking drugs is still illegal.

This means that ayahuasca is relatively decriminalized in Portugal. You can use it for personal healing, and possess small amounts – but organizers could go to prison for bringing it into the country, or giving it to ceremony participants.

Also keep in mind that if you are caught with a “legal” quantity of ayahuasca, you will still be sent before a non-criminal panel that has the power to force you into community service or rehabilitation sessions; and they can also strip you of your driving license and issue fines.

Is Ayahuasca Legal in Romania?

In Romania, ayahuasca can be legally researched by approved scientists and clinicians; but is otherwise totally illegal.

A number of ayahuasca retreats have been operating under the radar in Romania, but several have recently suffered raids and prosecutions.

A very public trial of three ayahuasca practitioners in Romania is currently underway, and all three could be facing 13 years in prison. Clearly the Romanian authorities are not afraid to prosecute providers of ayahuasca, and you could also be at risk by attending a ceremony.

Is Ayahuasca Legal in Russia?

In Russia, it is illegal to buy or possess DMT without a license. While it is not yet confirmed, a source says that DMT is a Schedule I substance in Russia. Ayahuasca may be included in their list of illegal substances. In 2016, a Brazilian therapist was detained at a Russian airport as a result of the possession of 6.6 liters of ayahuasca. The samples were later analyzed and tests revealed that these contained DMT. The therapist was charged with international drug trafficking and sentenced to 6+ years in prison. He sought appeal as indicated in a July 2017 report on the grounds that the DMT content of the ayahuasca was significantly lower than the estimate of the Russian officials. We don’t know the results of this appeal.

Is Ayahuasca Legal in Spain?

In Spain, the personal consumption of drugs is not a crime; however, ayahuasca’s legal status remains uncertain. While not specifically prohibited, it is not explicitly authorized either whether for use in therapeutic, religious, or shamanic context. 

There have been a number of arrests and court cases related to the importation and use of ayahuasca that contains DMT. Some of these have led to prosecutions and jail times. Several members of the Santo Daime church in Spain spent some time in prison in 2000.

Between 2010 and 2015, there were 42 court cases in Spain regarding ayahuasca. Spain is also the headquarters of ICEERS, an organization that provides legal advice in most worldwide ayahuasca court cases.

Despite these prosecutions, ayahuasca ceremonies and retreats still operate in Spain.

Is Ayahuasca Legal in Switzerland?

In Switzerland, there is more than one stance on the legal status of ayahuasca. This is because Switzerland is a federal state where its 26 “Cantons” or States have their own priorities while still being covered within the federal legal framework. Various bodies such as courts, customs, and supervisory authorities have their own take on the subject of ayahuasca.

The religious use of ayahuasca in Switzerland is not illegal. The União do Vegetal has been given the right to import and use ayahuasca in the State of Geneva where the church is active.

At present, the Office Fédéral de la Santé Publique (OFSP, the Federal Ministry of Public Health) is under the process of reviewing the requests of Swiss health practitioners who want to use ayahuasca as a part of their practice. The organization did not show explicit opposition to the idea, but there exists some hurdles such as the examination of the source of plants as well as standardization of the substances and potency of the brew.

Is Ayahuasca Legal in the United Kingdom?

The use of ayahuasca is prosecutable in UK. A 2011 ruling in Bristol Crown Court considered ayahuasca as a class A drug because of its DMT content. While it may not be illegal to possess plant materials that don’t contain DMT, such as B. caapi, any type of preparation that contains DMT is classified as a class A drug, which makes it illegal to brew your own ayahuasca in UK and import or distribute it.

There are no current religious exemptions on ayahuasca use recognized in the UK.

Is Ayahuasca Legal in the United States?

In the United States, it is illegal to consume, import, possess, sell, and distribute ayahuasca which contains DMT. However, there are exemptions. The União do Vegetal was given permission through a Supreme Court ruling while one Santo Daime church was authorized through a District Court in the State of Oregon and others also got exemptions through the DEA in Los Angeles, California and the State of Washington.

The DMT in ayahuasca is considered as a Schedule I controlled substance, regulated by the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Possession or importation of DMT or any substance that contains it is subject to 20 years imprisonment. While no person has been sentenced to prison for cases related to ayahuasca, there are already those who have been arrested for it.

Indigenous Amazonian healers and shamans should be made aware that entering United States means that they have to do so without bringing ayahuasca since the brew can be seized and they could get arrested for it.

Several cities in the US, and the state of Oregon, have passed decriminalization laws that may apply to ayahausca. Check out our full article on decriminalization in the US here.

Is Ayahuasca Legal in Uruguay?

The legal status of ayahuasca in Uruguay is uncertain. Trafficking and selling psychoactive substances are criminal offenses, but not when these are intended for personal use. Moreover, there is no clear rule for what quantity of a substance is acceptable for personal use, and what quantity becomes trafficking. Just like in most countries, DMT in Uruguay is a controlled substance, but ayahuasca itself is not legally defined. The ambiguity has led to the confiscation of ayahuasca that was supposed to be for the use of the Santo Daime community at the Brazilian border.

Uruguay is a modern state which was inspired by the French Jacobean Laic tradition. There exists a separation between political and religious institutions. The establishment of new religions and spiritual groups that make use of ayahuasca has led to debates since they combine two problematic fields – drugs and religion. Media has been warning the public that churches such as these are “dangerous cults.”

While the legal status of ayahuasca is still not resolved, there are members and participants in ayahuasca centers and institutions that carry on with their ceremonies in informal networks and they do not seem to have major concerns with the authorities. There also doesn’t seem to be repressive policies that target groups that make use of ayahuasca.

The Legality of Ayahuasca Plants

The above information focuses on the legality of ayahuasca as a brew, that may contain any number of plants in the brewing process.

Some ayahuasca plants contain DMT, and some contain harmala alkaloids. DMT is illegal in international law, but this does not necessarily apply to live/dried plants on their own unless countries have made specific laws prohibiting the plants (such as France), or have determined that dried plants constitute a “preparation” of DMT (such as Latvia). The harmala alkaloids are not illegal in international law, but some countries have scheduled them as illegal substances (such as Australia) or have prohibited the plants containing them (such as France).

In France, pretty much any plant containing either DMT or the harmala alkaloids is illegal to possess. The US state of Louisiana has prohibited the possession of B. caapi vine unless it is being grown for ornamental purposes. Always check your local laws before purchasing ayahuasca plants!

Keep in mind that while DMT-containing plants may not be explicitly illegal in your country, unless your country has specifically allowed for the possession of these plants, assume that there is a risk of being prosecuted. Your interpretation of the law, no matter how rational and justifiable, may not hold up against a government drug agency determined to protect the public from a scheduled substance.

About Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith is a biologist and writer who has been working in the psychedelic community for several years. Twitter: @rjpatricksmith

1 Comment

  1. remco.lohnen@gmail.com' Remco Lohnen on November 24, 2020 at 3:59 pm

    Nice article, and great info about legality.

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