What is Ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca, or yagé, is an entheogenic brew that stems from the Amazon, the exact dates/place of origin are unknown, and can only be theorized. One certainty about the history of ayahuasca, is that by the mid-nineteeth century it had come to the attention of Western ethnographers, and was already wide-spread among numerous indigenous tribes throughout the Amazon Basin.
“Drinking ayahuasca provides a profound challenge to the dominant Western rational paradigm” – Jeremy Narby
Ayahuasca is a Quechua term which translates to “vine of the souls”, as aya means “spirit, soul”, and waska means “rope” or “woody vine”. It is commonly believed that the indigenous peoples of the Amazon received direct instructions on how to prepare the brew directly from the plants themselves.
The brew is considered to be the world’s strongest psychedelic, but its intention is to be used as a spiritual medicine, for divinatory, and healing purposes. To this date, there have been thousands of stories of people who claim to have been cured of physical, mental and emotional issues, and many fascinating cases of recovery from grave and even fatal disorders.
“My sense is that we are missing a huge part of the human story. I think it’s possible, indeed probable, that we are a species with amnesia; that we’ve lost the record of our story going back thousands of years before so-called history began, and I think that if we could go back to that dark epoch, we would discover many astounding things about ourselves.” – Graham Hancock
How is Ayahuasca Prepared, and What Can You Expect in a Ceremony?
Ayahuasca is prepared by pounding sections of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, so the bark is removed in order to get to the rope-like fibers of the vine – then, large amounts of the caapi vine are added to a large cooking pot with boiling water. The caapi vine acts as the MAOI inhibitor in the brew, but DMT is the active component in ayahuasca which allows for visionary states. The human body produces DMT naturally – so without an MAOI inhibitor it does not induce a psychedelic experience. Admixture plants such as Psychotria viridis (chakruna) leaves are what is added to the brew as the DMT component. The mixture of chakruna and caapi takes about 8 hours to make, and after straining out the leaves/vine – it only produces about a liter or so of “La Medicina”.
An ayahuasca ceremony will vary depending on which shaman you work with, however certain qualities are consistent. A typical ceremony will take place in the dark, and is facilitated by bringing together the ayahuasca, shamans and the spirits of the plants. It is believed that this spiritual trinity unlocks the doors of the spirit world to the participants. About an ounce or so of the ayahuasca is drunk, and general consensus is that the taste is extremely unpleasant, and very bitter. It takes about 45-minutes for the effects to be made manifest, and to strengthen the experience, some shamans will do an icaros – which is singing or whistling that helps bring on the visionary effects of the brew. Shaman are also known to blow the smoke of a potent Amazonian tobacco (called mapacho) on participants, as it is believed tobacco is an ally of the spirit world, and has the ability to cleanse the atmosphere in order to establish an aura of protection.
Positive and Negative Side-Effects…
Positive effects of the experience include powerful spiritual revelations, and an overwhelming connection to the earth – and soul purpose. Many report having a deep understanding of the nature of the universe, and the interconnectedness of all living beings. Some describe their spiritual awakening as a rebirth, or the death of ego. Some report experiencing inter/extra-dimensional beings which act as guides and healers as well.
“…the most influential journeys I have had have been with ayahuasca, the vine from the Amazon, the combination of that and mushrooms. It’s very much a medicine woman, medicine man’s journey drug, where you go inside. It’s not a social thing. It’s an internal experience…” – Tori Amos
Negative effects of the brew include vomiting, and diarrhea – which is believed by the shamans to be an essential part of the experience, because this “purge” represents the release of negative energy and emotions built up over the course of one’s life. Hot/cold flashes, and nausea are also reported.
As of late, ayahuasca has had a growing mainstream interest – and the positive/medicinal effects of the brew are generating cause for further research. MAPS, in particular, has been conducting studies on the use of ayahuasca for PTSD and drug addiction, and the results of their June 2013 study were published in Current Drug Abuse Reviews.