Sananga is the name given to medicinal eye drops used by some indigenous Amazonian peoples, most notably the Matsés, Ticuna, Huni Kuin, and Yawanawá tribes.
Taking sananga can feel like an intense stinging pain that seeps into your whole body – but leaves you feeling energized, cleansed, and sharpened.
Traditionally it is used to treat eye conditions and improve visual perception, but it is also a powerful shamanic cleanser in its own right. It can be used on its own to purge the body of negative energies, or in combination with other plant medicines like ayahuasca to potentiate their spiritual effects.
What is Sananga?
Although medicinal eye drops made from a variety of plants are common throughout the Amazon, sananga technically refers to eye drops made from the Tabernaemontana sananho plant. While eye drops made from Tabernaemontana undulata are also sometimes called ‘sananga,’ these are more commonly known as ‘becchete’ by the Matsés and ‘mana heins’ by the Huni Kuin. However both sananga and becchete are made from plants in a very similar family, and have very similar effects.
Sananga eye drops are used traditionally in the Amazon to treat eye problems, sharpen vision, remove negative spiritual energies, and even as a precursor to ayahuasca ceremonies. In a similar way to kambo, sananga’s power is in its ability to purge the body of negative spiritual energies – through pain rather than physical expulsions!
The Shamanic Benefits and Uses of Sananga
Sananga allows its users to access the medicinal and spiritual powers of the Tabernaemontana plants, which are thought to treat a number of physical issues. You can tell that the power of the sananga is entering your body by the intense pain that it can cause. The pain of the experience is crucial – it indicates that the soul of the plant is being absorbed by the body, starting at the eyes, before working itself deep into the veins and viscera (Shepard, 1999, p.102).
This infusion of the plant spirit of sananga helps to eliminate negative or melancholic energies (sometimes known as panema) from the body. It can treat emotional maladies including sadness and grief, and is even used to remove bad dreams!
The stinging power of the plant is literally attacking these malevolent spirits and removing them from your body. The sananga experience, once the pain has passed, leaves you feeling cleansed, refreshed, and sharpened. Hunters who take sananga are said to be blessed with enhanced power and vision, which can last for several days (Shepard, 1999, p.102).
The spiritual purging that sananga offers is also traditionally used to help prepare people for other plant medicines – especially ayahuasca. It can be part of a wider purifying of the body and mind; an initial cleansing before the deep and often difficult introspection that ayahuasca is known for.
Spreading the spiritual cleansing power of plant medicines across several different techniques and plants can help to reduce the impact and intensity of shamanic purges, and different plants can even synergize and work together to help you pass through their realms unharmed.
This is why kambo has become a popular way to cleanse and purify before ayahuasca ceremonies – and why sananga can be such a useful alternative or addition to this. While sananga is indeed painful, it doesn’t involve as much harsh purging as kambo, and could complement ayahuasca in a more subtle way.
Sananga can also help to potentiate the visions of an ayahuasca ceremony, by sharpening and improving your eyesight. People often report that their visual perception is boosted following sananga, and that this can be used in combination with ayahuasca for a more vivid experience.
How to Take Sananga Safely
Sananga is not a pleasant medicine to take! As one person says:
“Sananga burns. It does not feel great. And I was quite positive I was going to go blind upon opening my eyes once the medicine had settled the first ceremony I had with it…”
So you should be prepared for sananga to hurt.
To make sure you have a safe and effective sananga experience, purchase your sananga from a reputable retailer like Sacred Snuff, who source their sananga from the Yawanawa tribe.
Sananga will reduce in its potency over time, so keep your sananga in the fridge to preserve its power.
Do not use sananga while you have contact lenses in, and do not put in contact lenses within 24 hours of using sananga.
Although there’s no evidence that sananga is harmful, there is also no solid evidence that its repeated use is healthy. If you have any eye conditions, check with your doctor before using sananga.
Try to avoid using sananga more than once per day. Sometimes people attempt using sananga every day for periods of up to six weeks – but we caution that there is no research regarding the health risks of this, and traditional use typically only involves taking sananga once every few days or weeks.
Here are our tips for a good sananga experience:
- Spend some time preparing your space so you are comfortable and relaxed.
- Perform some breathing exercises to ground yourself in your body.
- Set your intention for the experience, and if it helps, greet the plant medicine you are about to encounter.
- Remove any contact lenses and make sure you have not taken any other eye medication or eye drops, except for saline.
- Remove eye makeup if you are wearing any.
- Prepare a bowl of tap water, or saline eye drops, to wash your eyes in case the sananga is too painful.
- Lay back on a comfortable surface, and prepare your sananga dropper.
- Close your eyes, and drop a single drop of sananga into the corner of each of your closed eyes. If you find this difficult to do with your eyes closed, lean the dropper against the inner curve where your nose meets your eyebrow, and let a drop roll down into the corner of your eye.
- Blink your eyes quickly so the liquid spreads across your eyes evenly, at the same time.
- Breathe through the pain and attempt to encounter it rather than resisting it. The peak of the pain may last for several minutes. Remember, sananga’s power is considered to be partly related to the pain it causes.
- Once the pain has passed, it can be useful to enter into meditation or another mindfulness practice, to become fully aware of the effects the sananga has had on your mind and body.
- Undertake whatever practices you feel the sananga could help with – including visual tasks, exploration with other entheogenic plant medicines, or exercise.
You may have pain lasting a few hours after the experience, and your eyes may look red for the rest of the day. If these symptoms last longer than a day, see your doctor.
If you encounter any long-term irritation, immediately take a break. If you do embark on a long period of sananga use, try to take a few weeks off as often as possible, to give your eyes a break.
Enjoy your exploration with sananga! Keep a journal to log its effects, and try experimenting with its ability to enhance other plant medicines or even your appreciation for your daily routine.
Shepard, Glenn (1999). Pharmacognosy and the Senses in Two Amazonian Societies. PhD Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, Medical Anthropology Program.