Published: January 17th, 2017
Categories: Plants and Seeds
Ayahuasca is a brew that is made from a mix of plants that are native to the Amazonian region. The brew is highly hallucinogenic and induces powerful visionary altered states of consciousness that can last for up to 8 hours after ingestion. Ayahuasca has a long history of being used as a medicine and for shamanic rituals. The brew is usually consumed in a ceremony under the guidance of an experienced shaman.
The name Ayahuasca comes from the two Quechua words: "aya" which means spirit or soul, and the word "huasca" which means vine.
This “vine of the soul”, one of the main ingredients used to make the Ayahuasca brew, is Banisteriopsis caapi, which is a vine native to the Amazonian region that by itself is also called ayahuasca. This plant is then combined with chacruna (Psychotria viridis) or chagropanga (Diplopterys cabrerana), two plants that contain the psychedelic compound DMT.
What’s in particular interesting about the plants used for ayahuasha is that that the DMT contained in plants like Psychotria viridis is inactive when consumed without a source of monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) such as Banisteriopsis caapi. It’s only due to this very specific combination of plants that the compounds in them become psychoactive.
This curious fact has given rise to speculation in regards to the almost impossible odds to find the right combination for making ayahuasca, when one considers the sheer amount of plants that grow in the Amazonian. The native Shamans however have an easy explanation for this: It was the gods themselves who told them the secret which plants to use to make the sacred brew!
We don’t really know for how long ayahuasca has been used although there is archaeological evidence that the Indigenous peoples of the Amazonian knew about it at least 2,000 years ago. The first Western contact with the sacred brew however was made by English ethnobotanist Richard Spruce in 1851.
Shamans are using the powerful mind-altering properties of ayahuasca to see what might cause a patient’s illness or when they want to communicate with nature. The brew also plays central role in several religions in Middle and South America where it is used for healing purposes and to get spiritual insights.
Because of its powerful psychedelic properties, ayahuasca has recently also gained interest in the Western World. With the use of psychedelic substances having become more mainstream in our society since the 1960s, ayahuasca has now become a focus of interest for people who seek mind-altering experiences as a way to widen their horizons, to gain spiritual growth and to confront and overcome their deepest fears.
The powerful effect of ayahuasca however is not just from inducing visions and altered states of consciousness. Consuming the brew will usually make people vomit. This is seen as a beneficial cleansing and purging of the body from impurities that is necessary for a pure mind-altering ayahuasca trip. Because of this it is recommended that people who consume ayahuasca do this after a short fast and with an empty stomach. This will also allow consuming more of the brew before vomiting.
As with almost any psychotropic and hallucinogenic substances, their responsible and cautious use can have benefits, but can also come with some drawbacks. A powerful mind-altering experience can well help heal some people who suffer from deeply seated psychological problems like addiction or depression. On the other hand, people may react differently to altered states of consciousness, which means that the use of strong hallucinogenic as a treatment will always depend on someone’s personality and isn’t necessarily a universal cure that would work for everyone.
DMT, the psychoactive compound in ayahuasca responsible for the altered state of awareness, is a neurotransmitter that is naturally found in all humans. DMT is produced in the pineal glands, which is sometimes also referred to as the “third eye”. It is believed that DMT plays a key role in extraordinary states of awareness, including spiritual and religious experiences, the type of experience that consuming ayahuasca will normally induce.
It is this relationship of DMT to spiritual experiences that can make the ayahuasca experience much more than a “trip” for recreational purposes. At times, the experience can be so profound and mind-altering, that it can be the start of a spiritual transformation that goes on even if one never drinks ayahuasca again.