Mother Ayahuasca (“vine of the soul”) has been the most important medicine of the Amazonian Indians of South America since pre-Columbian times.
Among its many uses:
- Medical purposes – to treat a wide range of ailments.
- Shamans, who believe Ayahuasca contains plant spirits which reveal themselves as master-teachers to humans (it is sometimes referred to as “University”), use it for initiation rites, healing, sorcery, divination (e.g., diagnosing disease), as well as for going on out-of-body journeys and communicating with the spirit world.
- Spiritually – as an aid to spiritual practice, this magical, vision-inducing drink allows one to peer into the fabric of existence itself, teaching that the world we normally experience is a mere illusion.
- Recreationally – Spectacular, colorful visions produced by Ayahuasca has led some to refer to it as Jungle Cinema / Amazonian Television.
Among its many names, Mother Ayahuasca is also known as:
- Vegetal, Hoasca (União do Vegetal)
- Daime (Santo Daime)
- Jungle Ambrosia
- Jungle Tea
- La Purga
- The Tea
What is Ayahuasca
When tryptamines, such as DMT, reach the brain, they induce profound visions.
However, we have an enzyme in our bodies, known as monoamine oxidase (MAO), which deactivates DMT and does not allow it to reach the brain.
No problem! The beta-carbolines in Ayahuasca act as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI), preventing the breakdown of DMT by MAO.
When DMT and beta-carbolines are taken together in Ayahuasca, the vision-inducing ingredient DMT is able to reach the brain and induce a visionary state of consciousness.
Only with this combination of ingredients can Ayahuasca exert its consciousness-expanding effects.
What is Ayahuasca Made of
Ayahuasca and Ayahuasca analogs typically contain:
- 20-400 mg beta-carbolines (harmala alkaloids), responsible for the purgative and sedative effects
- 25-100 mg DMT – provides the “light,” or vision
Banisteriopsis caapi, a powerful and vigorously growing tropical vine, the “vine of the soul,” is the basis of this hallucinogenic drink.
B. caapi contains MAO inhibitors (namely harmine, harmaline, and tetrahydroharmine), which reduce the body’s production and distribution of monoamine oxidase (MAO).
Since we may have some DMT circulating in our bodies, by consuming even Banisteriopsis caapi alone without a DMT-containing plant, a mild visionary effect may be experienced.
The harmala alkaloids in B. caapi have the additional benefit of being anthelmintic, killing intestinal parasites, and expelling them through the increased intestinal motility caused by these alkaloids.
The bark is scraped from freshly harvested pieces of the stem, and then boiled for several hours, before the bitter, thick liquid is taken in small doses, while in other localities, the bark is vigorously pounded and then kneaded in cold water, making much larger doses necessary.
Psychotria viridis (Chacruna)
Chacruna has been used for ages in the Amazon region as the DMT-containing ingredient of Ayahuasca.
The leaves of Psychotria viridis must be gathered in the morning and are used either fresh or dried. They are mixed with Banisteriopsis caapi, cooked, and drunk as Ayahuasca.
Psychotria viridis contains 0.1-0.61% DMT. Most leaves contain around 0.3%.
Reading that book before my first Ayahuasca trip did nothing at all to prepare me to my experience, which was beyond all words.
While everybody’s experience with Ayahuasca is different (also each time it is taken, it may produce a different experience for the same person), in this section, I attempt to make some generalizations regarding the effects of the Brew.
How Long Does Ayahuasca Last
The effects of Ayahuasca last for around four hours. (Though if a Syrian rue is used instead of Banisteriopsis caapi, the effects may last 6-8 or even longer.)
The harmala alkaloids first induce sedation, as well as profound nausea and vomiting.
The psychedelic DMT effects set in some 30-45 minutes after ingestion of the drink.
The main visionary effects last for about an hour.
Because the body does not build up tolerance to DMT, a person can consume Ayahuasca several times a day.
Adverse Effects (MAOI)
Within 20-60 minutes of drinking Ayahuasca, the MAOI effects begin, which are generally unpleasant.
The nausea to the point of vomiting sometimes passes on its own after a while. If not, ginger may provide relief.
When Ayahuasca is used on a regular basis, the body may eventually become accustomed to harmaline, and no longer experience nausea and other purgative symptoms.
However, “La Purga,” as some people call Ayahuasca in Spanish, meaning “The Purge,” might be an adverse effect, but not necessarily an unwanted effect. In fact, many shamans realize it is an essential part of the experience, not just beneficial medicinally (it can clear the body of worms and other tropical parasites), but also representing the release of negative energies from the mind-body.
Other side effects:
- decreased appetite
- increased heart rate
- dilation of the pupils
- sensations – burning, tingling, etc.
- muscle tension/spasms, body aches
- mental/physical stimulation/weariness or lack of energy
- restlessness, recklessness, sometimes even aggressiveness
- sweating/chills, tremors, trembling and convulsive shaking
A great elation may be felt at times, while at other times fear, anxiety, paranoia, delusions, even psychotic breaks may be experienced (particularly among those prone to psychiatric disorders; though due to the effect of set and setting, even experienced psychonauts may experience “bad trips.”)
Visionary Effects (DMT)
The visionary effects of Ayahuasca are mostly caused by the DMT content of the Brew.
The state of consciousness changes to one which is akin of dreaming while awake, even with eyes open. According to scientists, the brainwaves which predominate during the peak of the DMT experience are of delta and theta frequency, same as deep sleep and dreaming. The dreaming comes and goes in waves.
The visionary effects can be divided into
- various mild to intense, even overwhelming, multi-sensorial hallucinations
- and to the Breakthrough Experience, which is also known as a full-fledged vision, where one is “transported” to what is perceived as an alternate reality or dimension.
Common visuals include snakes, jaguars, fireworks, kaleidoscope-like designs, flashing colors and lights, fantastic mandalas, golden cities, and travels to otherworldly realms.
Strong emotions, sometimes contradictory, may be experienced, such as happiness, sadness, fear, awe, and amazement.
The mind is mostly focused on personal psychological content and insights into personal concerns is often gained.
One goes through a kind of a “life audit,” an honest, even brutal, evaluation of one’s lifestyle, relationships, and behavior. If you have been hiding anything from yourself, it may be exposed.
More significantly, mystical, spiritual, or religious experiences are common with Ayahuasca.
The more uncomfortable content one holds in the subconsciousness, the more difficult the exposure of that content will be.
If one is able to let go of one’s sense of self, or ego, allowing it to temporarily “die,” a blissful oceanic sense of unity and interconnectedness may be experienced.
Having experienced that, atheists often start believing in the Divine, religious people experience visions based on their beliefs, and many experience a spiritual awakening or rebirth.
Other common effects include:
- déjà vu
- time distortion
- mood enhancement
- a sensation of being lifted into the air
- a euphoric state to the point of ecstasy
- creativity and increased music appreciation
- insight to the point of existential self-realization
- love, empathy, affection, and sociability enhancement
- psychological introspection and multiple thought streams
- a sense of “telepathic powers” (harmaline was once called telepathine)
- sensory effects and changes in perception, such as hallucinations, synaesthesia, and various physical sensations
Once the trip is over, there’s a sense of rejuvenation and of having gone through a profound positive life change.
Euphoria and mindfulness may be experienced for several days after the experience.
One of the hallmarks of the MAOI experience is drowsiness.
It may be possible to microdose the MAOI component of Ayahuasca (e.g., Syrian rue or Caapi) to induce sleep.
In order to do so, experiment with doses until you find a dose that makes you sleepy without causing any significant nausea or other adverse effects.
Dreams & Lucid Dreaming
These dream states can be very beneficial, especially if they are used for doing self-work and integration, for example, through lucid dreaming.
Out-of-Body Experiences/Astral Projection
Shamans have long been using Ayahuasca for out-of-body travel as well as divination, including discovering the location of lost objects and communicating with spirits.
Contemporary accounts reveal that many people experience dimensional travel and out-of-body journeys on Ayahuasca, as well as making contact with spiritual beings who are experienced as guides, healers, or helpers.
The DMT experience makes the astral body loose, the Breakthrough Experience occurs when the astral body is transported to a different location in this dimension or elsewhere.
However, relative to conscious astral projection, it is much more difficult to control where you go. The experience is of being transported, and not travelling.
For aspiring astral projectors, Ayahuasca could help by showing them what they are supposed to be experiencing. Without the experience, it is difficult to even imagine what it would be like to exist outside of the physical body. Ayahuasca can introduce one to one’s soul.
Near Death Experiences
The authors noted several similarities between these states, including ego-dissolution and mystical-type experiences, such as “the subjective feeling of transcending one’s body and entering an alternative realm, perceiving and communicating with sentient ‘entities’ and themes related to death and dying.”
It has been theorized that dreams are the result of endogenous beta-carbolines and endogenous DMT which are excreted in the brain.
This may also happen during the moment of death, explaining Near-Death Experience visions, as suggested by Rick Strassman.
Ayahuasca Experiences / Trip Reports
Among the many reports of Ayahuasca-induced out-of-body experiences, here is one example from Erowid.org:
I saw myself lift out of my body and I flew down a river and above the canopy of the jungle. I was in a metropolis of spirits, angels and demons, animals and sounds. The song that our shamans were singing were guiding me out of my own ego! I saw millions of thoughts, colors, sounds, revelations, and it was all happening all at once.
At first, there is a giddiness, excitement, smiling, occasional laughter, strong euphoria, some yawning. Then the trip begins…
To understand my experience, imagine the following:
An alien presence examines my mind-body, working on it in, part by part, presumably in order to heal it.
During the healing, I experience waves of strong, very unpleasant nausea accompanied by visual imagery, such as sharp, beautiful shapes, and deep psychological and existential insights.
In one of my first Ayahuasca trips, I experienced this existence as meaningless and absurd, as a cosmic joke, where I was a creature-chair in a crazy merry-go-round carousel. I felt despair, helpless, even panicked, knowing that nobody, not even our trusted doctors, can help with our existential situation, with the true reality.
Ayahuasca is like a school to me, offering a progressive set of lessons, with each trip-lesson teaching me exactly what I needed to learn at the time.
If I come with a goal or ambition, I am punished with a lot of suffering. I quickly realized I need to be in a state of let-go and total acceptance to minimize suffering. For that I learned to trust the process, the body, the medicine.
Negative emotions too cause suffering. Even those of others who I am with during the ceremony. I often feel that we can all “read” each other’s thoughts and that we’re all experiencing the same.
The process often involves going through a purgatory and suffering to cleanse myself before I reach paradise, which is the state of consciousness of absolute bliss and interconnectedness with the entire universe.
Based on my experiences, I came to see Ayahuasca as a medicine which raises spiritual energy from low chakras, or energy centers, to higher ones.
When different chakras are worked on, specific experiences may result. For example, when the energy is stuck in the lower chakras, one may experience predominately physical sensations and sexuality.
When the energy is stuck in the solar plexus and the heart, the work centers on relationship with other people.
If the energy is able to reach the highest chakras, such as the Third Eye and the Crown, visions and spiritual experiences are the result.
Can you die from Ayahuasca?
A few deaths linked to the consumption of Ayahuasca have been reported.
Can Ayahuasca kill you?
While there are claims of an “hallucinogenic amine intoxication,” I believe the answer is NO.
Ayahuasca cannot kill. There may be exceptions though, including:
- Behavioral risks – doing something dangerous while intoxicated
- Using dangerous, toxic admixtures, such as Brugmansia or Datura, caffeine, nicotine (tobacco tea), and amphetamines
- Preexisting heart conditions (Ayahuasca increases heart rate and blood pressure)
- Interaction with drugs, such as antidepressants, and plants, such as Cytisus scoparius (common broom)
How Not to Die from Ayahuasca?
- Have an experienced and sober trip sitter to watch over you.
- Make sure you do not combine Ayahuasca with any other admixture, unless you know what you’re doing.
- Do not use Ayahuasca if you have a heart condition, including high blood pressure, or other health problems.
- Do not use Ayahuasca if you are taking any drugs or medications, including herbals.
In communities in which Ayahuasca is consumed regularly, sometimes even daily, and often even by children and pregnant women, such as the Santo Daime, it is considered both healthy and therapeutic for body and mind to drink Ayahuasca.
Ayahuasca is not habit-forming or addictive. On the contrary, as we will see below, it may help combat addiction.
In the rainforest, shamans often recommend preparing to ingesting Ayahuasca by purification. This is often done by abstaining from:
- chili and other spicy and heavily seasoned foods
- acidic foods (such as citrus)
- excess fat
Shamans often also prepare by remaining sexually abstinent for between 3 days to 6 months before the ceremony as well as, after, not to mention during, a ceremony.
Purgative and laxative substances, enemas, and libations are also sometimes used.
While some people recommend a low-tyramine diet, such as avoiding cheese, and even fasting before an Ayahuasca ceremony, this is probably not necessary (unless using Pharmahuasca). Brazilian Ayahuasca churches União do Vegetal and Santo Daime do not require their members to abstain from such low-tyramine foods specifically.
Taking Ayahuasca often feels like going through many years of therapy during the course of a few hours.
Shamans have long known that addiction suppression is one of Ayahuasca’s effects. Now, researchers are investigating the effects of shamanic therapy with Ayahuasca on drug addicts.
Other potential conditions, for which Ayahuasa therapy may be beneficial include:
- Depression (not surprising as some medical anti-depressants are MAOIs).
- Various types of addictions
Other potential health-related benefits of Ayahuasca include:
- Anti-inflammatory effects
- Supporting brain health – protecting, restoring, and preventing degeneration of brain cells.
Ayahuasca songs play a role in traditional shamanism, where they are used as a map for the journey into the other reality.
Whistled melodies for creating certain standardized visions have an important part in the Ayahuasca shamanism practiced by the urban healers of Iquitos.
Icaros (shamanic power songs) are also used for this purpose.
In the Amazon, Ayahuasca rituals are often accompanied by the continuous smoking of tobacco to banish evil spirits, that is, unpleasant and threatening visions.
Tobacco is sniffed during Ayahuasca rituals, sometimes accompanied by the ground bark of a wild cacao species and chili pods. Tobacco is also chewed and used as incense.
In addition, participants may drink chicha or some other type of alcohol and chew coca leaves. Sometimes, Brugmansia leaves will be soaked in rum and drunk as a tonic. Virola is sniffed.
Now, the phenomenon of urban shamanism has appeared. Rituals, which are a colorful mix of Indian and Catholic customs during which Christian, devotional songs are sung communally and the spirits of the forest invoked, are offered to treat the afflictions of city dwellers.
Syncretic churches and sects have been established that use Ayahuasca as a sacrament. These include:
- Santo Daime
- União do Vegetal
In Brazil there are also non-Christian sects that use Ayahuasca ritually.
Ayahuasca retreats are also available.
When choosing where to take Ayahuasca, choose wisely.
Is Ayahuasca Legal?
Ayahuasca is completely legal in Brazil and few other South American countries.
While in many other countries it is illegal due to the prohibited substance DMT, some countries are allowing the use of Ayahuasca for religious purposes, such as by the União do Vegetal and Santo Daime for whom Ayahuasca is a religious sacrament.
How to Make Ayahuasca?
To make one dose of Ayahuaca, Banisteriopsis caapi stems are boiled (40-180 cm long, 3 cm thick; or about 50-60 grams) with several liters of water for some 12 hours in rust-free, stainless steel pots.
In general, the less vine that is used, the easier the Ayahuasca is on the stomach.
40 fresh or dried Psychotria viridis leaves are often included for visionary effects.
The brew is sometimes fermented after it’s cooked. In the Santo Daime tradition, for example, it is fermented for 15 days.
Ayahuasca Analogs (Anahuasca)
In addition to Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis, Ayahuasca Analogs (Anahuasca) can be made from other plants, as long as they contain:
- MAO-inhibiting beta-carbolines, such as harmaline and harmine
The DMT capsule is swallowed 15-20 minutes after the beta-carboline capsule.
Besides Banisteriopsis caapi and synthetic beta-carbolines, what are the other suitable options for a MAOI?
For the purpose of the below Ayahuasca analogs, generally 2-5 grams of seeds are needed. The more seeds used, the more purgative the experience will be.
While the ground seeds are sometimes soaked in water and swallowed, or taken in a gelatin capsule, it is not necessary to swallow the seeds. It may be easier on the stomach to extract the seeds in cold (or hot) water and drink the filtered solution.
It has been claimed that smoking Passiflora (and presumably other MAOI herbs) inhibits MAO, so that orally administered DMT can be effective.
The DMT-containing tea, prepared by simmering the plant material with juice from one lemon or lime (or vinegar) to catalyze the extraction of DMT, is taken about 15-30 minutes later.
The DMT extraction process is repeated 2-3 times for best results. The 3 strained extracts are then combined and reduced to a drinkable amount by simmering gently.
Juremahuasca or Mimohuasca
The most psychoactive and easiest to tolerate Ayahuasca analog, known as Mimohuasca, employs the root bark of Mimosa tenuiflora, also known as Mimosa hostilis (Jurema). The dried root bark contains about 0.57-1% DMT.
One dose is made from 3-12 grams of the root bark of Mimosa tenuiflora.
Other Ayahuasca Analogs
Jurema may be substituted with other DMT-containing plants, such as:
Classic Ayahuasca Analog – 15-85 grams Psychotria viridis leaves.
Prairiehuasca or Prairie Ayahuasca (North American Ayahuasca) – 30 grams Desmanthus illinoensis root bark (prairie mimosa, Illinois bundleweed, Illinois bundleflower). The root bark of Desnamnthus illinoensis contains up to 0.34% DMT. The downside is that it may also contain gramine. Desmanthus leptolobus may also be used.
LSD/Desmanthus Ayahuasca – Combines 1 Argyreia nervosa seed with 3-4 grams Desmanthus illinoensis root bark. May be dangerous.
Acaciahuasca (Aussie Ayahuasca) – 20 grams Acacia phlebophylla leaves, ground. The leaves of Acacia phlebophylla contain 0.3% DMT. Alas, the tree is extremely rare and grows only on one mountain in Australia: Mount Buffalo. Other Acacia trees contain high concentrations of DMT in their bark and leaves include:
- Acacia simplicifolia bark and leaves – the bark contains up to 0.81% DMT. The leaves have up to 1%.
- Acacia maidenii (Maiden’s Acacia) – The bark contains 0.36% DMT.
- Acacia obtusifolia
- Acacia acuminata
- Acacia cornigera
- Acacia confusa
Phalahuasca (European Ayahuasca) – The grass and root of the Reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea) contains DMT. 50 mg of Phalaris extract are said to produce psychedelic effects. Phalaris arundinacea use was generally met with little success and may be dangerous due to gramine. Water Canary Grass (Phalaris aquatica) and Short Spike Canary Grass (Phalaris brachystachys) may also be used.
Peyohuasca – Combines Peyote (Lophophora williamsii) with a MAOI and may be dangerous.
San Pedro Ayahuasca – 1-3 grams Syrian rue are combined with 20-25 grams San Pedro cactus powder (Trichocereus pachanoi). May be dangerous.
Mayahuasca – Banisteriopsis muricata stems and leaves are used together.
Other DMT containing plants include:
- Cowhage (Mucuna pruriens) – dried, powdered seeds. May contain both beta-carbolines and DMT.
- Common reed (Phargmites australis) – An Ayahuasca analog made by boiling 20-50 grams of the fresh/dried rhizome, lemon juice, and 3 grams of Syrian rue for at least 15 minutes.
- Arundo donax – the fresh rhizome is cleaned, cut into small pieces, and macerated in an alcohol-water mixture (1:1). The maceration can be concentrated by evaporation. The residue is rich in alkaloids. The rhizome may contain both DMT and beta-carbolines. The Shipibo shamans from Caimito use the giant reed as an Ayahuasca additive.
- Anadenanthera spp., e.g., A. peregrina and A. colubrina
- Desmodium spp. (e.g., D. pulchellum) root bark
- Diplopterys cabrerana (Chaliponga, Chagropanga, Banisteriopsis rusbyana) leaves
- Psychotria carthagenensis (Amyruca) leaves
Changa (Smokeable Ayahuasca)
MAO-inhibiting plants, which can be used in changa, include:
- <Banisteriopsis caapi vine/leaves
- Preganum harmala extract (the seeds are difficult to smoke)
- Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) – less potent, but easy and pleasant to smoke
When smoked, changa causes a short, intense trip that’s similar to smoking pure DMT, but because of the MAO inhibitor, the trip comes up more gentle, takes longer, is more intense, and is generally experienced as more grounded.
The changa trip can also be compared to an Ayahuasca trip, but shorter and without the unpleasant physical effects.
Changa generally contains 20–50% DMT.
This means 0.1 gram of changa contains between 20 mg and 50 mg DMT.
Dose: 0.1-0.2 grams.
Length of experience: 10-40 minutes (depending on the strength of the MAOI)