Ayahuasca is a psychedelic brew traditionally produced by some Amazonian peoples. A number of different decoctions are referred to as ayahuasca, with varying peoples having their own version of this compound, and outside of South America, brews which lack the traditional ingredients may still be referred to as ayahuascas, which can add to the confusion. In South America, ayahuasca is used in religious ceremonies and also in certain types of medical treatment. Outside this region, people may take it because they are interested in the psychedelic experience.
One of the key traditional ingredients in ayahuasca is Banisteriopsis caapi, a vine native to the Amazon basin. This vine has high concentrations of dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a psychoactive alkaloid. In addition to bark and stems of this vine, ayahuasca can include psychoactive substances from other jungle plants, and some brews leave out the vine altogether, depending on regional norms.
Alternative names for ayahuasca include yage, la purga, caapi, and natema. The decoction is traditionally prepared under the supervision of a skilled shaman who has learned about the steps of processing and preparation through an apprenticeship. Once the ayahuasca is ready, the shaman leads a ceremony in which the compound is consumed by the shaman and other participants. Some people believe that the brew helps them to connect with the divine, allowing them to see things which take place in the spirit world, and others think that it takes them into the land of the dead, explaining the Quecha name for the vine, which means “rope of the dead.”
One of the most common side effects of ayahuasca is vomiting. In fact, the vomiting is integrated into the ceremony in some regions, and in other areas, people take the drug for the purpose of treating intestinal parasites, as the alkaloids kill the parasites and the vomiting and diarrhea ensure that they are totally expelled. Preparations for medical use tend to contain fewer hallucinogens.
In the Amazon, the religious use of ayahuasca by tribes with a history of using this brew is protected by law in many areas. Religious groups outside of this region which claim that the drug is critical to their religious practice may also be allowed to produce and use small amounts, with the government carefully monitoring to ensure that the drug is not abused. Recreational use of ayahuasca is typically illegal, because the drug contains compounds such as DMT which are banned or controlled by law.