What is Ayahuasca?

Mary McMahon

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.

Intestinal parasites commonly cause abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and cramping.
Intestinal parasites commonly cause abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and cramping.

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.

Vomiting after the administration of ayahuasca ensures that parasites are totally expelled from the body.
Vomiting after the administration of ayahuasca ensures that parasites are totally expelled from the body.

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.”

Indigenous healers in South America sometimes prescribe ayahuasca to treat various medical disorders.
Indigenous healers in South America sometimes prescribe ayahuasca to treat various medical disorders.

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.

Tribes in the Amazon River basin have long used ayahuasca as part of religious rituals.
Tribes in the Amazon River basin have long used ayahuasca as part of religious rituals.

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Discussion Comments

anon357167

@ceilingcat: With all due respect, you seem to have no real understand of what ayahuasca does. It cleanses you from addictions and makes you face your fears so you can release them.

It has the possibility to open up realms of the spirit world and teach you about life and death. It is not something to be taken lightly and the abuse potential is close to none (except for some dangers that frivolous use might have).

ceilingcat

@Azuza - I don't doubt that some people use ayahuasca for religious purposes. However, I do think it should still be controlled.

I don't think the fact that it causes vomiting would deter someone from using ayahuasca for getting high. Look at alcohol-it's common knowledge that a night of heavy drinking can lead to a serious hangover in the morning. And even vomiting! That doesn't stop people from drinking though!

Azuza

You know, people who use ayahuasca must really be doing it to seek a religious experience. I can't imagine wanting to have a psychedelic experience so much that I would risk vomiting to do it! I have throwing up, and I know most other people don't enjoy it either.

I would, however, take this stuff for parasites if I had no other option. Getting rid of parasites seems worth vomiting for.

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