What Is Ayahuasca?
The Vine of Dreams
Where It Began and Where We Are Now
Over the past few years we have seen a growth in the adoption of ayahuasca practices, especially over these last two years of lockdown, where self-reflection presented an opportunity. So many people sat with themselves, and realized that they were in need of deep healing. Ayahuasca, along with other entheogens, became alternative approaches to pharmaceutical drugs used to treat symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and others. When partaking respectfully in a ceremonial setting, ayahuasca can bring to the surface much of what lies beneath the human subconscious, allowing those who connect to address childhood traumas, repressed emotions, and various other blockages which would otherwise stay buried deep inside. It can be an intense experience or loving, yet always rewarding experience to those willing to surrender to the depths of themselves. We ask ourselves, where did it start? What is the chemistry behind it? What can you expect from your experience prior to, during, and after your ceremony?
Where Did It All Begin?
There are debates within the ethnobotanical communities as to how old or ancient the practice of ayahuasca administration is. Some claim it has been used for thousands of years, but because there is a lack of written history on the subject, there is still much skepticism among western cultures. Since the indigenous of the Amazon had no written history, the origins of ayahuasca remain limited.
The earliest evidence of the use of ayahuasca was found in southwest Bolivia in 2010 in a cave known for human habitation dating back 4,000 years. There, archaeologists found a small pouch made from fox snouts dating from 900-1170AD. After testing the pouch for residual chemical signatures, scientists detected trace amounts of bufotenine (5-meo-DMT, from the Sonoran desert toad), benzoylecgonine (metabolite found in cocaine), unprocessed coca leaf residue, dimethyltryptamine (DMT) most likely from the hallucinogenic psychotria viridis, harmine (banisteriopsis caapi) commonly known as ayahuasca, yagé, or caapi, and psilocybin (found in psilocybe mushrooms). Some of these various entheogens are not typically found in Bolivia, signifying the trading and gifting of medicines between the indigenous of the pre-Columbian South and Central America. The first documentation of ayahuasca being used by the indigenous and mestizo of the northern parts of the Amazon, were the written observations of Jesuit priests in the 1700s, claiming it “serves for mystification and bewitchment”.
What is the chemistry behind ayahuasca?
The term “ayahuasca” is both the name of the hallucinogenic brew, and the common name for banisteriopsis caapi, the primary component in the drink, regardless of any of the other alkaloids used. The caapi vine itself is not hallucinogenic, but it does contain harmine, a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) which assists in the breakdown and conversion of DMT.
The DMT comes from either the leaves of the psychotria viridis, commonly named “chacruna”, or diplopterys cabrerana, commonly known as “chaliponga”, “chagropanga” or in certain parts of Ecuador, “chacruna”, like psychotria viridis. It can only be activated in the body when combined with caapi.
World-renowned ethnobotanist, Richard Spruce, wrote in 1976:
“Plants added to ayahuasca by some Indians in the preparation of the hallucinogenic drink are amazingly diverse and include even ferns. Several are now known to be active themselves and to alter effectively the properties of the basic drink…. Two additives, employed over a wide area
by many tribes, are especially significant. The leaves (but not the bark) of a third species of Banisteriopsi —B. rusbyana [now reclassified as Diploptrerys cabrerana]—are often added to the preparation ‘to lengthen and brighten the visions.’ …Over a much wider area, including Amazonian Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, the leaves of several species of Psychotria—especially P. viridis—are added. This 20-foot forest treelet belongs to the coffee family, Rubioceae. Like B. rusbyana, it has been found recently to contain the strongly hallucinogenic N. N- dimethyltryptamine.”
Each shaman is known to have their own unique recipes for their ayahuasca brews, so each experience can be slightly different, but with the same goal and general effects.
What can I expect before, during and after my journey?
When you decide to partake in a ceremony, whether it be one-on-one, or a group setting, your medicine man/shaman will most likely ask you to fast the day before, and eat a very light diet during the days leading up to your ceremony. You may also be advised not to partake in any other pharmaceuticals or plant based medicines within those days.
The goal is to avoid any interference from other medicines or intoxicants, pharmaceutical or natural, and to avoid any excess or unnecessary discomfort as purging is very common during the ceremony. Plant based medicines may not cause adverse reactions, but it is respectful to give each plant spirit their well deserved space. Fasting 24 hours before your ceremony is sometimes recommended.
When you are ready for your ceremony, the shaman will bring you to a sacred space, which has already been properly cleansed and blessed.
The ayahuasca itself may be served in single, or multiple doses. Once ingested it can take anywhere from 20-60 minutes to take effect. Purging is a natural part of the process. Purging can happen in different forms and more than one at a time. This may include screaming, crying, urinating, vomiting, or soiling.
The effects will vary from person to person, and can include activation of the third eye, which may allow for receiving messages and support from guides/ancestors, lucid visions, astral projection, and surfacing of anxiety and fear. Often participants experience both ends of the emotional spectrum, but it is wise to remember that even fear and anxiety is a necessary part of the process. Regardless, the Medicine Man/Shaman is there to guide as necessary and protect the space.
The experience can take anywhere from two to eight hours, depending on the strength of the brew and the dosages administered. Any after effects vary, but there is strong evidence that this sacred brew has long-term benefits when it comes to treating depression, PTSD, and even addiction.
As a footnote, caution must be used in cases where a psychological disorder already exists, as there are rare cases where mainly those diagnosed with schizophrenia have unpleasant experiences with any entheogen. Please disclose any of your concerns and medical conditions and medications with your medicine man/woman prior to attending any ceremony.
Overall with the right intention and a trust that all is ok, this experience can allow you to really get to know yourself on many levels. It can open you up to love and support, and allow you to step into your personal power. It can work with and through you, to align you with your highest timeline.