I wrote my undergrad thesis about ayahuasca. Rather than bore you with academic written style and the 58 and 1/2 pages of text I decided it might be worthwhile to provide a very brief informal and informative overview of what ayahuasca is and its use over time.
What is ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca, a Quechan term meaning “spirit vine” is the most common term to refer to a hallucinogenic beverage made using the ayahuasca vine depicted above (Banisteriopsis caapi). The beverage is brewed into a type of tea often using the chacrona plant (Psychotria viridis), which contains DMT. Additional names for ayahuasca include yage, yajé, natema, daime and hoasca.
Where does the ayahuasca vine/ beverage originate?
Ayahuasca is native to the Northwestern Amazonian region, and commonly used in nations such as Peru, Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador.
How has ayahuasca been used in Amazonia?
Ayahuasca use began and still is used in the context of Indigenous Amazonian practices. It is commonly used to cure, heal and come into contact with the spiritual world. Research and studies indicate ayahuasca has been administered by a shaman to individuals in a ritual taking place in the depths of the Amazon rainforest. The participant consumes the ayahuasca beverage and with the guidance and assistance of the shaman, navigates an intense visionary experience. During the visionary experience the shaman may help the patient navigate inner spiritual reflection, the spiritual realm or discover the root cause of their illness – often due to evil spirits or bewitchment of the patient. Ayahuasca in the context of Amazonian Indigenous shamanism is considered sacred part of nature and a gift from God. Interpretation of ayahuasca visions is often shaped by beliefs in Amazonian Indigenous cosmology.
Have there been changes in ayahuasca use?
Ayahuasca use has departed from traditional Indigenous Amazonian use in several ways.
- Brazilian Ayahuasca Religions: The Amazonian rubber boom was a period of significant extraction and commercialization of rubber from the mid 19th to early 20th century. This event brought several rubber tappers and foreigners into the Amazonian region and into contact with ayahuasca and ayahuasca shamanism. Inspired rubber tappers created the ayahuasca religions: Santo Daime, Barquinha, União do Vegetal (UDV). These religions are quite syncretic as they incorporate Indigenous Amazonian shamanic and Christian practices in their ritual use of ayahuasca. The creation of the Brazilian ayahuasca religions institutionalized ayahuasca use. As these religions have an increasing international following, it could be argued they have also legitimized and popularized ayahuasca use to some degree. In Brazil, The United States and Canada, challenges to ayahuasca legality (often because it contains the prohibited DMT substance) were brought forward by Santo Daime and UDV. Religious exemptions on ayahuasca use were also granted to UDV in Santo Daime in these nations.
- Ayahuasca Drug Tourism: Increasing numbers of Western tourists are travelling to the Amazon to experience ayahuasca. Ayahuasca drug tourism is especially prevalent in Peru. The Western tourist is often drawn to ayahuasca in order to have an inner spiritual and self reflective experience. This has led to the creation of ayahuasca ritual retreats, seminars, businesses, hired shamans and “fake” shamans catering to the needs of Western individual spirituality while also making a profit. Ayahuasca drug tourism may be perceived as cultural appropriation or “cultural decay” from traditional Amazonian shamanism. There have also been several poor outcomes and horror stories arising from Western ayahuasca drug tourism, such as the sexual assault of a New Zealand woman at an ayahuasca retreat in Peru and a British teen dying after consuming ayahuasca at a yagé retreat in Colombia, just to name a few.
- Therapeutic and Medicinal Use of Ayahuasca: Though ayahuasca has been used for healing in the context of Indigenous Amazonian shamanism, North American, European and the Brazilian ayahuasca religions have been conducting research and clinical trials to evaluate ayahuasca’s ability to treat symptoms and conditions of depression, anxiety and addiction. As ayahuasca moves from being used in an Indigenous medical model – being associated with supernatural causation and naturalism – to one that is biomedical – based on human physiology/ pathophysiology and science, it loses its meaning rooted in Amazonian cosmology and spiritism. Instead of being respected as a spiritual and divine plant, ayahuasca is being manipulated to take on the identity of a pharmaceutical in this context.
Still interested? Take a browse through my thesis at the following link: http://hdl.handle.net/10214/17902