Who uses Ayahuasca and for what Purpose?
By Ina Woolcott
This powerful brew has been used ritually by the indigenous people of the Amazonian basin from time immemorial for prophecy, guidance, divination, worship, telepathy, cleansing and healing the body, mind and spirit, to diagnosis illness, to rid the body of worms and other tropical parasites, to defend themselves in supernatural battles against other shamans, to explore other realms of existence and to connect to one’s higher self. Ayahuasca enters into nearly every aspects of the life of those who use it, to an extent unequalled by any other entheogen. Those that drink ayahuasca, shamans or not, may see in their ayahuasca induced visions gods, the primordial human beings and animals, and even become privy to an understanding of the arrangement of their social order. Something primal and timeless is felt and known, it can feel familiar, as if you knew this all along but only forgot. Ayahuasca has been used in a number of countries in South and Central America, including Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, by around seventy different indigenous peoples of the Americas. Amongst most Amazonian tribes, entheogenic/hallucinogenic intoxication is considered to be a collective journey into the subconscious and therefore a social event.
The ingestion of Ayahuasca is oftentimes accompanied by nausea and vomiting. The tea is extremely bitter tasting. Usually not the very first time, but after, the taste turns ever fouler. Once swallowed, one can feel it “snake” its way down their body. It actually feels like something alive has entered you. Typically, but not always, medicine songs called icaros, accompanied with the use of a chakapa (a healing instrument), are chanted by the shamans/medicine men or women, ayahuasqueros, and curanderos (folk healer or shaman in Hispanic-America) in Ayahuasca ceremonies. This is done to contact different spirit entities using specific icaros for each one, for healing, or to remove a bad spirit from an afflicted person. When undergoing the bra experience, you may even receive your own icaro, which is part of your medicine and for your use only, although an icaro can also be given away as simply a gift.
The repetitiveness with which snakes and jaguars occur in Ayahuasca visions is a matter of intrigue for psychologists. These animals may appear frequently in visions, as they are respected and feared by the Indians of the tropical forest for their power and stealth. Often shamans and participants in general become a feline creature during their Ayahuasca experience, exercising their powers as a cat metaphorically speaking. Some of those who’ve taken Ayahuasca may have the experience of jaguars swallowing them or huge snakes approaching and coiling around their bodies. A different sense of self may be experienced which can seem overpowering, frightening and alien as what is witnessed is overwhelming to the rational mind. Structures in the brain are triggered that have been ‘asleep’ so to speak for years – parts of the brain that are generally unconscious and can process at a level far beyond the limits of ‘normal’ consciousness. You are able to feel how truly connected we are with All That Is/the Universe/God.
In South America neo-Christian churches have arisen that use Ayahuasca. These religions appear to have begun at the beginning of the twentieth century. The most famous of them being Santo Daime and the União do Vegetal (or UDV). Some of these religious groups have thousands of members. Both Santo Daime and União do Vegetal have members and churches throughout the world. This is likely to assure the continued use of Ayahuasca as an entheogen. No matter which culture it is associated with, Ayahuasca is used largely as a religious sacrament. Sadly, early missionary reports generally claimed the plant brew was “demonic” and great efforts were made by the Roman Catholic Church to stamp out its usage by wrongly trying to impose their beliefs on the Native People of the Americas. Sometimes through murdering whole tribes and through torture. People, although not all people, fear the unknown. Some also believe they have the right to try and change others into ‘their’ image of what they believe they should be and do.
Amongst Westerners, interest in Ayahuasca is increasing. There are now Ayahuasca healing retreats available in South America, which some label ‘Ayahuasca Tourism’. By no means are all organizations bad, but some caution is required if you wish to attend a retreat. Observational reporting and scientific studies maintain that ritualized use of Ayahuasca can lead to the betterment of mental and physical health. Some celebrities have publicly discussed their use of Ayahuasca, including Sting, Tori Amos, and Paul Simon, as well as a recent British TV show called Extreme Celebrity Detox where celebrities took the brew live on TV.
Ayahuasca is NOT a recreational ‘drug’. It is a serious affair that offers profound insights into ones life. You lose the ability to hide from yourself and the things you normally try and block from your mind. Your life is laid out before you. Ayahuasca is drunk with an intention This can oftentimes direct the experience among specific avenues. A strict diet is followed before taking Ayahuasca which confirms one’s commitment to the teacher plant. The intelligence in the plant apparently recognizes this. One Ayahuasca session which lasts 3-8 hours or more, can have the benefit of years of therapy. You see your whole life before you, your mind and body are oftentimes healed, your brain re-wired after some regular use. Clarity is gained and a feeling of truly being alive is felt. As well as feelings of being at one with the universe and of being refreshed mentally and physically. One thing is for sure, once having had an Ayahuasca experience your life is hardly viewed the same as before.
Is it Legal?
DMT is a Schedule I/Class A drug internationally, under the Convention on Psychotropic Substances. However, the commentary on the Convention on Psychotropic Substances notes that the Banisteriopsis caapi vine (the MAO inhibitor, which is also oftentimes referred to as Ayahuasca) is excluded from this control. The cultivation of plants from which psychotropic substances are obtained is not controlled by the Vienna Convention. Neither the crown (fruit, mescal button) of the peyote cactus nor the roots of the plant Mimosa hostilis nor psilocybinmushrooms themselves are included in Schedule 1, but only their respective principles, mescaline, DMT and psilocin. Which can be a tricky loophole.
In the USA, the legal status of these plants is rather questionable. The plants used for the Ayahuasca brew and preparations are legal if used as part of a religious ceremony. But, Ayahuasca brews produced with DMT containing plants are illegal since DMT is a Schedule I drug. Currently, this is being challenged. A court case to allow União do Vegetal (UDV) to use the brew for religious purposes in the United States was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on November 1, 2005; the decision, released February 21, 2006, allows the UDV to use the tea in its ceremonies in accordance with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
In Brazil, religious usage was legalized after two official inquiries in the mid-1980s, which concluded Ayahuasca is not a recreational drug and has valid spiritual/religious uses.
In 2005 the Santo Daime church won a court case in France allowing them to use the tea, not on the exception for religious purposes, but rather because they did not execute chemical extractions to end up with pure DMT and harmala and the plants used were not scheduled. Four months after this, the common ingredients of Ayahuasca as well as harmala were declared narcotic Schedule 1 substances, making it illegal to use or possess the tea and its ingredients.
Regardless of the drug of choice, all addicts are welcome to get treatment and join a drug program.