One of best or worst kept secrets in South America – depending on who you ask – emanates from a carefully orchestrated concoction of several strains of plants that when synthesized becomes an extremely powerful and critically acclaimed hallucinatory drug named ayahuasca, pronounced ah-yuh-wah-skuh (loose translation: “vine of the soul”). There are some that swear by it as a way to cure PTSD, deep depression, alcoholism, or even cancer and there are others that believe it is just a charade that is being hyped by the alternative media. This article does not claim to determine the authenticity of either belief, but will serve to educate our readers about a Schedule 1 drug that does not appear to be going away any time soon. After all, it has already been around for centuries.
1. What is ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca, also commonly called yagé, kabi, natema, nepe, and hoasca is a psychedelic, hallucinogenic, magical mystery tea. Ayahuasca has a muddy appearance and is reportedly foul-tasting. It is comprised of a mix of two plants: the ayahuasca vine and the chacruna shrub, which contains a fairly high amount of the psychedelic chemical dimethyltryptamine or DMT.
2. Why do people travel from all over the world to take ayahuasca?
There are some who say this plant has the potential to help alleviate paralyzing anxiety, PTSD, alcoholism and suicidal thoughts among other remedies. That’s what some believe ayahuasca can do and this psychedelic drink is attracting more and more tourists to the Amazon.
3. What is its spiritual connection?
Ayahuasca is largely used as a religious sacrament. Some people who have consumed ayahuasca report having spiritual revelations regarding their purpose on earth and the true nature of the universe. This is viewed by many as a spiritual awakening and what is often described as a rebirth.
4. How does the medical profession view ayahusaca?
Dr. Charles Grob, a researcher at L.A.’s BioMed, whose extensive Brazilian studies have shown profound positive changes among some alcoholics and addicts following long-term ayahuasca use, says, “When we did our initial study in the early ‘90s, when I told people l was studying ayahuasca, they were like, ‘aya-whatska’? Now it’s becoming better known, but still, the vast majority [of people] aren’t aware of [its potential for success as a mental health treatment].”
Alternatively, Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, a marriage and addiction therapist in Manhattan, does not place value in ayahuasca’s healing attributes. He says, “Ayahuasca is a fashion trend. It is not a valid treatment for addiction or mental health issues. It’s a mind-altering drug that is not medically prescribed, and holds the potential for abuse.”
5. What are some of its side-effects?
Vomiting can follow ayahuasca ingestion.This purging is considered by many ayahuasca experts to be an essential part of the experience as it represents the release of negative energy and emotions built up over the course of one’s life. Other such reports of this release has come in the form of nausea, diarrhea and hot and cold flashes. The ingestion of ayahuasca can also cause significant but temporary emotional and psychological distress (the ‘bad trip’ experience).
At this point some of the long-term negative effects are not known. However, there have been some reports of people dying after taking ayahuasca. The deaths may be due to preexisting heart conditions as ayahuasca may increase pulse rates and blood pressure, or interaction with other medicines taken such as antidepressants.
The jury is still out as to the positive merits or the negative consequence from people embarking on these ayahuasca odysseys. It can be both horrifying and strangely blissful. But for all the root’s purported spiritual and therapeutic benefits, ayahuasca is a victim of its own success. As more and more ayurahuasca locals capitalize on its escalating level of public interest – that has been reported to have grown five-fold in two-years – it has become virtually impossible to ensure safety outcomes for everyone. Since the nascent ayahuasca industry does not maintain any government regulations, there have been reports of fatalities and sexual abuse.