What is ayahuasca?

Maria, a volunteer, is considering taking ayahuasca at the retreat in a few weeks. The focus of her research has brought her to explore the question ‘What is ayahuasca?’.

I’m in the process of figuring out if I want to participate in an ayahuasca ceremony happening at Aluantu. The retreat will be hosted by Wilder Sánchez Muñoz, a Peruvian shaman of the Shipibo family lineage.

Last week, I looked at the relationship between ayahuasca and depression. After my research I was still curious about the plant and wanted to know more about the traditional usage of ayahuasca, specifically wishing to know what it is made of and how I can expect my body and mind to react after consuming the vines.

I have discovered that ayahuasca is not a substance, but a brew. The two main ingredients are a vine, Banisteriopsis caapi, and the plant Psychotria viridis. P. viridis contains DMT, a psychoactive compound found in most plants and animals, including the human body. It is the vine, B. Caapi, containing MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) that allow the DMT to take effect. The MAOIs slow the breakdown of DMT in the body, resulting in a hallucinogenic experience, lasting between four and eight hours.

Indigenous tribes of Amazonia have been using the drink for centuries, possibly thousands of years. The origins of ayahuasca have been lost in the mists of time, although a few stories remain suggesting its birth. It was originally used by shamans as a means of communicating and connecting with nature. Venturing into the spirit realms of the forest, shamans were able to ask for advice and insight, returning with new wisdom and perspectives.

Over time the use of ayahuasca has moved from the rainforest in South America, finding its way across the globe. It’s possible increasing participation in ayahuasca ceremonies is happening because the plant-based medicine offers potential healing for addiction, depression and anxiety.

I get the impression that an evening with ayahuasca can be beautiful  – filled with light, love and colour, or difficult and distressing, bringing us to face our darkness and work through our traumas. Either way, whatever experience a person has, it is clear we are shown what we need to see, rather than what we would like to see. It is an experience to be respected and if done so, can potentially be one of the most transformative experiences of a lifetime.

This makes me curious and reluctant at the same time. I would like to know more about what people actually see during the psychedelic, visionary state of mind ayahuasca induces. I’m going to explore this in another blog post and share my findings with you.