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This entry focuses on the Ayahuasca brew; for information on the vine of the same name, see Banisteriopsis caapi.

Ayahuasca (Quechua, pronounced [ajaˈwaska]) is any of various psychoactive infusions or decoctions prepared from the Banisteriopsis spp. vine, native to the Amazon Rainforest (which is also called ayahuasca). The resulting drinks are pharmacologically complex and used for shamanic, folk-medicinal, and religious purposes.



Sections of vine are macerated and boiled alone or with leaves from any of a large number of other plants, including Psychotria viridis (chakruna in Quechua) or Diplopterys cabrerana (also known as chaliponga). The resulting brew contains MAO inhibiting harmala alkaloids and the powerful hallucinogenic alkaloid N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a psychedelic which is active orally only when combined with an MAOI. Harmala alkaloids in Banisteriopsis caapi serve as MAOIs in Ayahuasca. Western brews sometimes substitute plant sources such as Syrian Rue or other harmala containing plants in lieu of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, but the vine itself is always central to traditional usage.  

Brews are also made with no DMT-containing plants; sometimes they are made with plants such as Justicia pectoralis, Brugmansia and sometimes made with no plants other than the ayahuasca vine itself. Tobacco is a common additive in traditional brews. The potency of this brew varies radically from one batch to the next, both in strength and psychoactive effect, based mainly on the skill of the shaman or brewer, as well as other admixtures sometimes added. Natural variations in plant alkaloid content and profiles also affect the final concentration of alkaloids in the brew, and the physical act of cooking may also serve to modify the alkaloid profile of harmala alkaloids.[1][2]

Individual polymorphisms in the cytochrome P450-2D6 enzyme affects the ability of individuals to metabolize harmine.[3] Some natural tolerance to the regular use of Ayahuasca (say, once weekly) may be seen as an upregulation of the serotonergic system.[4] A phase 1 pharmacokinetic study on Ayahuasca (as Hoasca) with 15 volunteers was conducted in 1993, during the Hoasca Project.[5] A review of the Hoasca Project has been published.[6]


  • "caapi", "cipó," "hoasca" or "daime" in Brazil
  • "yagé" or "yajé" (both pronounced [ʝaˈhe]) in Colombia; popularized in English by the beat generation writers William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg in The Yage Letters.
  • "ayahuasca" or "ayawaska" in Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru, also to a lesser extent in Brazil ("vine of the dead" or "vine of souls": in Quechua, aya means "spirit," "ancestor," or "dead person," while waska means "vine" or "rope"). The name is properly that of the plant B. caapi, one of the primary sources of beta-carbolines for the brew.
  • "natem" amongst the indigenous Shuar people of Peru.


The spelling ayahuasca is the hispanicized version of the name; many Quechua or Aymara speakers would prefer the spelling ayawaska. In the central Andeans of Perú, Ayacwasca means: "Ayac" (spirit or dead) and "Wasca" (vine, cord or rope)

Harmine compounds are of beta-carboline origin. The three most studied beta-carboline compounds found in the B.Caapi vine are harmine, harmaline and tetrahydraharmine. These compound blocks MAO A and MAO B. This inhibition allows DMT to diffuse past the membranes in the stomach and small intestine and eventually get past the blood brain barrier. Without the MAOIs, DMT would be metabolized and would not have an effect when taken orally. -Deyar


Ayahuasca is used largely as a religious sacrament, no matter which culture it is associated with. Those whose usage of ayahuasca is performed in non-traditional contexts often align themselves with the philosophies and cosmologies associated with ayahuasca shamanism, as practiced among indigenous peoples like the Urarina of Peruvian Amazonia.

While non-native users know of the spiritual applications of ayahuasca, a less well-known traditional usage focuses on the medicinal properties of ayahuasca. Its purgative properties are highly important (many refer to it as la Purga, "the purge"). The intense vomiting and occasional diarrhea it induces can clear the body of worms and other tropical parasites,[7] and harmala alkaloids themselves have been shown to be anthelmintic[8]. Thus, this action is twofold; a direct action on the parasites by these harmala alkaloids (particularly harmine in ayahuasca) works to kill the parasites, and parasites are expelled through the increased intestinal motility that is caused by these alkaloids.


Dietary taboos are almost always associated with the use of Ayahuasca; in the rainforest, these tend towards the purification of one's self - abstaining from spicy and heavily seasoned foods, fat, salt, caffeine, acidic foods (such as citrus) and sex before, after, or both before and after a ceremony. A diet low in foods containing tyramine has been recommended, as the speculative interaction of tyramine and MAOIs could lead to a hypertensive crisis. However, evidence indicates that harmala alkaloids act only on MAO-A, in a reversible way similar to moclobemide (a antidepressive that does not require dietary restrictions). Psychonautic experiments and absence of diet restrictions in the highly urban Brazilian ayahuasca church União do Vegetal also suggest that the risk is much lower than conceived, and probably non-existent [9].

Today, the name 'ayahuasca' can mean a variety of botanical concoctions containing one or more MAOIs and DMT or one of its chemical analogues. The synthetic pharmahuasca is sometimes called ayahuasca as well. In this usage, the DMT is generally considered the main psychoactive active ingredient, while the MAOI merely preserves the psychoactivity of orally ingested DMT, which would otherwise be destroyed in the gut before it could be absorbed in the body. Most ayahuasqueros and others working with the brew claim the B. caapi vine to be the defining ingredient; according to them, it is not ayahuasca unless B. caapi is in the brew. The vine is considered to be the "spirit" of ayahuasca, the gatekeeper and guide to the otherworldly realms.

In some areas, it is even said that the chakruna or chaliponga admixtures are added only to make the brew taste sweeter. This is a strong indicator of the often wildly divergent intentions and cultural differences between the native ayahuasca-using cultures and psychedelics enthusiasts in other countries.

In modern Europe and North America, ayahuasca analogues are often prepared using non-traditional plants which contain the same alkaloids. For example, seeds of the Syrian rue plant are often used as a substitute for the ayawaska vine, and the DMT-rich Mimosa hostilis is used in place of chakruna. Australia has several indigenous plants which are popular among modern ayahuasqueros there, such as various DMT-rich species of Acacia.

In modern Western culture, entheogen users sometimes base concoctions on Ayahuasca. When doing so, most often Rue or B. caapi are used with an alternative form of the DMT molecule, such as psilocin, or a non-DMT based hallucinogen such as mescaline. Nicknames such as Psilohuasca, Mush-rue-asca, or 'Shroom-a-huasca, for mushroom based mixtures, or Pedrohuasca (from the San Pedro Cactus, which contains mescaline) are often given to such brews. Such nicknames are by many considered inappropriate and culturally insensitive seeing as "huasca" means "vine" and none of the above are vines, nor do the psychedelic experimentalist trappings of such concoctions bear any resemblance to the medicinal use of Ayahuasca in its original cultural context. This is usually only done by experienced entheogen users who are more familiar with the chemicals and plants being used, as the uninformed combination of various neuro-chemicals can be dangerous.

It seems unlikely that Ayahuasca could ever emerge as a "street-drug", given the difficulty of making the tea and the intense experience it provides. Most Western users employ it almost exclusively for spiritual purposes, in line with both traditional, animist usage and organized churches such as the União do Vegetal (or UDV). With the exception of UDV, a diet is almost always followed before use, including a day of fasting. In traditional settings, the "dieta" is followed to spiritually cleanse the body before and after the experience.

Introduction to the West

Ayahuasca is mentioned in the writings of some of the earliest missionaries to South America, but it wasn't for some time that it became commonly known in the West. The early missionary reports generally claim it as demonic, and great efforts were made by the Roman Catholic Church to stamp it out.

When originally researched in the 20th century, the active chemical constituent of B. caapi was called telepathine, but it was found to be identical to a chemical already isolated from Peganum harmala and given the name harmaline.

William Burroughs sought yagé (still considered to be "telepathine") in the 1950s while traveling through South America, in the hopes that it could relieve or cure opiate addiction. The Yage Letters, written between Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg were probably the first major introduction of Ayahuasca to the West.

Ayahuasca was made more widely known by Terence and Dennis McKenna's experiences with Amazonian tribes as detailed in the book Invisible Landscape, which they co-authored. Their journey to the rainforest to search for Ayahuasca was spurred by their reading of Burroughs and Ginsberg. Dennis later extensively studied the pharmacology, botany, and chemistry of ayahuasca and oo-koo-he, which were the subjects of his master's thesis.

In Brazil, a number of modern religious movements based on the use of ayahuasca have emerged, the most famous of them being Santo Daime and the União do Vegetal (or UDV), usually in an animistic context that may be shamanistic or, more often (as with Santo Daime and the UDV), integrated with Christianity. Both Santo Daime and União do Vegetal now have members and churches throughout the world.

Similarly, the US and Europe have started to see new religious groups develop in relation to increased ayahuasca use. PaDeva, an American Wiccan group, has become the first incorporated legal church which holds the use of ayahuasca central to their beliefs.

Several notable celebrities have publicly discussed their use of ayahuasca, including Sting, Tori Amos, and Paul Simon (who wrote the song Spirit Voices about his experience with the brew in the Amazon).

Some Westerners have teamed up with shamans in the Amazon rainforest regions, forming Ayahuasca healing retreats that claim to be able to cure mental and physical illness and allow communication with the spirit world. Anecdotal reports and scientific studies affirm that ritualized use of ayahuasca may improve mental and physical health,[10] but it poses a potential risk for a psychotic outbreaks in susceptible individuals.

"Ayahuasca tourism"

"Ayahuasca tourist" is a pejorative term for those who quest for a transcendent experience through using ayahuasca, implying an insincere Westerner wanting a taste of an exotic ritual, however all Westerners who have teamed up with Amazonian shamans are considered "ayahuasca tourists", or provide modified services geared specifically towards Westerners. Pilgrims and seekers of spiritual knowledge have come to Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, or Mexico have also come for ayahuasca healing as well as explorers of consciousness, writers, medical doctors, journalists, amateur anthropologists and ethnobotanists. The retreats offer the encounter with ayahuasca as an opportunity to re-balance and re-centre their lives, to clear emotional blocks, in a way that has to do with healing and personal evolution.


Usually a visitor who wishes to becomes a "dietero" or "dietera" that is, a male or female apprentice-shaman learning the way of the teacher plants undergoes a rigorous initiation. This can involve spending a year in the jungle. This initiation challenges and trains the initiate through extreme circumstances covering isolation, deprivation from utilities available in civilization and its conveniences, enduring radical weather of heavy rains, storms, intense heat, insects and solitude.[citation needed]

Modern descriptions

Wade Davis (author of The Serpent and The Rainbow) describes the traditional mixture as tough in his book One River: "The smell and acrid taste was that of the entire jungle ground up and mixed with bile." [p.194]

Writer Kira Salak describes her personal experiences with ayahuasca in the March 2006 issue of National Geographic Adventure magazine. The article includes a candid description of how ayahuasca cured her depression, as well as provides detailed information about the brew. Here is an excerpt from the article about Dr. Charles Grob's landmark findings:

The taking of ayahuasca has been associated with a long list of documented cures: the disappearance of everything from metastasized colorectal cancer to cocaine addiction, even after just a ceremony or two. It has been medically proven to be nonaddictive and safe to ingest. Yet Western scientists have all but ignored it for decades, reluctant to risk their careers by researching a substance containing the outlawed DMT. Only in the past decade, and then only by a handful of researchers, has ayahuasca begun to be studied. At the vanguard of this research is Charles Grob, M.D., a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at UCLA’s School of Medicine.

In 1993 Dr. Grob launched the Hoasca Project, the first in-depth study of the physical and psychological effects of ayahuasca on humans. His team went to Brazil, where the plant mixture can be taken legally, to study members of a church, the União do Vegetal (UDV), who use ayahuasca as a sacrament, and compared them to a control group that had never ingested the substance. The studies found that all the ayahuasca-using UDV members had experienced remission without recurrence of their addictions, depression, or anxiety disorders. Unlike most common anti-depressants, which Grob says can create such high levels of serotonin that cells may actually compensate by losing many of their serotonin receptors, the Hoasca Project showed that ayahuasca strongly enhances the body’s ability to absorb the serotonin that’s naturally there. 'Ayahuasca is perhaps a far more sophisticated and effective way to treat depression than SSRIs [antidepressant drugs],' Grob concludes, adding that the use of SSRIs is 'a rather crude way' of doing it. And ayahuasca, he insists, has great potential as a long-term solution.

Plant constituents


Traditional Ayahuasca brews are always made with Banisteriopsis caapi as an MAOI, although DMT sources and other admixtures vary from region to region. There are several varieties of caapi, often known as different "colors", with varying effects, potencies, and uses.

DMT admixtures:

  • Psychotria viridis (Chakruna) - leaves
  • Diplopterys cabrerana (Chaliponga, Banisteriopsis rusbyana) - leaves
  • Psychotria carthagensis (Amyruca) - leaves

Other common admixtures:

Western Ayahuasca analogs

Although traditional plant materials are often used, sources with similar chemical constituents are often substituted for the traditional ingredients.


DMT admixture sources:

  • Acacia maidenii (Maiden's Wattle), Acacia phlebophylla, and other Acacias, most commonly employed in Australia - bark
  • Anadenanthera peregrina, A. colubrina, A. excelsa, A. macrocarpa
  • Mimosa hostilis (Jurema) - root bark - not traditionally employed with ayahuasca by any existing cultures, though likely it was in the past. Popular in Europe and North America.

Legal status

Internationally, DMT is a Schedule I drug under the Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The Commentary on the Convention on Psychotropic Substances notes, however, that the plant itself is excluded from international control[1]:

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 Psilocybe mushrooms themselves are included in Schedule 1, but only their respective principles, mescaline, DMT and psilocin.

A fax from the Secretary of the International Narcotics Control Board to the Netherlands Ministry of Public Health sent in 2001 goes on to state that "Consequently, preparations (e.g.decoctions) made of these plants, including ayahuasca, are not under international control and, therefore, not subject to any of the articles of the 1971 Convention." [2]

The legal status of these plants in the United States is somewhat questionable. Ayahuasca plants and preparations are legal as they contain no scheduled chemicals. However, brews made using DMT containing plants are illegal since DMT is a Schedule I drug. That said, some people are challenging this, using arguments similar to those used by peyotist religious sects, such as the Native American Church. A court case allowing União do Vegetal to use the tea for religious purposes in the United States, Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal, 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 pursuant to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Religious use in Brazil was legalized after two official inquiries into the tea in the mid-1980s, which concluded that ayahuasca is not a recreational drug and has valid spiritual uses. (More on the legal status of ayahuasca can be found in the Erowid vault on the legality of ayahuasca.)

In France, Santo Daime won a court case allowing them to use the tea in early 2005; however, they were not allowed an exception for religious purposes, but rather for the simple reason that they did not perform chemical extractions to end up with pure DMT and harmala and the plants used were not scheduled. Four months after the court victory, the common ingredients of Ayahuasca as well as harmala were declared stupéfiants, or narcotic schedule I substances, making the tea and its ingredients illegal to use or possess. See [3] and [4] (French) for more information.

See also

  • Icaros
  • Chakapa


  • Ayahuasca Church Permitted Usage
  • Justices Take Issue With Ban Of Religious Tea
  • Supreme Court Opinion in Gonzales v. UDV (2006) (PDF)
  • Supreme Court Sides With Church in Ayahuasca Case
  • Tea Case Could Cause Religious Liberty Tempest (backgrounder w/sources)


  • M. Goldberg, E. Mosquera, R. Arawanza, and E. Rodriguez, Ethnobotany and Bioactivity of Ayahuasca
  • General resource for ayahuasca and many other psychotropic substances (
  • National Geographic Adventure article on ayahuasca
  • Traditional Preparation Methods (
  • Ayahuasca Plants
  • Growing Psychotria viridis (
  • Ayahuayra: How Ayahuasca is used to heal
  • Ayahuasca and other "plant teachers"—educational potential?
  • The Ayahuasca Forum
  • Lila : Shamanism and Ayahuasca Library
  • Biopark : An introduction to an extraordinary healing plant and her companions
  • El Mundo Magico - Ayahuasca: The Magical Brew of Amazonian Shamans
  • Ayahuasca and the Political Economy
  • Ayahuasca sessions in Tambopata-Peru
  • Ayahuasca | Overview, Dosage, Effects and Recommendations



  • Adelaars, Arno. Ayahuasca. Rituale, Zaubertränke und visionäre Kunst aus Amazonien, ISBN 978-3-03800-270-3
  • William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg Ginsberg, Allen. The Yage Letters. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1963. ISBN 0-87286-004-3
  • Marlene Dobkin De Rios. Visionary Vine: Hallucinogenic Healing in the Peruvian Amazon, (2nd ed.). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland, 1984. ISBN 0-88133-093-0
  • Graham Hancock, Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind. London: Century, 2005. ISBN-10: 1844136817 [5]
  • Ross Heaven and Howard G. Charing. 'Plant Spirit Shamanism: Traditional Techniques for Healing the Soul'. Vermont: Destiny Books, 2006. ISBN 1-59477-118-9
  • Bruce F. Lamb. Rio Tigre and Beyond: The Amazon Jungle Medicine of Manuel Córdova. Berkeley: North Atlantic, 1985. ISBN 0-938190-59-8
  • Luis Eduardo Luna. Vegetalismo: Shamanism among the Mestizo Population of the Peruvian Amazon. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1986. ISBN 91-22-00819-5
  • Luis Eduardo Luna & Pablo Amaringo. Ayahuasca Visions: The Religious Iconography of A Peruvian Shaman. Berkeley: North Atlantic, 1999. ISBN 1-55643-311-5
  • Luis Eduardo Luna & Stephen F. White, eds. Ayahuasca Reader: Encounters with the Amazon's Sacred Vine. Santa Fe, NM: Synergetic, 2000. ISBN 0-907791-32-8
  • E. Jean Matteson Langdon & Gerhard Baer, eds. Portals of Power: Shamanism in South America. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1992. ISBN 0-8263-1345-0
  • Terence McKenna. Food of the Gods: A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution.
  • Ralph Metzner, ed. Ayahuasca: Hallucinogens, Consciousness, and the Spirit of Nature. New York: Thunder's Mouth, 1999. ISBN 1-56025-160-3
  • Jeremy Narby. The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1998. ISBN 0-87477-911-1
  • P. J. O'Rourke, All the Trouble in the World. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994. ISBN 0-87113-611-2
  • Jonathan Ott. Ayahuasca Analogues: Pangæan Entheogens. Kennewick, Wash.: Natural Products, 1994. ISBN 0-9614234-5-5
  • John Perkins. The World Is As You Dream It: Shamanic Teachings from the Amazon and Andes. Rochester, Vt.: Park Street, 1994. ISBN 0-89281-459-4[6]
  • Daniel Pinchbeck. Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism. New York: Broadway, 2002. ISBN 0-7679-0743-4[7]
  • Alex Polari de Alverga. Forest of Visions: Ayahuasca, Amazonian Spirituality, and the Santo Daime Tradition. Rochester, Vt.: Park Street, 1999. ISBN 0-89281-716-X
  • Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff. The Shaman and the Jaguar: A Study of Narcotic Drugs Among the Indians of Colombia. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1975. ISBN 0-87722-038-7
  • Richard Evans Schultes & Robert F. Raffauf. Vine of the Soul: Medicine Men, Their Plants and Rituals in the Colombian Amazonia. Oracle, AZ: Synergetic, 1992. ISBN 0-907791-24-7
  • Benny Shanon. The Antipodes of the Mind: Charting the Phenomenology of the Ayahuasca Experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-19-925293-9
  • Peter G. Stafford. Heavenly Highs: Ayahuasca, Kava-Kava, Dmt, and Other Plants of the Gods. Berkeley: Ronin, 2004. ISBN 1-57951-069-8
  • Rick Strassman. DMT: The Spirit Molecule: A Doctor's Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences. Rochester, Vt.: Park Street, 2001. ISBN 0-89281-927-8
  • Michael Taussig. Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and Healing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986. ISBN 0-226-79012-6
  • Joan Parisi Wilcox (2003). Ayahuasca: The Visionary and Healing Powers of the Vine of the Soul. Rochester, Vt.: Park Street. ISBN 0-89281-131-5


  • Bruce Balfour Prometheus Road, ISBN 0-441-01221-3



  • Alistair Appleton, The Man Who Drank the Universe, 30 minutes 2005
  • Dean Jefferys; Shamans of the Amazon, 52 min. Australia 2001
  • Jan Kounen, Autres mondes
  • Glenn Switkes, Night of the Liana, 45 min. Brazil 2002

Fiction films

  • Jan Kounen, Blueberry l'expérience secrète, 124 minutes


  1. ^ Callaway JC (2005). Various alkaloid profiles in decoctions of Banisteriopsis caapi. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 37(2): 151–155
  2. ^ Callaway JC, Brito GS & Neves ES (2005). Phytochemical analyses of Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 37(2): 145–150.
  3. ^ Callaway JC (2005). Fast and slow metabolizers of hoasca. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 37(2): 157–161.
  4. ^ Callaway JC, Airaksinen MM, McKenna DJ, Brito GS & Grob CS (1994). Platelet serotonin uptake sites increased in drinkers of ayahuasca. Psychopharmacology 116(3): 385–387.
  5. ^ Callaway JC, McKenna DJ, Grob CS, Brito GS, Raymon LP, Poland RE, Andrade EN, Andrade EO (1999). Pharmacology of hoasca alkaloids in healthy humans. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 65(3): 243–256.
  6. ^ McKenna DJ, Callaway JC, Grob CS (1998). The scientific investigation of ayahuasca: A review of past and current research. The Heffter Review of Psychedelic Research 1: 65–77.
  7. ^ Andritzky, W. (1989). Sociopsychotherapeutic functions of ayahuasca healing in Amazonia. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. 21(1), 77-89.
  8. ^ Hassan, I. 1967. Some folk uses of Peganum harmala in India and Pakistan. Economic Botany 21: 384.
  9. ^ Ott, J. Jonathan Ott. Ayahuasca Analogues: Pangaean Entheogens. Kennewick, WA: Natural Books, 1994.
  10. ^ See research by Doctor John Halpern in New Scientist
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Ayahuasca". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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