HomeLifeAyahuasca is not to be taken lightly

Ayahuasca is not to be taken lightly

The drink has benefits but can cause health problems

Ayahuasca is a Quechua word where “aya” means “spirit” and “huasca” translates as “rope or vine.” That is the name that the indigenous communities of Peru give to this medicine of Andean-Amazonian origin. And, in addition, it is used by hundreds of indigenous peoples in countries such as Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.

This preparation is made up of two plants: Banisteriopsis caapi (yagube, yagé or ayahuasca) and Psychotria viridis, also called jaiña, and represents the center of the worldview of these cultures and is used in shamanic rituals for its preparation and consumption.

Carlos Chacón, an expert in traditional medicine, explained to Últimas Noticias Ayahuasca and yagé are perhaps the two most popular ways in which this drink is known, although it has other names, such as daime or natem.

The internationalist political scientist and expert in the sacramental use of ayahuasca Charles Giussepi pointed out that the brew has had a constant presence throughout the centuries in the Brazilian Amazon. It is used by indigenous peoples, such as the rubber tappers who extracted rubber in the north of Brazil and the inhabitants of Belén do Pará.

Benefits

Chacón explained that this plant allows you to find spaces for meditation and introspection. Additionally, it provides a cathartic and liberating experience.

He noted that the use of ayahuasca has focused on the treatment of addictions, depression and anxiety, and as an aid for different pathologies and rehabilitations.

It is also related to strength and longevity, so many of those who use it frequently can live to be over 90 and 100 years old. An exemplary case is that of Taita Querubín Queta Alvarado, who died on February 4 at the age of 110 and is considered one of the most important authorities and expressions of yagé in Colombia.

At the Complutense University of Madrid, Spain, research was carried out on the possibility that this concoction is capable of regenerating stem cells and, consequently, neurons, allowing patients with Alzheimer's or Parkinson's to overcome the disease.

The study was published in 2020 and the results supported that ayahuasca is capable of forming neurons in the hippocampus – a part of the brain that is largely responsible for memory and learning – and other neural cells such as astrocytes and oligodendrocytes. Likewise, he revealed that this is possible thanks to the substance that promotes the hallucinogenic effects in this concoction: dimethyltryptamine, known as DMT.

In a 2023 publication in Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, they indicate that researchers from Canadian and Brazilian universities carried out 32 studies on ayahuasca and its effects on toxicological, behavioral and neurobiological parameters in rodents, primates and zebrafish.

They concluded that this drink is safe in ceremonial doses, but toxic in high doses. They also found an antidepressant effect, as well as a potential remedy to reduce reward derivations from ethanol and amphetamines. In that sense, they highlighted its therapeutic use for depression and substance use disorder.

Risks

The drink is a strong substance that must be taken in a controlled environment. Therefore, Chacón recommends that it should be received directly from traditional doctors or people who have had sufficient preparation and commitment to indigenous teachers.

He added that its consumption in unsuitable environments represents risks to mental health. It must be provided by traditional doctors or people who have had sufficient training and years of experience, as well as commitment to indigenous teachers, just like any health profession. The mixture of certain synthetic drugs from ayahuasca can be lethal.

Although indigenous people have reported favorable results regarding the use of this natural drug, some scientific research has revealed the adverse effects of ayahuasca consumption. Such is the case of a study published in 2022, in the journal PLOS Global Public Health by Daniel Perkins and his colleagues from the University of Melbourne, Australia.

In this article, the authors stated that ayahuasca has acute physical adverse effects on people such as vomiting, even if they are accustomed to it, and others associated with age. They stated that 2,3% of the evaluated users resorted to medical care after using ayahuasca and another 55,9% experienced mental health effects. In that sense, specialists came to the conclusion that this concoction should not be underestimated.

In his work Psychosis induced by ayahuasca: report of a case, Diego Neyra-Ontaneda, psychiatrist and professor at the Faculty of Health Sciences of the National University of Piura, Peru, gave details about the case of a 40-year-old man who, after consuming ayahuasca in a ritual in the Peruvian Amazon, followed a psychotic course that resolved favorably with specific treatment. In the eight-page report, the specialist specified that even though these episodes are infrequent, they can be very severe and be associated with violent behavior.

Marketing

The promoters of ayahuasca hope that the sale remains within a margin of legality and health, so that it is a practice that nourishes and adds to society.
In addition to the sale of crafts and gastronomy, they affirm that ayahuasca has brought economic benefits to indigenous peoples through tourism. Likewise, it has been a door to publicize indigenous communities displaced due to conflicts in the Amazon between irregular forces, paramilitaries and drug trafficking.

Political scientist Giussepi said that this medicine has been used in a multiplicity of ways and contexts. So there is no clear boundary between ancient spiritualistic and ritualistic practices and contemporary therapeutic practices.

The drink has been used for healing and transformative purposes throughout history and its use in new contexts is currently being popularized.

Religion

Giussepi stated that this drink has become popular in the last 100 years in the Amazon basin, mixing with diverse religious influences.

In Brazil, for example, there is an eclectic church called the Santo Daime that has thousands of followers and that incorporates ayahuasca into its rituals, along with elements of white European Catholicism and the Umbanda religion. This church has spread widely, surpassing indigenous groups in popularity.

He also stated that ayahuasca experienced extensive mixing with various religious currents throughout colonial history in the Brazilian northeast, including Indo-Amazonian shamanism.

Legality

The expert specified that its legality is complex. An example of this is that in countries like France, Spain, Portugal and Holland ayahuasca is illegal. There are Santo Daime churches, authorized by the government in these countries, to use it.

He emphasized that ayahuasca cannot be trafficked as a common substance, and that its use for religious, spiritual and transformative purposes is allowed in many places.

In South America it is an integral part of some areas. On June 24, 2008, the ayahuasca ritual was declared cultural heritage by the Government of Peru due to its importance in the country. It is only legal as part of the ceremony.

He noted that in Brazil it was authorized in the 60s, when the government commissioned an investigation and allowed rituals in the territory.

He highlighted the ancient use of the brew, beyond the perception we have of it today. Consequently, in the regions where ayahuasca is practiced ancestrally, the authorities legally recognize its use in rituals.

In Venezuela, Dr. Noly Fernández, coordinator for the state of Zulia, of the University of Health Sciences and founder of the Intercultural Health program of the Ministry of Health, noted that in the country there is no legislation on traditional medicine.

In that sense, he stated that no work has been done on a medical level with the ancestral drink from Amazonian countries. However, he indicated that the use of ayahuasca is limited to indigenous ceremonies to cure spiritual illnesses, since they are the shamans and líderIt is the communities of indigenous peoples who know the appropriate doses and how to provide it to people.

How to use and prepare it?

  • Applications. Carlos Chacón said that ayahuasca is a purgative medicine that cleanses the body through nausea, vomiting and bowel movements. Traditional doctors and native healers use their connection with nature to provide magical-religious benefits through chanting, cleansing with plants and natural elements during healing rituals. Guides consume the plant to cure illnesses, obtain visions of the future and resolve situations in their territories, sharing healings in ceremonies that last all night.
  • Preparation. Regarding the process to make and consume ayahuasca in ceremonies, Chacón specified that it involves decoction of the plants for hours or even days. Depending on the tradition of each ethnic group, the concentration, thickness and color of the brew will vary. The teachers in charge of preparation carry out this process carefully and in secluded places.
  • Experiences. Some Hollywood actors such as Megan Fox, Olivia Newton-John, Lindsay Lohan and Miley Cyrus, as well as athletes Deontay Wilder, Mike Tyson and Lamar Odom, and singers Sebastián Yatra, Pedro Capó, have taken this ancient brew.

One night in Galipán

After a medical diagnosis I decided to take ayahuasca. I learned of a place in Galipán where rituals are organized with the guidance of taitas who know the plant. In order to participate I had to sign a declaration of responsibility with 39 rules that I had to abide by to be accepted.

I arrived at the inn at night, I was part of a group of 25 people who were received in a large room with large windows facing the mountain. There, everyone installed their mat or sleeping bag on the wooden floor and we prepared to participate in the ritual. After a brief talk from the taita about ayahuasca and its properties, we got in line to consume a dark and very bitter concoction.

We returned to our places, the lights went out and the music began: voices, guitars and percussion would accompany us all night with soft and poetic melodies.

About 20 minutes later I began to feel the effects of the plant. The first thing was to vomit and evacuate extensively, for this purpose the mountain and a row of toilets arranged for that purpose served. Then I lay on the mat until a feeling of relaxation and slowing of internal dialogue came to me in waves. All my usual worries and thoughts were presented before me in parade as external things, alien to a higher entity that analyzed them, which was myself. Emotions welled up, laughter and crying intermingled as I watched the parade of my worries and the mental traps I usually fall into.

That was with my eyes open, if I closed them a fabulous screen appeared with inconceivable images full of color and contrast. Purple with yellow, green with blue. Ecstatic, almost euphoric, he contemplated the images and thought that if he could draw them he would make me a famous painter. In those visions, I thought I recognized signs alluding to my illness, some keys that I still do not interpret.

At one point, in the middle of the morning, I decided to leave the room to contemplate the stars and see the night of Waraira Repano in such a state of heightened consciousness. There were groups by campfires, others had taken out their mats and were lying under the sky. The view of the peak of Galipán seemed ominous to me, that peaked hill presiding over the scene scared me.

I returned to my place in the living room, trying to sleep, I concentrated on the music and let myself be carried away by that sweet sound until I fell asleep, already close to dawn.

The next day, already in Caracas, the state of heightened consciousness persisted slightly and lasted for two or three more days.

The ceremony lasts four to six hours and participants are led by a shaman.

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