Read about why you should KYE (know your entheogen) here.
Ayahuasca (pronounced ayu-waska) is a psychoactive brew that has been in use for millennia in a shamanic and medicinal context by the shamans of the Amazon rainforest. These shamans in modern times have made attempts to bring this medicine to the wider world, and awareness has increased thanks to the internet.
The active ingredient in the brew is DMT, which we can talk about later, but to summarize DMT is the most powerful known entheogen and it occurs naturally as a neurotransmitter in human beings and all higher life forms. But here is the interesting thing: DMT consumed orally is inactive, because there are MAO enzymes (mono-amino-oxidase) in the digestive system that break down DMT so it has no effect. But then how does it work?
The Ayahuasca vine is Banisteriopsis caapi, also called “the vine of the dead.” Interestingly, this is not the DMT containing plant, but can produce hallucinogenic effects on its own. The B. caapi vine is more often than not mixed and brewed with Chachruna leaves which contain the actual DMT. B. caapi contains naturally occurring harmines which act as MAO inhibitors. What is the logical offshoot of this? When they are brewed together in a particular proportion, you can drink the brew and the harmines will deactivate the MAO in your digestive system so that the DMT can then be absorbed. This then allows for a 4-5 hour journey into other realms. It is amazing that “primitive” shamans somehow figured this out all those centuries ago.
Ayahuasca is not about recreational use of psychedelics. Ayahuasca does not play around, it will slam you to the wall. It is what the shamans say it is: medicine, for the mind and the soul.
Ayahuasca ceremonies are accompanied by a master shaman who is well versed in the arts. He or she will sing songs called icaros which guide one through the journey (mind you, the shaman has also consumed Ayahuasca for the ceremony). These icaros are a very important element of the experience. Much like the chanting of shlokas or Gregorian hymns or Buddhist throat singing, the vibrations of the sound play a key role in successfully achieving a certain transcendental state. It is interesting how so many spiritual cultures have a reliance on SOUND to bring about these states, whether they use entheogens or not. There’s something to wrap your head around.
This article is deliberately left brief and to the point because otherwise it could run into several pages. We would much rather that you go to the internet and watch any of the thousands of videos out there on Ayahuasca through which you can learn much more. This was just a primer. It is important to learn about Ayahuasca because it is not only part of Amazonian culture, but now a part of all human culture, and everyone should at least know about this wonderful tool.
Remember that while these things may not make sense to you in isolation, as you learn about other things you can start to connect the dots yourself.
Below is a [famously banned] Ted Talk by Graham Hancock, a stalwart in the field of psychedelic and shamanic studies, and a short video that shows how Ayahuasca operates on the brain.