Ayahuasca is a plant medicine indigenous to the Upper Amazonia basin, which covers parts of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, and Bolivia. The term Ayahuasca is a Quechua word meaning “vine of the soul” or “vine of the dead.” The term Ayahuasca is predominately used in Quechua speaking areas while in Tucano it is termed Yagé (pronounced yah-hey). Various indigenous groups have their own name for this plant brew as well. The Shipibo, for example, call it Oni, which is often translated as “knowledge.” All of these terms point to a reverence for this plant medicine, that it is a source of true knowledge, experiential knowledge, bringing us in touch with our soul, and perhaps giving insight into the true nature of our lives and death.
What is usually referred to as Ayahuasca is actually a blend of a number of different plants, the Ayahuasca vine, being a key component. Various other plants can be added to the brew depending on the tradition and desired effects. One of the more common plant ingredients is any plant that contains dimethyltryptamine, or DMT. DMT is an alkaloid that is common in many plants. Indeed many of the plants humans consume on a regular basis contain DMT. Our bodies naturally produce DMT as well. When we sleep, for example, our bodies naturally produce DMT. More, there are two moments in our lives when our bodies naturally produce a significant dose of DMT: the moment we are born, and at the time of our deaths.
DMT, when ingested, usually has no significant effect on our mind as our stomachs contain an enzyme that neutralizes the DMT. This enzyme is called monoamine oxidase (MAO). The interesting feature of the Ayahuasca vine is that it contains an alkaloid that inhibits the MAO enzyme. Therefore, when the Ayahuasca vine is brewed with a plant that contains DMT, the MAO enzyme in our stomachs are neutralized and the DMT can then take effect.
The history of Ayahuasca is ancient. Its exact origins are up for debate, but it seems it has been used for countless generations amongst the peoples of the Amazonian basin. Some estimates point to 5,000 years of use or older. Ayahuasca is also sometimes referred to as “la purge,” or the purge. This is because when drunk, Ayahuasca often induces a strong physical purge which can manifest as vomiting, defecation, sweating, crying, or any number of ways that the body is induced to release. The physical purging is a key component in its ability to bring about healing; the body often needs to be purged before it can then begin to heal or to teach. What chemically Ayahuasca does to the brain is still being studied, although research seems to be showing that the brew has a direct effect on the pineal glad, which is often correlated to the seed of our conscious awareness.
Ayahuasca, when approached with understanding, reverence, humility, and honor, has the potential to induce profound healing in our lives. It often begins to unblock tensions and traumas that we have been holding onto for a lifetime. It can also give us great insight into the nature of reality, often leaving us with a profound sense of our place in the universe. A great connectivity to all life is often experienced. Depressions and diseases are often abated if not cured. Ayahuasca has the potential to open us to our potential, and to live a life in harmony with our surrounding. It is a great teacher and a gift. How we then choose to integrate that gift is then our path.
Shipibo maestra Maria