- Chacruna (for the Psychotria viridis plant)
- Hoasca (tea)
Basics: Ayahuasca is the Quechua name for a vine, Banisteriopsis caapi, and also for a brew made by combining the vine with leaves of plants, usually the Amazonian shrub Psychotria viridis, which contains N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT). On its own, DMT won’t produce psychedelic effects if taken orally, because the molecule is deactivated primarily in the gut by an enzyme called monoamine oxidase. But Banisteriopsis caapi contains monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), which keep that enzyme from destroying DMT, allowing the psychoactive molecules to reach the brain. The effect profile of ayahuasca overlaps with that of the classic psychedelics generally. For some people, there is an enhanced likelihood of visions. The experience usually begins about thirty minutes after drinking the tea and continues for roughly four hours.
History: Ayahuasca has been used for over a thousand years by Indigenous people in Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, and Ecuador in shamanic practices and to help with the diagnosis or treatment of various medical, psychological, or spiritual conditions.
In the twentieth century, the Santo Daime and the União do Vegetal religions emerged in Brazil. These syncretic traditions, which fuse aspects of Indigenous religions with Christianity, mysticism, and other influences, use ayahuasca as a sacrament during ceremonies.
Potential Benefits: Like other classic psychedelics, ayahuasca can cause visual and auditory distortions or changes; hypersensitivity to touch, light, and sound; an altered or slowed perception of time; and synesthesia.
Potential Risks and Side Effects: Ayahuasca can cause shaking, vomiting, and diarrhea and can significantly raise blood pressure. It can have adverse reactions with medications including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. It has also been shown to exacerbate psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia.
Therapy: Research suggests that ayahuasca could be used in carefully structured settings to treat addiction, depression, and anxiety. Some users report that after taking ayahuasca they feel more creative, loving, and empathetic; see improvement in their memory and concentration; and generally have a more positive mood. Long-term use of ayahuasca has been shown to produce changes in brain chemistry and personality.
Legality: Ayahuasca therapy and ayahuasca use are illegal in the United States because DMT, its main active ingredient, is a Schedule I controlled substance, though exemptions under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act have been granted. A 2006 Supreme Court decision cleared the way for the União do Vegetal to use ayahuasca in its religious practices. In 2009, an Oregon judge granted a similar exemption to Church of the Holy Light of the Queen, an Ashland, Oregon, congregation in the Santo Daime tradition.
- A small, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial found that in an appropriate setting, ayahuasca can cause significant and rapid positive improvement in patients with treatment-resistant depression.
- A larger, meta-review that found psilocybin, ayahuasca, and LSD could be effective treatments for drug dependence and anxiety and mood disorders.
- Interviews with Western mental health professionals and Indigenous healers who both use ayahuasca suggest ayahuasca can help treat addiction and a survey found ayahuasca users reported less problematic alcohol consumption.
- A study on the long-term effects of ayahuasca found that it may enhance neuroplasticity and structurally change parts of the default mode network.