Jungle Drug Ayahuasca Could Revolutionize Psychotherapy

Jungle Drug Ayahuasca Could Revolutionize Psychotherapy
Illustration by Anderson Debernardi

Tracy James knew the drug she'd just swallowed was working when her old injuries from high school started twitching with new life. Pressure throbbed from a forgotten busted knee. Her ankle tingled. The fingers she'd sprained roller-skating decades back began to ache. Whatever the 37-year-old had just taken, it shot feeling back into the long-gone ailments.

"When I did vomit, it was one of the most amazing moments of my life."

For the past 45 minutes, the hut had been dark and silent, the air dripping with jungle moisture. James and nearly 20 others were sitting cross-legged on ornate rugs. One by one, a pair of Shipibo shamans peered into the face of each visitor, ceremonial chants slipping from their lips.

It was June 2009. James, a pretty, curly-haired Jamaican-American woman, was then calling Los Angeles home. As a life coach, she was interested in rewiring the mind-body split. A friend had suggested she make the trip to the Peruvian jungle, where the indigenous tribes had a powerful liquid that could radically shake up one's consciousness. Now, James was miles into the bush surrounding the town of Iquitos. Her first dose of the nasty, rust-colored liquid was blasting through her system.

Dennis McKenna has taken ayahuasca hundreds of times since 1981.
Emily Utne
Dennis McKenna has taken ayahuasca hundreds of times since 1981.
For ayahuasca ceremonies, users typically gather in a hut at night, when visions are more intense.
Courtesy of Dennis McKenna
For ayahuasca ceremonies, users typically gather in a hut at night, when visions are more intense.

Waves of nausea began crashing over James. Strange geometric shapes filled her vision. Around her, some people sobbed. Others threw up into buckets. James left the wooden hut topped with a thatched roof for the outhouse. The diarrhea hit so frequently, she just sat outside in a chair, feeling weak and terrible. Oh my gosh, she cringed, waiting for the next bout.

Two Shipibo women — tiny people with sun-cured faces wearing the tribe's traditional sky-blue shirts — approached. As one chanted, the other woman placed her mouth against the alarmed James' stomach. The shaman began sucking out the bad energy, a practice known as chupa. After 20 minutes, James was amazed to feel great. She walked back into the hut, was hit with another wall of nausea, and puked.

"When I did vomit, it was one of the most amazing moments of my life," she says today. "After all that purging, I just had this amazing feeling of peace."

The psychoactive brew goes by many names. William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg called it yagé. In Brazil, it's known as hoasca. Other aliases include the Spirit Vine, the Vine of the Soul, and the Vine of the Dead.

Its most common name is ayahuasca. The indigenous cultures of the Amazon have brewed the plant concoction, with its naturally occurring dose of the hallucinogen DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine), for centuries. It is generally prepared in a brew made from the vine of a species called Banisteriopsis caapi.

In recent years, the West has caught on. The tea cropped up in the Jennifer Aniston flick Wanderlust and the Showtime series Weeds; proponents include everyone from Sting to The Howard Stern Show's Robin Quivers. This, despite the fact that it's mostly illegal here. Possessing the plants is OK, but concoctions made from it are banned, except in religious ceremonies, because DMT is a Schedule I drug. Still, one ayahuasca expert estimates that on any given night, 50 to 100 ayahuasca groups are in session in New York City alone, and a new, burgeoning business in the States is organizing drug excursions to Peru, where the substance is legal.

Some of the same doctors and researchers who have, in recent years, gotten FDA approval for breakthrough studies involving MDMA and psilocybin mushrooms are now turning their attention to ayahuasca. Preliminary work suggests the brew could help treat depression, chronic addiction, and fears of mortality. People with less-defined diagnoses but a hunger for something missing say ayahuasca offers something ineffable: compassion, connectedness, spirituality.

"Ayahuasca is penetrating American society, and its highly successful people, way more than any other psychedelic," says Rick Doblin, head of MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a nonprofit research association based in Santa Cruz, California. "The number of people who have had incredible experiences with ayahuasca, if they could all surface in the public sphere at the same time, it would be absolutely astonishing."


In a greenhouse at the University of Minnesota, Dennis McKenna walks past the cacao (chocolate) and the Punica (pomegranate) and strides straight to the back corner, where the vines of the plant Banisteriopsis have twisted around each other — and nearby electrical cords — to reach the room's rafters.

McKenna, a white-bearded professor wearing wire glasses and a denim shirt tucked into his jeans, points at one of the younger vines, a supple green stem the width of a pencil.

"This is nothing," he says, explaining that mature plants can reach 1,500 feet and weigh several tons. "Usually, the part you use is the thickness of a finger."

McKenna would know: He has drunk ayahuasca several hundred times since 1981. An ethnobotanist and ethnopharmacologist by trade, McKenna first tangled with psychedelics as a teen coming of age in the '60s. He tried everything from LSD to jimsonweed but never ayahuasca: There was none.

"It was this rare, legendary thing," McKenna remembers.

The first record of ayahuasca arrived in the West in 1908, thanks to British botanist Richard Spruce, who mostly described lots of vomiting. Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evan Schultes followed up a half-century later with the first academic account. Around the same time, Beat author William Burroughs wrote letters depicting his quest for the tea to Allen Ginsberg, collected in 1963 as The Yage Letters. But in Western literature, there wasn't much more than that.

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61 comments
yvo84
yvo84

I'm really looking forward to trying this. Not looking forward to vomiting, but I guess that's just a necessary part of the process. 

eksistente
eksistente

Thadeus Brooks,  With all respect, If you'd know better, you wouldn't talk about chemicals. Ayahuasca is about living plants (and plants have a unique combination of hundreds if not thousounds of chemicals -and yet, I'd say that you miss the real thing if you reduce the plants to a combination of chemicals); and the foundamental one for all the ancient tradition is the homoniym -Ayahuasca, Yagé- and not the one containing DMT (Chacruna, Chagropanga). Regards

psychonaut25
psychonaut25

Ayahuasca is not a drug. Ayahuasca is a beverage consisting of two different drug-containing plants; Psychotria viridis (for DMT, n,n-dimethyltryptamine) & Banisteriopsis capii (for harmaline, the MAOI).

SedonaSherpa
SedonaSherpa

No doubt some truth to this... Some of the same benefits can be obtained from a simple dose of magic mushrooms... It's the same principals/

ncc-1138
ncc-1138

Dennis McKenna is coming to Miami...he's appearing at the Moksha Art Fair during Art Basel week. On Thursday, Dec. 5th, he's giving a lecture at 7th Circuit Studios along side Manny Torres (our local psychedelic master) and painter Alex Grey.  sick shit. you can get tickets on BrownPapertickets.com  I got mine


drew_ramsauer
drew_ramsauer

psychedelics saved my life.  depressed and addicted no more.  

rx78
rx78

Keep the DMT thing on the down low. Don't want Miami cops to keep making up bullshit like "new lsd" that can burn you from the inside out.

Thaadeus Brooks
Thaadeus Brooks

this is amazing chemical..so glad is NOT A PARTY DRUG... i hope everyone is living in love and peace today.

Jenny Markovich
Jenny Markovich

Timmy Alvarez dmt... Check out the documentary... Not necessarily ayahuasca

Timmy Alvarez
Timmy Alvarez

Jenny Markovich no.....thats a hell no....i dont want to feel my old injuries....or puke everywhere....READ THE ARTICLE

Armies-of Pharmies
Armies-of Pharmies

@brittnay janes it's much more than an argument about if it's a drug or medicine. For me It's a tool...some understand how to use tools others visit hospitals more often for lack of information about the tools they use.. Should hammers be banned because some one smashes a finger? no find a carpenter to show u how to use a hammer and soon enough u will learn how to use a hammer to greater effect.

Brittany Janes
Brittany Janes

Armies of pharmies....ahh the classic "but but...it's not a drug! It's not!" I just think maybe people who truly want to embark on a spiritual/healing journey go within & don't have to look outside of themselves for "medicine." That's the more difficult path though, and Society will use any justification to take the easy route.

Michael Knight
Michael Knight

Always was real Javier, interesting times we are living in

Armies-of Pharmies
Armies-of Pharmies

let me let you know 1 it's not a drug I would consider it a medicine 2 as all things Psychedelic there is no description for a color you have never seen so until you feel the heal its best to hold judgment on this wonder of nature

Brittany Janes
Brittany Janes

Ahh the classic "let's treat drug addictions with...more drugs." It's "spiritual" though, so it's cool. And of course it takes away the pain and makes you love everything. You're on drugs! Lmao

SuperStarre
SuperStarre

@yvo84 It is not always part of the process. I have not vomited since my first experience. However, the first time I went in the jungle, they actually mixed tobacco into the mix because it was part of the culture. Tobacco is a very healing thing in old cultures. Unfortunately, it causes you to throw up. However, at http://sacredvalleytribe.com they do not add tobacco and I have never thrown up in the 16 times that I have participated. Come close, but no purging. :)

blackhole
blackhole

@drew_ramsauer Can you elaborate? What psychedelics saved your life? I would also like to be depression and addiction free

drewski0331
drewski0331

First of all, it's journalism. Second, anything that has the potential to dispel ignorance is news.

mystikfae
mystikfae

@Timmy Alvarez rather, its a medicine that heals you. you go through a process of cleansing, and then you are reborn with a new understanding.

polliminnell
polliminnell

I agree with you Brittany. It astounds me at how often this pattern repeats. Westerners have been 'going within' using psychedelics since the 20s at least. All it does it avoid the issues they really need to face by making them not give a crap. You can go within on your own without polluting your system with drugs.  Psychedelics do nothing but keep the evolving mind in stasis - the government LOVES them. Imagine where the Hippie movement could have taken us if Leary hadn't come along with his magic dust - and that is the idea. You can't change society when you're tripping. 

And Fred - she'll understand a helluva lot more a lot quicker by dealing with things with a clear mind than somebody doing it with the current trendy 
psychedelic bullshit drug. Quite frankly Mr Reade, if you have trouble accessing your unconscious mind without drugs, then you're not meditating enough.

andie9990
andie9990

@Brittany Janes Don't judge that which you don't understand.  The entire purpose of psychedelics is to go within.

angelbird11
angelbird11

@Brittany Janes  you really have no idea what you're talking about. DMT, psilocybin, LSD, these substances can cure alcoholism and opiate addiction. They can cure PTSD, anxiety, depression. People spend their entire lives addicted, physically, psychologically, emotionally addicted to these substances that KILL. They are prisoners in their own bodies. They use these psychedelic substances ONCE and a lot of the time, they are on their way to being cured. Psilocybin and LSD have a total overdose death rate of ZERO in recorded history. They have almost zero addiction rates and have been proven to be physiologically nonaddictive. You realize almost 100% of Americans use drugs. Tylenol is a drug. So is sugar. And alcohol. What's the last time you got drunk? But you think you can judge us? No ma'am. Open your eyes and hopefully your mind will follow. 

SuperStarre
SuperStarre

@blackhole @drew_ramsauer I would definitely start with ayahuasca. I will also add that I recently met with a group of scientists that were working with the iboga plant and the ability to remove addictions in patients with heroin, and other narcotics & drugs. 

polliminnell
polliminnell

@angelbird11 PTSD, anxiety, depression.....psychedelics don't cure these things! If you've talked yourself into believing that - YOU open your eyes. These drugs are toxic to the human body and some folks end up with some really shitty side-effects. Some of my friends are dead and others are still having problems because somebody said it would help them and make them feel better.  Psychedelics help you to ignore the core reasons as to why your PTSD, anxiety, depression, or whatever exists.  If you won't face them - drugs will still not help you. 

I know this because I AM beating depression, anxiety and PTSD and I'm doing it without drugs. The first thing you have to know to beat these things is that you are a precious being and EVERYTHING matters. Then you have to start looking at what your patterns are, how they first began, when they first began and how they continue to ripple throughout your life and how you deal with things. Then you have to recognise your core beliefs, where they came from and who they REALLY belong to.....these are hard things to face. And that's just the beginning. You cannot do that on drugs.

brittany9227
brittany9227

I'm all about the whole less caffeine, less sugar, less drugs mentality.  I think we have to be very careful what we put into our bodies.  But this says it makes you vomit violently and you feel all the past injuries.  Commen sense tells me that anything that makes you vomit violently is your body REJECTING the chemical, trying to get rid of it.  Kinda like it does with alcohol. 

brittany9227
brittany9227

@angelbird11 Yes, I think that's the problem, 100% of American's use drugs.  We need substances outside of ourselves to help us, cure us, treat us.  But what if we went within, did the hard work ourselves, and healed ourselves?  WITHOUT a crutch? I'm just saying, I think we should give ourselves more credit, we are powerful beings and all the answers are within us.  No need to cling to the next "miracle" cure every time it comes along.

andie9990
andie9990

@brittany9227 That's like asking someone why they use a calculator when they can do math in their head.

fred.reade
fred.reade

@brittany9227 @andie9990 

brittany, you simply don't understand the nature of the mind and the depths of the unconscious and the difficulty in accessing it. You are being flippant. 

liamparkerus
liamparkerus

@polliminnell@angelbird11 @Brittany Janes

 
I am really sorry you guys feel this way. Shows we have a long way to go in society.

You shouldn't judge things which you have no idea about. Have you researched how these medicine really work?  This was just passed down by the gov't and your favorite school teacher saying drugs are bad...m'kay.

Plants such as Iboga & Ayahuasca can actually increase serotonin in a person's brain that is suffering from depression, PTSD's, OCD, etc.

There is some really good studies going on with LSD and MDMA by a group called MAPS. Try checking this out please. They have actually been given permission by the FDA to carry out these studies. And they are overwhelmingly positive.

http://www.maps.org/research/

Are you religious at all? One of the bigger studies done with psilocybin mushrooms was done in the seventies with a group of divinity students at Harvard. It was called the "Good Friday Experiment." 20 people were in the study. 10 had the medicine and 10 were given placebos. Out of the 10 that had the medicine 9 of them said it was in the top 5 most important experiences they have ever had. These were people going on to be ministers, fathers, rabii's, etc.

Rick Doblin PhD that founder of MAPS (from the above link) caught up with these now professional religious leaders about 20 years after the study and they still all concurred that it was still one of the most important experiences of their life and brought them closer to god & allowed them to emphathize with others & different religions.


I would like to make it clear that these aren't "drugs" in the since that you think they are. With drugs like alcohol, cocaine, heroin, food, anti depressants, etc. users are looking to "get outside of themselves." With the >medicines< they are looking to go "more inside themselves and connect with their true self."
See the difference there?

There have been countless soldiers that returned with PTSD's that have been helped by the MAPS organization. Should we just tell them to mediate and  "Dont avoid your issues you need to face them." or "don't take the easy route, suffer more...just toughen up.?"
And allow them to commit suicide.

I hope this helps you a bit. You should learn to go inside yourself as well. Anyone who has ever truly worked through themselves would never make the comments you are making. You haven't been there...and are very far away from any type of "enlightened" being. So please don't spread more misinformation about things you have no clue about.

Kthxbye

 

fred.reade
fred.reade

@brittany9227 

Brittany you must be young or simply very inexperienced. For those of us who understand such things, trauma and addiction are physiological, or biochemical issues that Ayahuasca seems to address in a positive fashion. I've seen it work on 2 very close and long-time friends. 

Science/medicine do not fully understand the brain and how or why some people are inclined towards addiction and others are not. But if there is a strategy that cures it, with little to no side-effects, why would anyone oppose it? 

People like Gabor Mate spend their lives dedicated to addressing issues like addiction and trauma, so what makes you think that your flippant remarks about "going inside" are the answer? You know better? How much work and research have you done? 


 
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