08 September 2009


Ayahuasca is a term most commonly used to describe a combination of plants and/or chemicals usually consisting of at least some harmala alkaloids and some N,N-DMT.

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Ayahuasca is a term most commonly used to describe a combination of plants and/or chemicals usually consisting of at least some harmala alkaloids and some N,N-DMT. The word "ayahuasca" is from the Quechuan language and is used for both the harmala-containing vine Banisteriopsis caapi and the medicinal/divinatory brew made from it.

The brew is a traditional South American preparation most commonly combining the Banisteriopsis caapi vine (harmaline/harmine as MAOI) and Psychotria viridis leaves (DMT). This combination is important because N,N-DMT is broken down quickly in the body by the Mono Amine Oxidase (MAO) enzyme and so it is not orally psychoactive unless combined with an MAO-Inhibitor, such as the harmala alkaloids.

Ayahuasca is traditionally prepared by boiling or soaking the stems of B. caapi along with various admixture plants, most commonly the N,N-DMT containing leaves of the Psychotria viridis bush. The traditional brews can also contain many other plants including tobacco, brugmansia, datura, and a long list of others.

Outside the amazon basin, in cities around the world, ayahuasca is prepared with a wide variety of ingredients including pure chemicals (sometimes called "pharmahuasca") or the root bark from mimosa hostilis/tenuiflora (sometimes called "mimosahuasca"), and often the seeds of Perganum harmala (Syrian Rue) as a source of MAO-inhibiting harmala alkaloids. Ayahuasca is known for its tendency to induce vomiting in many users, its rich and complex visual effects, its reported spiritual healing properties, and its powerful mind-changing entheogenic effects.

As the dosage of ayahuasca increases, the effects become stronger and more intense and at a certain point most people just black out and don't remember much of the experience.

Ayahuasca brew is almost never for sale in the general underground market, but is sometimes sold or distributed within small networks of people. Component plant materials are available for a wide range of prices.

N,N-DMT is Schedule I in most countries. As a DMT containing preparation, Ayahuasca is generally considered to be illegal. Harmaline and Harmine are not scheduled in the U.S., but are schedule III in Canada. We are not aware of any other countries in which Hamine or Harmaline are scheduled. Religious use of ayahuasca was specifically allowed by Brazil's Supreme Court in the late 1980s.

Some South American shaman have said that the "true spirit" of ayahuasca is in the B. caapi vine which contains the MAOI harmala alkaloids. They say that the DMT-containing plants are primarily used to give the visions more colour and depth, but are not the primary force of the message. Others argue that DMT is the dominant part of the brew as it is a far more psychoactive substance than a harmala alkaloid by itself.

Harmaline was first isolated from Syrian Rue seeds in 1841 and the first Western record of the psychoactive effects of B. caapi (in Peru) was made in 1851. Several reports were published in the mid-nineteenth century about the use of B. caapi. In 1922-1923 a film of traditional yage ceremonies was shot and then shown to the annual American Pharmaceutical Association meeting. The popularisation of ayahuasca in writing and media during the late 20th Century has lead to many North Americans and Europeans travelling to South America to take ayahausca in "traditional" settings, creating a new industry around this "entheotourism". This industry helped cause a major shift in how ayahuasca use is viewed in its native lands. By the late 1990s, ayahuasca brews were being sold by street vendors in glass bottles in some cities in South America.

Terminology / slang
The Substance: Ayahuasca; Pharma-huasca (with purified DMT and Harmala); Huasca; Yagé Caapi; Vine.
The Experience: Tripping, La Purga (the purge).

Depending on how much and how recently one has eaten and individual variation, effects begin between 20 and 60 minutes after ingestion.

With lower doses, effects last shorter, larger doses last longer, with the range being from two to six hours of peak effects with one to eight hours afterwards of lingering effects, depending on dosage and individual user variation.

There are few, if any, serious injuries or deaths associated with ayahuasca use, but it is quite possible to hurt oneself with it . Because one of the major components of ayahuasca is an MAOI, which acts to inhibit a key enzyme in your body responsible for processes in the brain and throughout the body, it is possible to have severe negative reactions to ayahuasca. Take care to find out about MAOI interactions with prescription medications and with certain foods before attempting any use.

When a MAOI is combined with a wide array of over-the-counter, prescription, or black market drugs, the results can be very unpleasant or fatal. There are pages on the net devoted to discussions of foods and drugs which are contraindicated with any MAOI use.

Also, as with any intense psychedelic, ayahuasca can precipitate short- or long-term changes in personality or catalyse psychotic or neurotic episodes.

Addiction potential
Ayahuasca is not believed to be physically addictinve nor likely to cause psychological dependence. Withdrawal effects following discontinuation have not been reported.

- Article used with the permission of Last modified April 2009.

Erowid caution and disclaimer
This Erowid article is a summary of data gathered from Erowid site visitors, government documents, books, websites, and other resources. As this field is complex and constantly changing, information should always be verified through additional sources.


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