Other Names: Ambihuasca, ambiwáska, ayawáska, biaxii, caji, caapi, calawaya, cipó, daime, daba, dapá, djungle tea, djunglehuasca, doctor, dschungel ambro- sia, el remdio, hoasca, honi, kaapi, kahi, hakpi, la purga, meti, mihi, natema, natemä, nepe, nepi, nixi honi, nixi paé, notema, ohoasca, pilde, pildé, pinde, pindé, remedio, sachahuasca, snato daime, tea, the brew, vegetal, yagé, yajé, yaxé
Identification: A shrub or climbing, twisting vine (or liana) with chocolate brown, smooth bark. Leaves are opposite, 6"–7" long, 3" wide, oval, double tapered, margins entire. Flowers are pink with 10 stamens. Fruit is a small nut. Seeds are fan-shaped; green when fresh, and brown when mature. Habitat: Tropical, Peru and other Amazonian regions. Toxins/Drugs: Beta-arboline alkaloids and monoamine oxidase (MAOI) inhibitors: harmine, harmaline—a subtle psychedelic, slightly hallucinogenic alkaloid.
Recipes: In former times the preparation of ayahuasca was a well-kept shamanic secret. Only the sha- man knew the sophisticated recipe: the necessary plants, where to find them, how the recipe was to be prepared, and which guarding spirits needed to be summoned. All recipes contain the stem of Banisteriopsis caapi as a base. All usable parts of the vine are decocted for the production of ayahuasca. Leaves of chacruna (Psychotria viridis) are then added. The mixture stays on the fire until a thick, black, dreadful-tasting liquid is produced. The drink should never be cooked in aluminum pots because ayahuasca interacts with the aluminum in such a way that it produces inedible aluminum salts. Very rarely, a pure cold water extract of Ban- isteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis is prepared, which is also effective (as Burroughs discovered in Pucallapa). Different ayahuasca preparations are com- bined with other ingredients. Many ayahuasca additions to the Banisteriopsis and Psychotria base are ethnomedically familiar healing plants, stimu- lants, aphrodisiacs, and entheogens. The plants of the paleros in the recipes of seven roots Amazonian elixirs are nearly all in use in ayahuasca concoctions.
Constituents and Effects: As far back as the nineteenth century, rumors and strange reports of the miraculous effects of aya- huasca reached the west. It was said that a person under its influence could walk through walls, find buried treasure, see through mountains, know the future, and influence events occurring in faraway places. Missionaries and doctors said the drink could activate and enhance telepathic abilities. The neurochemical secret behind the visionary effects of ayahuasca has only recently been clari- fied (River and Lindgren 1972). The two main components of ayahuasca are harmaline (also known as telepathine) and N, N-DMT. When taken orally, the drink can only unleash its consciousness- expanding effects when both substances are con- sumed together. By itself, orally ingested DMT cannot reach the brain because it is broken down by the enzyme monoaminooxide—MAO. Harma- line (as well as harmine and several other beta- carbolines) is an MAO inhibitor. MAO inhibitors block the release of MAO, making it possible for the DMT to pass through the blood-brain barrier and dock with the corresponding receptor sites, thereby inducing the nervous system to enter into an extraordinary state characterized by mag- nificent and overwhelming visions (McKenna et al. 1995; McKenna and Towers 1985B). Because of the powerful and often very vivid visions that result, ayahuasca is sometimes jokingly referred to as Amazonian TV (the “Nature Channel”) or the “cinema of the jungle.” It has recently been discovered that ayahuasca inhibits only MAO-A. The whole effect takes place over a period of four hours. First, the harmaline acts as a sedative, accompanied sometimes by immobility. During the early phase, harmaline causes overwhelming nausea that often leads to vomiting. Around forty-five minutes after ingesting the drink, the psychedelic action of the DMT begins, lasts about an hour, and then stops abruptly. When the DMT rush sets in, the nausea often dissipates. When ayahuasca is used on a regular basis, the body becomes accustomed to the pharmacological effect of the harmaline, so the nausea vanishes with chronic users. Because the body does not build up any intolerance to N, N-DMT, ayahuasca does not cause any physical or psychological addiction. In the West, scientists, entheogen enthusiasts, suburban shamans, and others have developed ayahuasca analogs that are the “Pan-Gæan” counterparts of Amazonian ayahuasca. As part of this work, both chemically pure tryptamines (DMT, 5-MeO-DMT) and harmaline alkaloids (harmin, harmaline) as well as plant extracts of each have been combined and successfully tested as bioassays.
First Aid: Because the drug has MAO inhibitors (MAOI), care must be taken with users who are on medicines that restrict the use of MAOI. In addition, MAO inactivates neurotransmitters, thus too much or too little is a problem. Low or high levels of MAO are associated with specific psychiatric disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, and attention deficit disorder. Irregular amounts of MAO leave a person susceptible to substance abuse. Because MAO levels affect epinephrine, dopamine, and norepinephrine levels, harmaline, a reversible monoamine inhibitor, can lead to extreme hypertension crisis, serotonin poisoning, and possibly death. Victim must discontinue use of drug, and in extreme cases, a serotonin antagonist is administered. Emotional support is helpful to control excessive agitation (which may require a sedative).
Note: According to Amazonian natives, the drug is a spiritual purgative, cleansing the body and opening the mind.