By International Center for Enthnobotanical Education Research and Service

Ayahuasca is the Quechua word referring to a liquid produced by the slow decoction of the Amazonian Banisteriopsis caapi vine – as well as to the vine itself – which contains harmine, harmaline and tetrahydroharmine. It is traditionally used throughout the Northwestern Amazon, originating from indigenous cultures that have used it for hundreds of years for medicinal and ritual purposes. At the beginning of the last century, syncretic religions combining Amerindian shamanism, African religiosity, European esotericism, and Christianity began to use ayahuasca. In the 1980s, these churches expanded from the Amazon into Brazilian urban centers (Labate 2004) and, since the 1990s, globally (Labate & Jungaberle, 2011).

Based on the intended use of the decoction of the vine called ayahuasca, Amazonian group or healer with experience using ayahuasca, adds different plants to the decoction with the objective of communicating with a specific spirit depending on the disease to be healed or ritual to be performed. Ethnographic studies suggest that there are more than 5000 different recipes of ayahuasca (Fericgla, 1997) and more than 200 admixture plants to ayahuasca, all using B. caapi as their base (McKenna et al., 1986). Some of the traditional recipes involving ayahuasca, considering both the indigenous cultures and the religions that use ayahuasca as their sacrament (or “ayahuasca religions”), include adding leaves of the Psychotria viridis bush, which contains DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine), along with the B. caapi vine (Schultes & Hofmann, 1992). Ayahuasca is currently being popularized as the combination of B. caapi and P. viridis, likely because the international expansion of ayahuasca practices was initiated by these churches (Sánchez y Bouso, 2015).

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