In the last couple of years, Ayahuasca has increased in popularity in the United States. In California and New York, spiritual healers offer the brew in private sessions to curious crowds of Millennials and Gen Xers.
Silicon Valley geeks, who once indulged in LSD and psychedelics, are now lured by the Amazonian brew. In Brooklyn, a hub of hipsters, entrepreneurs, and artists, ayahuasca ceremonies are also frequent. Many are drawn to the spiritual insights given by this ancient mixture.
Ayahuasca is also an alternative medicine for people with psychological illnesses. Many claimed it has given them a relief unattainable by traditional medicine. But what can Ayahuasca deliver that is not feasible by doctors? Many experts believe it goes deeper than mere physical imbalance. Ayahuasca taps into the mysteries of the human soul.
The Vine of the Soul
Amazonian tribes have consumed Ayahuasca for centuries. The brew is made by mixing Banisteriopsis caapi, an Amazonian vine, and other roots such as “chacruna (Psychotria viridis)” or “chagropanga (Diplopterys cabrerana).” This concoction contains DMT, a chemical compound that produces hallucinatory states. Ayahuasca was prescribed and administered by Amazonian shamans for healing. In some tribes, only shamans are allowed to drink it, while in others, the patients are also given a dose.
Greek medicine was based upon a mind-body interrelationship, attributing illnesses to certain states of mind. But the beliefs of ancient Amazonian tribes had a more spiritual grounding. Embracing a belief in the supernatural, shamans professed that illnesses were a manifestation of the ancient spirits or Gods. An ailment was a sign of anger, divergence, or enmity between a person and the divine realm. Rather than being a medicine, Ayahuasca only reestablished the communication between men and the Gods. This communication is, in fact, the medicine.
Amazonians consider shamanism a fine calling. For this purpose, the initiated shaman goes through rigorous training. Under the guidance of a mentor, the apprentice periodically takes small doses of Ayahuasca. These learning rituals, which may last for over a year, catapult the initiated into the mysteries of the Netherworld. During trance, the apprentice optimizes his own dialogue with the Gods, which eventually enables him to heal. After completing this mentorship, the shaman is ready. Whenever people are ill, he goes into a trance and asks the spirits to reveal what is wrong with each patient. The divinity tells the shaman how to heal them.
Taking Ayahuasca is a one-in-a-lifetime experience. In New York, Ayahuasqueros set up the event in a private studio or house previously arranged for the ceremony. The setting is essential for an enlightening experience. First, the ayahuasqueros carefully prepare the participants. They are advised to be open to the insights or (sometimes uncomfortable) ideas faced during trance. Those who either have high blood pressure or take antidepressants are not fit to drink Ayahuasca. It is also suggested to do the previous fasting since the brew induces nausea. Actually, everyone is given bags to vomit, having been reassured it is only a side effect.
The effects unleash after thirty minutes. Every experience is unique but many consider it a journey of self-discovery, seizing emotional healing, and a personal purpose. This transcendental event is accompanied by visions, colors, geometric patterns, etc. Taking ayahuasca is often depicted as having the equivalent of 10 years of psychotherapy in just one day.
Wiping out your ‘Hard Drive’
Ayahuasca has had groundbreaking effects in the west. It remains an alternative for cases in which traditional medicine has not worked. Ayahuasca pundits prescribe it for treating depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, alcoholism, and drug addiction. Researchers remain skeptical but many patients said the brew helped them cope.
How is this achieved? Ayahuasca makes you revisit your past traumatic episodes in a new light. Asa Barrett, a war veteran tormented by PTSD, claimed Ayahuasca helped him in a way no modern therapy or prescription did. “It was as if I was just letting it all go. I just felt so at ease for the first time in a long time,” he said. Similarly, other patients assert having gotten rid of any anger and resentment they had been carrying for years. Silicon Valley residents compare it to “wiping out your entire hard drive” in order to begin anew. In sum, Ayahuasca brings out unconscious feelings one had never explored in order to make peace with them.
Others claimed to have traveled to different dimensions and talked with dead spirits or the spirit of the jungle. For the most part, they feel redeemed by a sensation of unity with the world, a heightened awareness, and the realization of the futility of worrying because someone is “looking out for them.”
Many consider the effects of Ayahuasca miraculous. For Victor Gonzales, a seasoned Peruvian shaman, the idea of a one-night healing is grossly exaggerated. He said that Ayahuasca treatment for any illness is long, and usually takes weeks or even months. It is rather a gradual progression.
In San Francisco, the startup crowds are well acquainted with Ayahuasca. According to guru Tim Ferriss, the Peruvian brew is consumed in such a massive way that he compared it to “having a cup of coffee.” Other adventurous souls eager for the thrill decide to visit the mecca for Ayahuasca: Iquitos. Located in the northeastern region of Peru, Iquitos stands out for its vast, beautiful forests and wild fauna. This region has over a hundred “Ayahuasca centers” or lodges. Every year, they receive more than 80,000 tourists, who long to experiment with Ayahuasca in a natural setting and administered by a “real” shaman.
But the popularity of Ayahuasca created its own foes. The excessive demand has attracted a group of opportunists looking to make easy money. Fake curanderos have inaugurated lodges without even knowing how to make Ayahuasca, abusing their customers’ naivety to the point of risking their health. According to Victor Gonzales, ayahuasca was all about healing people. It was a labor of charity and compassion. But since capitalism has seized the field, it has completely contaminated the culture of Ayahuasca.
When it comes to Ayahuasca, the scientific world still has a lot to research and discover. But Ayahuasca has certainly opened a new range of exciting possibilities.𝔖
Photo credit: Nimea Kaya/Caisae