|Common names||Ayahuasca, Aya, Caapi, Cipó, Hoasca, Vegetal, Yagé, Yajé, Natem, Shori|
|Routes of Administration|
|Summary sheet: Ayahuasca|
Ayahuasca (pronounced /eye-uh-WAHS-kuh/ and also known as Yagé) is an umbrella term that refers to a wide variety of traditional and modern brews and infusions of natural plant sources that produce powerful psychoactive or hallucinogenic effects. Of these, it most commonly consists of a DMT-containing plant source in combination with one that contains an MAOI or RIMA (typically sources like B. caapi vine or syrian rue) to produce uniquely potent, sometimes medicinal, psychedelic effects.
The co-consumption of an MAOI agent is necessary for the combination to work, as the DMT molecule (which is a monoamine closely related to serotonin) is rendered almost entirely inactive when digested by itself due to the presence of monoamine oxidase enzymes in the stomach, which rapidly degrades it.
Ayahuasca is used as a traditional spiritual medicine in ceremonies among the Indigenous peoples of Amazonian Peru, many of whom say that they received the instructions in its use directly from the plants and plant spirits themselves. Ayahuasca was first described outside of Indigenous communities in the early 1950s by Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes, who became aware of the Native communities who use it for divinatory and healing purposes.
As is the case with psychedelics in general, ayahuasca is not considered to be dependence-forming or addictive by the research and medical community. Nevertheless, unpredictable adverse reactions such as anxiety, paranoia, delusions and psychotic breaks can still always occur, particularly among those predisposed to psychiatric disorders. While these negative reactions or "bad trips" can often be attributed to factors like the user's inexperience or improper preparation of their set and setting, they have been known to happen spontaneously among even the most experienced of users as well. This is why despite its scientifically-backed reputation for possessing both negligible-to-no physical and neurotoxicity, it is still highly advised to approach this powerful and unpredictable hallucinogenic substance with the proper amount of precaution, and harm reduction practices if one chooses to use it.
History and culture
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There have been several documented cases of avoidable deaths caused by frauds pretending to be shamans during "traditional" ayahuasca ceremonies. The ingredient known to cause problems is known specifically as brugmansia, which can cause issues when co-administered with an MAOI. An effective ayahuasca brew does not have to be more complicated than a suitable source of DMT (such as mimosa or acacia) and a reversible inhibitor of monoamine oxidase A (RIMA or MAOI). Using other ingredients along with the ayahuasca can potentially be dangerous; any potential interactions should be carefully researched before ingestion.
Another concern of ayahuasca ceremonies is the culture of mysticism and pseudoscience produced from centuries of mythological ritual, leading to a bias following the delusion of a single cultural narrative. There is an irrational belief that ayahuasca should only to be used in the Amazon rainforest in the presence of a shaman. This belief leads many to shun the idea of taking ayahuasca outside of this potentially toxic environment for no logical reason.
Ayahuasca's psychedelic effects have been confirmed to come from its efficacy at the 5-HT2A receptor as a partial agonist. However, the role of these interactions and how they result in the psychedelic experience continues to remain an object of scientific eludication.
Harmala alkaloids are classed as MAO-inhibiting beta-carbolines. The three most studied harmala alkaloids in the B. caapi vine are harmine, harmaline and tetrahydroharmine. Harmine and harmaline are selective and reversible inhibitors of monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A), while tetrahydroharmine is a weak serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SRI).
This inhibition of MAO-A allows DMT to diffuse unmetabolized past the membranes in the stomach and small intestine, eventually crossing the blood–brain barrier (which, by itself, requires no MAO-A inhibition) to activate receptor sites in the brain. Without RIMAs or MAOIs of MAO-A, DMT would be oxidized (and thus rendered biologically inactive) by monoamine oxidase enzymes in the digestive tract.
Disclaimer: The effects listed below are cited from the Subjective Effect Index (SEI), which relies on assorted anecdotal reports and the personal experiences of PsychonautWiki contributors. As a result, they should be taken with a healthy amount of skepticism. It is worth noting that these effects will not necessarily occur in a consistent or reliable manner, although higher doses (common+) are more likely to induce the full spectrum of reported effects. Likewise, adverse effects become much more likely on higher doses and may include serious injury or death.
- Stimulation or Sedation - In terms of its effects on the physical energy levels of the user, ayahuasca is entirely setting dependent. For example, when taken in social settings with fast-paced music or during physically demanding situations (such as running, walking, climbing or dancing) it becomes stimulating and energetic. In contrast, however, when taken in peaceful environments (such as darkened rooms with comfortable seating) it can become relaxing, peaceful and sedating.
- Spontaneous physical sensations - The "body high" of ayahuasca can be described as a pleasurable, warm, soft and all-encompassing glow. For some, it is manifested spontaneously at different, unpredictable points throughout the trip, but for others, it maintains a consistent presence that steadily rises with the onset and hits its limit once the peak has been reached.
- Nausea - In its traditional form, ayahuasca is famous for its purgative properties which can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and cold flashes. This effect is known as "la purga" or "the purge" and its presence is completely avoidable and dependent on the specific form or recipe of ayahuasca being used. The intense vomiting and occasional diarrhea it induces is often considered by many shamans and experienced users of ayahuasca to be an essential part of the experience as it represents a speculative healing process and the release of negative emotions built up over the course of one's life. Studies have demonstrated a certain truth behind this speculation and shown that the purging process can clear the body of worms and other tropical parasites. Harmala alkaloids themselves have been shown to expel parasitic worms from the body by either stunning or killing them. Thus, this action is twofold; a direct action on the parasites by these harmala alkaloids (particularly harmine in ayahuasca) works to kill the parasites and the parasites are expelled through the increased intestinal motility that is caused by these alkaloids. It is worth noting that the overall cognitive positivity or negativity of an ayahuasca trip in psychologically balanced individuals depends greatly on how nauseating or purgative the chosen method of preparation is. For example, paranoia, anxiety, delirium and a difficulty stringing thoughts together often immediately manifest themselves during uncomfortable states of nausea for the inexperienced, but remain absent when purge-free methods of preparation are used.
- Changes in felt bodily form
- Muscle relaxation or Muscle tension
- Physical autonomy
- Motor control loss
- Muscle contractions
- Muscle spasms
- Appetite suppression
- Stomach cramps
- Pupil dilation
- Drifting (melting, flowing, breathing and morphing) - In comparison to other psychedelics, this effect can be described as highly detailed, slow and smooth in motion and static in appearance.
- After images
- Colour shifting
- Colour tinting
- Scenery slicing
- Symmetrical texture repetition
The visual geometry that is present throughout this trip can be described as more similar in appearance to that of psilocybin mushrooms than LSD or mescaline. It can be comprehensively described through its variations as intricate in complexity, abstract in form, organic in feel, structured in organization, multicoloured in scheme, glossy in shading, equal in sharp and blurred edges, large in size, fast in speed, smooth in motion, equal in rounded and angular corners, non-immersive in-depth and progressive in intensity. At higher doses, it is significantly more likely to result in states of level 8B visual geometry over level 8A.
Ayahuasca and other forms of DMT produce a full range of high-level hallucinatory states in a fashion that is more consistent and reproducible than that of any other commonly used psychedelic. These effects include:
- Machinescapes - Although common, this component is generally less consistent and reproducible when compared to DMT, psilocybin and Salvia Divinorum.
- Internal hallucination (autonomous entities; settings, sceneries, and landscapes; perspective hallucinations and scenarios and plots) - This effect is very consistent in dark environments at appropriately high dosages. They can be comprehensively described through their variations as lucid in believability, interactive in style, new experiences in content, autonomous in controllability, geometry-based in style and almost exclusively of a personal, religious, spiritual, science-fiction, fantasy, surreal, nonsensical, or transcendental nature in their overall theme.
- External hallucination (autonomous entities; settings, sceneries, and landscapes; perspective hallucinations and scenarios and plots) - These are more common within dark environments and can be comprehensively described through their variations as lucid in believability, interactive in style, new experiences in content, autonomous in controllability, geometry-based in style and almost exclusively of a personal, religious, spiritual, science-fiction, fantasy, surreal, nonsensical or transcendental nature in their overall theme.
The cognitive effects of ayahuasca are described by many as extremely sober and clear-headed in style when compared to other commonly used psychedelics such as LSD or psilocin. This is despite the fact that it contains a large number of psychedelic typical and unique cognitive effects.
The most prominent of these typical effects include:
- Mindfulness - This is an effect which is unique to ayahuasca due to how consistently it is manifested and the way in which it can sustain itself for days, weeks or even months after a single high dose experience. This is an extremely beneficial and therapeutic effect for personal psychological health. In contrast, other more commonly used psychedelics such as LSD and mescaline tend to only induce this effect in an exclusive, spontaneous and temporary form.
- Addiction suppression
- Language suppression - This effect can be described as a perceived inability or general unwillingness to talk aloud despite feeling perfectly capable of formulating coherent thoughts within one's internal narrative. It is much more common among inexperienced users.
- Analysis enhancement
- Conceptual thinking
- Creativity enhancement
- Déjà vu
- Autonomous voice communication
- Ego replacement
- Personality regression
- Emotion enhancement
- Empathy, affection, and sociability enhancement - This effect differs from MDMA and other entactogens in that it isn't as central to the experience, feels more natural and less forced, and is experienced at a less consistent rate. The sociability enhancement in particular only occurs sometimes in certain settings.
- Perceived exposure to inner mechanics of consciousness
- Enhancement and suppression cycles
- Personal meaning enhancement
- Immersion enhancement
- Novelty enhancement
- Personal bias suppression
- Suggestibility enhancement
- Increased music appreciation
- Increased sense of humor
- Memory suppression
- Multiple thought streams
- Thought acceleration
- Thought connectivity
- Thought organization
- Time distortion
Anecdotally, these components are generally considered to be most consistent with the naturally-occurring entheogenic tryptamines such as ayahuasca, ibogaine and psilocybin. They are listed below as follows:
- Existential self-realization
- Spirituality enhancement
- Feelings of self-design
- Feelings of eternalism
- Feelings of interdependent opposites
- Unity and interconnectedness - This is an effect which is unique within ayahuasca due to how consistently it is manifested as an accompanying effect alongside of ego suppression and ego death. In contrast, other more commonly used psychedelics such as LSD and psilocin tend to induce this effect unreliably by comparison.
Anecdotal reports which describe the effects of this compound within our experience index include:
- Experience:2.5g Syrian rue + 6g Mimosa Hostilis - Becoming God (my second experience with unity)
- Experience:2.5g Syrian rue + 6g Mimosa Hostilis - My first experience with unity
- Experience:2g Syrian rue + 1g Mimosa Hostilis - These voices are the building blocks of consciousness
- Experience:3.5g Syrian rue + 10g Mimosa Hostilis
- Experience:3.5g Syrian rue + 30g Mimosa Hostilis brew - flying through a rainbow tunnel
- Experience:3.5g Syrian rue + 50g Mimosa Hostilis - I was trying to engage in sexual intercourse with the personification of Ayahuasca
- Experience:3g Syrian Rue + 5g Acacia Confusa - Life Changing Madness
- Experience:3g mimosa / 2g syrian rue - I was the Universe's prophet
- Experience:3g mimosa / 3g syrian rue - Connecting with my body
- Experience:6g mimosa / 2.5 g syrian rue - Best cake I've had for a while
- Simple ayahuasca recipes
Additional experience reports can be found here:
Natural plant sources
Traditional ayahuasca is made by brewing the MAOI-containing Banisteriopsis caapi vine with a DMT-containing plant, such as Psychotria viridis. Pharmahuasca refers to a similar combination that uses a pharmaceutical MAOI instead of a plant. There are two types of MAOIs, reversible and irreversible. It is important to note that irreversible MAOIs remain active for two weeks rather than a matter of hours. This is particularly noteworthy because in addition to drug interactions, there is co-interaction with tyramine-rich foods and potential to cause a hypertensive crisis. For this reason, it is strongly advised to use a reversible inhibitor of monoamine oxidase A, or RIMA, rather than an irreversible MAOI. In addition, reversible MAOIs are pharmacologically closer to the Harmala alkaloid used in traditional ayahuasca.
Changa (pronounced /tʃɑːngɑː/) is a DMT-infused smoking blend. Typically, extracts from DMT-containing plants are combined with a blend of different herbs and ayahuasca vine and/or leaf to create a mix that is 20–50% DMT, akin to a smokeable ayahuasca.
For pharmahuasca, 50 mg N,N-DMT and 100 mg harmaline is usually the recommended dosage per person. However, combinations of 50 mg harmaline, 50 mg harmine, and 50 mg, N,N-DMT have been tested with success. As a rule, the fewer the β-carbolines, the less nausea there is; the more DMT, the more spectacular the visions. The constituents are put into separate gelatin capsules. The capsules with harmaline/harmine are swallowed first and then the capsule containing the DMT is taken 15 to 20 minutes later. The purely synthetic MAO inhibitor isocarboxazid (Marplan) is suitable in place of harmaline and harmine, although caution should be taken as this is an irreversible MAOI, marking several drug-drug and drug-food interactions.
Recipes and preparation methods
Potential therapeutic applications
Potential antidepressant effects
A 2015 preliminary report has found a significant reduction of up to 82% in depressive scores following ayahuasca administration. The report concludes that "these results suggest that [ayahuasca] has fast-acting anxiolytic and antidepressant effects in patients with a depressive disorder." Its acute and fast-acting effects show promise for the treatment of depression as common antidepressants, such as fluoxetine (Prozac), take weeks to show significant effects and are simply ineffective for many users.
The mechanism by which ayahuasca produces antidepressant effects is not well known, but studies have hypothesized that the MAO-inhibitor and weak serotonin reuptake inhibitor effects of ayahuasca alkaloids may be of relevance. Research on the antidepressant potential of psilocin suggests that the subjective effects of 5-HT2A agonism also contribute to antidepressant effects, but further research is required to understand the effects of psychedelic drugs on depressive disorders.
Toxicity and harm potential
Ayahuasca is non-addictive, is not known to cause brain damage, and has extremely low toxicity relative to dose. Similar to other psychedelic drugs, there are relatively few physical side effects associated with ayahuasca. Various studies have shown that it presents no negative cognitive, psychiatric or toxic physical consequences of any sort when taken in reasonable doses and a careful context.
The only available study that tried to estimate the lethal dose (LD50) of ayahuasca in rats failed to do so due to the enormous amount of brew necessary for the procedure. The authors estimated, however, that ayahuasca's LD50 is around 50 times a regular dose. This speaks for the safety of ayahuasca usage.
It is strongly recommended that one use harm reduction practices when using this substance.
Tolerance and addiction potential
Ayahuasca is not habit-forming and the desire to use it can actually decrease with use. It is most often self-regulating.
Similar to DMT, tolerance to the effects of ayahuasca do not build up with repeated usage and this compound can, therefore, be used repeatedly to any extent. Ayahuasca does not present a cross-tolerance with other psychedelics, meaning that after the consumption of ayahuasca psychedelics will not have a reduced effect.
As a result of its MAOI effects, ayahuasca is more likely to induce serotonin syndrome or general neurotransmitter overload (especially at high dosages) than other serotonergic psychedelics. This makes it dangerous to combine it with other MAOIs, stimulants and certain substances which releases neurotransmitters such as serotonin or dopamine. These substances include but are not limited to:
Internationally, DMT is a Schedule I drug under the Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The Commentary on the Convention on Psychotropic Substances notes, however, that the plants containing it are not subject to international control:
"The cultivation of plants from which psychotropic substances are obtained is not controlled by the Vienna Convention. . . . Neither the crown (fruit, mescal button) of the Peyote cactus nor the roots of the plant Mimosa hostilis nor Psilocybe mushrooms themselves are included in Schedule 1, but only their respective principals, mescaline, DMT, and psilocin."
"No plants (natural materials) containing DMT are at present controlled under the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances. Consequently, preparations (e.g. decoctions) made of these plants, including ayahuasca are not under international control and, therefore, not subject to any of the articles of the 1971 Convention. -- International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), United Nations"
- Brazil: The religious (but not therapeutic or recreational) use of ayahuasca is legal.
- Peru: The traditional use of ayahuasca for therapeutic purposes ("vegetalismo") is legal.
- United States:
- Lüscher, C., & Ungless, M. A. (2006). The Mechanistic Classification of Addictive Drugs, 3(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030437
- Strassman, R. J. (1984). Adverse Reactions to Psychedelic Drugs: A Review of the Literature. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 172(10), 577-595. PMID: 6384428
- Nichols, D. E. (2016). "Psychedelics." Pharmacological Reviews, 68(2), 264-355. https://doi.org/10.1124/pr.115.011478
- British backpacker dies after taking hallucinogenic brew in Colombia | http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/apr/27/british-backpacker-dies-hallucinogenic-drug-colombia
- Kiwi traveler in Peru dies after Amazon drug ritual | http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11516673
- The Visual Effects of Ayahuasca in Humans: The First Study to Employ a Ketanserin Blockade | http://www.beckleyfoundation.org/2016/03/the-visual-effects-of-ayahuasca-in-humans-the-first-study-to-employ-a-ketanserin-blockade/
- Pharmacokinetics of Hoasca alkaloids in healthy humans (ScienceDirect) | http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378874198001688
- RIBA, J. Human Pharmacology of Ayahuasca. Doctoral Thesis: Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 2003.
- Don Jose |title=The Shaman & Ayahuasca: Journeys to Sacred Realms |year=2011 |pages=81–85
- Sociopsychotherapeutic Functions of Ayahuasca Healing in Amazonia | http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02791072.1989.10472145#.UeQ_9o03vMc
- Some folk uses of Peganum harmala in India and Pakistan | http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF02860378
- Ott J. Ayahuasca Analogues: Pangaen Entheogens. Natural Products Co.. 1994. 34
- Antidepressant effects of a single dose of ayahuasca in patients with recurrent depression: a preliminary report - http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1516-44462015000100013&lng=en&nrm=iso&tlng=en
- Safety and side effects of ayahuasca in humans--an overview focusing on developmental toxicology. -- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23662333
- Health status of ayahuasca users. - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22761152
- Pic-Taylor et al (2015). Behavioral and neurotoxic effects of ayahuasca infusion (Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria Viridis) in female Wistar rat. Behav Processes (PubMed.gov / NCBI) | http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26049017
- DMT – UN report, MAPS, 2001-03-31, archived from the original on January 21, 2012, retrieved 2012-01-14
- The Internationalization of Ayahuasca, page 327