In the Peruvian Amazon and other South American countries, a controversial religious practice has been in practice for centuries. The earliest written history on this sacrament dates back to the 16th century when it was first observed by Christian missionaries from Spain and Portugal. These missionaries referred to it as “the work of the devil” when they first encountered indigenous people practicing the tradition.
This religious practice is the consumption of ayahuasca tea, which causes vivid though short term hallucinations in those who participate. The preparation and consumption of this beverage is practiced by many different indigenous tribes of South America that practice some form of shamanism. Of these, the most well-known is probably the Urarina people who reside in the Peruvian Amazon.
Ayahuasca is a psychedelic substance that occurs when Banisteriopsis caapi, or B. Caapi, is combined with what is known as an admixture. B. caapi is an MAOI that, when combined with an admixture, creates the substance known as DMT. When the b. caapi and the associated admixture are combined to create DMT, they are brewed into a tea. The resulting mixture is then consumed during a religious or ritual ceremony. Depending on where the ceremony is taking place, there are a number of different plants that can be combined to create the desired effect.
DMT is considered a controlled substance in the United States, but partly because it is traditionally used as a part of religious ceremonies, plants that contain DMT and plants that are used in combination with other plants to create DMT are not illegal to either possess of consume currently. Authors and two of the most prolific icons of the subculture known as the “beat generation” William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg published their experience using the substance, which increased its popularity among non-indigenous people. The increase in popularity put it on the radar of those in law enforcement and other governmental agencies, though no steps have been taken as of yet to outlaw ayahuasca.
Traditionally, ayahuasca is ingested orally when the user drinks a tea that has been made by combining the DMT containing plant and another plant that allows the DMT molecule to be absorbed. There are many different plants that are used in this process depending on the location and availability of the consumer along with a number of other factors. The traditional use involves a long process of gathering ingredients, preparation of the ingredients, and finally, consumption of the final brew. This ritual can last upwards of twelve hours when observed properly. It isn’t until 15 to 60 minutes after the tea is ingested that the user begins to feel the true effects.
Shortly after ingesting the brew, users will probably go through a period of intense nausea that could include vomiting or diarrhea. Shamans claim that this purge is necessary in order to allow the next phase to begin. The next step, according to those who have experienced the effects of ayahuasca, begins with a state of what many call “altered consciousness”. This can include vivid hallucinations that cause intense feelings of emotion. These experiences can sometimes involve things from the past that have caused turmoil in addition to repressed memories that are causing a spiritual block to the person experiencing them. Many report the appearance of a woman, whom they see as a guide, and their surroundings will appear as some sort of geometrical pattern.
After experiencing the hallucinations brought on by ayahuasca, many people report feeling more connected to the universe. They report spiritual revelations and also claim to have a deeper understanding as to their purpose in life. A number of them claim to be more aware of their purpose here on earth in addition to gaining a connection to a higher plane of being.