What is ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca (pronounced ‘eye-ah-WAH-ska’) is a plant-based hallucinogenic tea. Hallucinogens (also known as psychedelics) can make a person see, hear, smell, feel or taste things that aren’t really there or cause the person to experience things differently from how they are in reality. The most common ingredients in ayahuasca are Banisteriopsis caapi (also known as caapi) and Psychotria viridis. Caapi contains beta-carboline alkaloids with monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitor action, mainly harmine, harmaline and tetrahydroharmine, whereas Psychotria viridis contains dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a serotonergic receptor agonist.
DMT is not active orally because it is destroyed by the action of the MAO enzymes in the gastrointestinal tract, but in the presence of a MAO inhibitor, DMT can enter the circulatory system and penetrate the blood–brain barrier, thereby producing its effects.2 Ayahuasca has been used for a number of centuries by traditional healers as a medicine and in religious ceremonies. Interest in the therapeutic benefits of ayahuasca has been increasing in western countries,in particular with regard to alcohol and drug dependence.
What does it look like?
Ayahuasca is a brown-reddish drink with a strong taste and smell.
Huasca, yagé, brew, daime, the tea, la purga
How is it used?
The tea is brewed for several hours by infusing the pounded stems of Banisteriopsis caapi in combination with Psychotria viridis or other plants.The tea is drunk and has an extremely bitter taste. Effects of ayahuasca There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries risk. The effects begin in approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour, with maximum intensity from 1 to 2 hours. The effects last from 4 to 6 hours. Ayahuasca affects everyone differently, based on:
• The person’s size, weight and health
• Whether the person is used to taking it
• Whether other drugs are taken around the same time
• The amount taken
• The strength of the drug
You might experience:
• Intense, repetitive vomiting (induced by the tea)
• Increased sweating
• Fear and paranoia
• Feelings of euphoria and wellbeing
• Moderate increase in blood pressure and heart rate
• Increased body temperature
• Visual and auditory stimulation
A small number of deaths have occurred immediately following the use of ayahuasca, though ayahuasca being the direct cause of death is extremely rare.
An overdose can result in:
• Ongoing nausea
• Frightening visions
• Intense intoxication
• Increased risk-taking
Research into the long-term use of ayahuasca is continuing. Early research indicates that long-term use of ayahuasca is not associated with loss of cognitive functioning.
Health and safety
It is difficult to predict the effects of ayahuasca (even if it has been taken before) as its strength varies from batch to batch. People with mental health conditions or a family history of these conditions should avoid using ayahuasca. The drug can intensify the symptoms of anxiety and paranoia.