Ayahuasca is a psychoactive brew that has been used for centuries by tribes in South America. But it’s recently become more mainstream for those seeking an enlightening experience. It’s also known as ayawaska, caapi, cipó and shori.
But how does it work?
Ayahuasca is a brew made from banisteriopsis caapi vines and psychotria viridis leaves, among other ingredients. The leaves contain DMT or “N, N-Dimethyltryptamine”, which is structurally similar to the neurotransmitter serotonin and the chemical in magic mushrooms
Normally, your enzymes deactivate DMT before it gets absorbed into your bloodstream. But the banisteriopsis caapi vines prevent that from happening, so DMT gets absorbed into your blood and makes its way to your brain.
The effects of ayahuasca start about 30 minutes after consuming the drink, and hallucinations peak at about 1 hour after this and last up to 6 hours. These hallucinations are different than those experienced with shrooms or LSD, in that users often experience the sensation of being able to communicate with alien lifeforms and see strange creatures.
Some people use ayahuasca therapeutically to come to terms with certain thoughts, emotions, or traumas.This is because depression and anxiety are associated with overactivity in an area of the brain called the default mode network, and brain scans show that ayahuasca decreases activity in the default mode network.
After consumption, ayahuasca drinkers usually vomit or have diarrhea since it’s very acidic. Fatalities have been linked to drinking ayahuasca, but the official causes of death are undetermined. A speculated reason for the deaths is that the modern preparation methods of the drink result in much higher dosages than traditional ayahuasca. This is due to the substance’s rise in popularity, which has led people to present themselves as fake shamans, who are ultimately unqualified and don’t know how to safely make the brew.
Most recently, in March, a 24 year old New Zealand tourist died at an ayahuasca retreat in Peru. However, this death has been attributed to a tobacco cleansing drink that the tourist took before drinking ayahuasca. A further five deaths occurred between 2015 and that incident at ayahuasca resorts.