Ayahuasca is the name given to a sacred plant medicine that comes from the vast Amazon rain forest in South America.
However, ayahuasca is no garden-variety plant medicine. The effects of ayahuasca are as extraordinary as they are profound. Most other plant medicines do not heal you by altering your entire perception of reality!
Working with ayahuasca is an intense, profound, and usually an incredibly transformative experience that can facilitate deep healing on all levels of your being – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
Ayahuasca is a doorway to inner worlds that allows us to enter expanded states of consciousness and the experience of spiritual awakening. For many people, ayahuasca reveals the multi-dimensional nature of both reality and ourselves, and it leads us back to the knowledge of what we truly are – spiritual beings having a human experience.
The word ayahuasca is derived from two Quechua words (Quechua is an indigenous language of South America). 'Aya,' which means spirit, ancestor or deceased person, and 'Huasca,' which means vine or rope. Therefore, ayahuasca is sometimes referred to as 'vine of the soul' or 'vine of the dead'.
The history of ayahuasca is relatively unknown, and will always be uncertain because there are no written records from the Amazon region from before the time when the Spaniards invaded. There are only various myths and oral traditions passed down through generations by the indigenous. However, a ceremonial cup was found in Ecuador, believed to be well over 2500 years old that contained traces of ayahuasca, so it has been used at least that long, and probably much longer.
Ayahuasca is used in many South American countries including Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, and by at least seventy different indigenous tribes of the Amazon.
From a tangible, material perspective ayahuasca is a foul-tasting liquid medicine brewed from two plants that grow in the Amazon jungle. One of those plants is a jungle vine known as Ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi). The other is a green leafy plant called Chacruna (Psychotria viridis), or alternatively another plant called Chaliponga (Diplopterys cabrerana) can be used instead of Chacruna (or both together).
The Chacruna/Chaliponga plants contain high quantities of DMT which is a highly psychoactive compound that is responsible for the incredible visions people often see when they experience ayahuasca.
However, it is not usually possible to ingest DMT orally because it is broken down by enzymes in the stomach known Monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A).
This is where the chemistry of the vine comes into play. The ayahuasca vine contains three primary harmala alkaloids – the β-carboline derivatives harmine, tetrahydroharmine (THH), and harmaline. These three harmala alkaloids are potent inhibitors of MAO-A enzymes. In other words, they prevent the enzymes from destroying the DMT, allowing it to pass through the stomach and then into the brain where it produces its incredible visionary effects.
However, what is not commonly understood is that there is far more to an ayahuasca experience than just the effects of the DMT. Most shamans believe that the vine is actually the most important plant in the brew and that it is the spirit of the vine that provides the healing and insights, hence why the vine is also called Ayahuasca.