This ancestral medicine is used by shamans to heal a variety of psychological and spiritual illnesses. It is also used to initiate people, in their process of personal development, as well as show them the means by which to heal physical ailments.
The name “Ayahuasca” comes from the QUECHUA (inca language), meaning “Death’s Rope” (Aya = Death and Huasca = Rope). This name does not infer a physical death, but rather a psychological and spiritual opportunity for rebirth.
Ayahuasca is known by many names throughout the Amazon basin. In the Shipibo language it is known as “nishi rao” which means “Medicine Rope”. In Ecuador it is called “natema”, in Brasil, “jurema”, “chá”, or “daime”, and in Colombia it is “yagué”. The latin or scientific name for Ayahausca is “Banisteriopsis caapi.
Ayahuasca – Banisteriopsis caapi
Chacruna – Psychotria viridis
The preparation of Ayahuasca is carried out by shamans; it is boiled for several hours with another plant called Chacruna (Psychotria viridis) which gives it the psychoactive effect.
This process is accompanied by shamanic chants or “Iqaros” (prayers or mantras typical of the amazonian Shipibo culture).
The effect of Ayahuasca is very strong. It results in vomiting and intense psychoactive effects for up to four hours. It is therefore important to take it with a shaman who can guide and ensure one’s safety throughout the experience.
Chacruna and Ayahuasca
Ayahuasca – crushed
Preparing to cook the medicine
Cooking the medicine
Ayahuasca is unique in that its pharmacological activity is dependent on a synergistic interaction between the active alkaloids in the plants. One of the components, the bark of Banisteriopsis caapi, contains ß-carboline alkaloids, which are potent MAO-An inhibitors; the other component, the leaves of Psychotria viridis or related species, contains the potent short-acting psychoactive agent N, N- dimethyltryptamine (DMT). DMT is not orally active when ingested by itself, but can be rendered orally active in the presence of a peripheral MAO inhibitor – and this interaction is the basis of the psychotropic action of ayahuasca.
What makes us human
Most people report revisiting the most significant events of their lives, like sequences in a chaotic film. The drinker [ayahuasca is a tea] is vaulted from one subconscious vision to the next, and as buried memories rise to the surface, it often leads to acute emotional catharsis.
Dr. Riba and his team have found that ayahuasca hyper-activates the highly evolved neo-cortex, the area of the brain that makes us human. This is where we perceive, reason and make decisions.
“Ayahuasca also activates regions like the amygdala, which acts as a storehouse for early emotional memories, specifically the most traumatic or significant ones, like the loss of a parent.
“Finally, ayahuasca activates the insula [also known as the insular cortex], which is believed to create a bridge between our emotional impulses and our decision-making capacities.
“According to many neuroscientists, our decision-making process has a powerful emotional component. When any stimulus enters the brain, the brain tries to understand it based on previous experience.
“In early life, powerful or traumatic events, create an imprint on the brain, a pattern. This pattern is like a shortcut, activated every time we face a similar situation. For example, if we were once attacked by a dog, our brain might harbour a set of pathways that associate that dog with all dogs, making us fear them in general. We might even react adversely to a distant bark. Repeated events cause these neural patterns to reinforce their connections, binding them with protein, and building them up like scar tissue.”
Making a repeated connection
“If this is how these traumas are rooted in our brains, how does ayahuasca affect those ingrained patterns? Ayahuasca hyper-activates the entire brain region where we store and process emotional memory, often uncovering long forgotten memories.”
Making a new connection
“This hyper-activation enables the conscious part of the new brain to temporarily override previously entrenched patterns, allowing new connections to be made. Dogs, for example, may no longer be feared as these new connections are created and memories, reevaluated. In field studies, ayahuasca users typically describe having new perspectives on past experiences, and deeply rooted patterns of behaviour.”