Ayahuasca is the name given to both the vine ( banisteriopsis caapi ) and the psychotropic drink prepared by boiling the vine together with various admixtures plants. Here in Iquitos the most common admixture used is “chacruna” ( psychotria vidris ) or “chalipunga”, another plant in the chacruna family.
Ayahuasca is unique in that its effectiveness depends on the synergistic interaction between the active alkaloids present in the plants:
- ayahuasca – Mao inhibiting B carboline alkaloids
- chacruna – N,N-dimethyltriptamine (DMT)
Variously known as ayahuasca, caapi or yage, in Peru it is usually known as ayahuasca, a Quechua term meaning “vine of the souls” or “vine of death”:
- aya = death or soul
- huasca = vine
History of Ayahuasca
No one really knows when ayahuasca was first concocted but it’s safe to say that it has been used for centuries. How the ayahuasca brew was first discovered is shrouded in mystery and different stories abound, depending on who you talk to. Most shaman agree that the idea for combining the plants was indicated to them by the plants themselves. I recently spoke with a Shipibo shaman who told me the information was given by the toê plant, to one of her ancestors. There is little likelihood that the brew was discovered by accident considering the number of different plants growing in the amazon.
Legal Status of Ayahuasca in Peru
On June 24, 2008 the Peruvian National Institute of Culture declared that ritual ayahuasca ceremonies are part of the national cultural heritage of Peru and are to be protected. Ayahuasca, the Institute says, is
” A plant species with extraordinary cultural history, by virtue of its psychotropic qualities and its use as a drink combined with the plant known as chacruna. This plant is known to the indigenous Amazonian world as a wise or teaching plant, which shows to the initiates the very foundation of the world and its components. The effect of its consumption is to enter the spiritual world and its secrets.”