The rise in Ayahuasca use over the last 20 years has been considerable as people increasingly, look outside allopathic medicine and pharmaceutical options to heal physical, emotional and mental sickness.
This unprecedented rise in the use of Ayahuasca medicine is largely led by those from developed nations. Particularly as depression, anxiety and suicide rates soar in our so called civilised society.
The plants have also become an antidote to the oppressive dogma and cult like approach of our spiritual systems that require unquestioning faith and belief in the teachings of priests and gurus, with little first hand experience. So too has materialist science set out to cut off an innate knowing of our extraordinary and unexplained consciousness.
With this cocktail of sickness and force fed belief systems it’s no wonder that the seeker in all of us has reached out to connect with these teacher plants that have the capacity to love and heal us in ways far beyond our own comprehension.
To that end and not without controversy, retreat centres are springing up in the Amazon and all over the world. The results on the whole, seem to be veering on miraculous, though the anomalies of harmful experiences are still being reported. The plants require due care, skill and attention, just like the practices we find in western medicine do, that much is apparent.
There is much to be said about a meeting of cultures and how this traditional Amazonian medicine is being worked with to suit western needs, in ways that move outside of its tradition and heritage. Sometimes just marginally into a western context, sometimes completely removed from cultural imprints and placed fully in a western context.
I’m not here to say what’s right or wrong in that sense, as the plants are fully capable of making themselves heard, when and if they feel the need. One place, however, where I see much confusion, is in the difference between brews and what people are actually drinking.
In many European retreat centres I see that an Analogue version of Ayahuasca is being served involving the Syrian Rue Seed also known as Esfand or Peganum Harmala acting as the MAOI and Mimosa or Acacia being the DMT containing plant.
This analogue version of Ayahuasca is not Ayahuasca, it’s a disservice to advertise these plants as such and misinforms retreat participants. That’s not to say these plants don’t have healing properties and can’t be useful in their own way. I still work with these plants myself and have seen their power to heal on many occasions. They are simply not Ayahuasca.
Although chemically this brew is similar there are some important differences. From a shamanic plant spirit perspective and experientially it is completely different from the Ayahuasca brew.
During Love Heal Forgive Retreats, participants have been given the opportunity to work with both the analogue version and a more traditional Ayahuasca brew.
The results are very different and anecdotal feedback supports that the experience is also very different.
The Hamala brew combined with Mimosa or Acacia is more predictable. It’s much more fast acting and within half an hour most participants are usually feeling the effects. The length of time it lasts is also more predictable and within three to four hours the experience usually draws to a close.
In terms of taste, the brew can often have more of a drying effect on the mouth and can be harder to hold down. Some feel it’s more bitter due to the high level of tannins. It’s not so much that this brew creates a purgative affect akin to Ayahuasca, as it promotes a purely physical response from the gut.
The journey that ensues is of course very visual and the DMT from the Mimosa/Acacia brings about its own experience and teachings. The Harmala having been used for centuries in the Middle East and around the Mediterranean also brings its spirit to the table.
In high doses it has been shown to be a neurotoxin, so there are some questions marks over it being best practice. There are also some quinazoline compounds involved that we know little about and how they may impact the body, either negatively or positively. For Europeans, it is of course a much cheaper and more accessible option.
From a shamanic perspective, the spirits, entities and intelligences involved in the Ayahuasca experience are absent in the harmala/mimosa experience. More importantly the spirit of the vine is absent. It’s an important distinction to make for those that have drank the analogue version and believe they have worked with the spirit of Ayahuasca.
They have certainly worked with some powerful plants in the analogue version and I in no way want to discredit the teachings and healing potential of those plants, nor the experiences people have with them. They have benefitted many people greatly, however for the sake of clarity, I feel they now need a stand alone term of reference that distinguishes them from Ayahuasca.
It’s important if you’re attending a retreat with plant medicines you know exactly what you’re drinking beforehand, and any facilitator/shaman/therapist should be happy to provide this information.
From a chemical perspective the Banisteriopsis Caapi vine is has higher levels of tetrahydroharmine. When first isolated from the vine, these alkaloids were named ‘telepathine’ reportedly due to their ability to induce telepathic qualities in humans.
The term Ayahuasca has many translations but the common theme is the B. Caapi vine. The term is Quechua, with Aya meaning soul or spirit and Huasca meaning rope or vine.
Vine of the soul is the most common translation. Other names such as Yage, Natema, Dapa, Mihi, Kahi, Pinde, Nixi, also refer to the vine.
When drinking Ayahuasca the taste, though strong, is more palatable than the analogues. Participants usually hold the medicine in for longer. Any purging usually correlates with the work the participant is doing with the Ayahuasca during the experience, although this can also be true with the analogue version.
The intensity of the experience is much stronger and far less predictable making it more challenging to hold the space. The journey itself can last well into the night with no real set time limit. It can vary wildly from person to person and experience to experience. In ceremony I see clearly the intelligence of the vine acting of it’s own volition and doing what needs to be done in any given situation.
Many tribes in the Amazon work with a brew that contains the Banisteriopsis Caapi vine on it’s own with no DMT containing admixtures. This coupled with my own experiences with the vine supports reinforces that the word Ayahuasca is referencing the vine.
A brew that doesn’t contain the vine is therefore not Ayahuasca. It may seem pedantic but out of respect to the plants and the people that come to drink, I think this distinction needs to be made much clearer.
The spirit of the vine is a powerful and sentient presence that for me defines the healing experience of Ayahuasca. The analogue experience tends to open the visual floodgates and can sometimes be confusing and erratic, whereas the Ayahuasca experience comes with all the wisdom and guidance you would expect from a teacher plant.
What’s more it seems to know you like no-one else does.
The next Love Heal Forgive Retreat in Portugal takes place from the 10th to the 13th of November