|Common names||Ayahuasca, Aya, Caapi, Cipó, Hoasca, Vegetal, Yagé, Yajé, Natem, Shori|
ayahuasca (pronounced /eye-uh-wahs-kuh/ and also known as yagé) is an umbrella term that refers to a wide variety of traditional and modern brews and infusions of natural plant sources that produce powerful psychoactive or hallucinogenic effects. of these, it most commonly consists of a dmt-containing plant source in combination with one that contains an maoi or rima (typically sources like b. caapi vine or syrian rue) to produce uniquely potent, sometimes medicinal, psychedelic effects.
the co-consumption of an maoi agent is necessary for the combination to work, as the dmt molecule (which is a monoamine closely related to serotonin) is rendered almost entirely inactive when digested by itself due to the presence of monoamine oxidase enzymes in the stomach, which rapidly degrades it.
ayahuasca is used as a traditional spiritual medicine in ceremonies among the indigenous peoples of amazonian peru, many of whom say that they received the instructions in its use directly from the plants and plant spirits themselves. ayahuasca was first described outside of indigenous communities in the early 1950s by harvard ethnobotanist richard evans schultes, who became aware of the native communities who use it for divinatory and healing purposes.
as is the case with psychedelics in general, ayahuasca is not considered to be dependence-forming or addictive by the research and medical community. nevertheless, unpredictable adverse reactions such as anxiety, paranoia, delusions and psychotic breaks can still always occur, particularly among those predisposed to psychiatric disorders. while these negative reactions or “bad trips” can often be attributed to factors like the user’s inexperience or improper preparation of their set and setting, they have been known to happen spontaneously among even the most experienced of users as well. this is why despite its scientifically-backed reputation for possessing both negligible-to-no physical and neurotoxicity, it is still highly advised to approach this powerful and unpredictable hallucinogenic substance with the proper amount of precaution, and harm reduction practices if one chooses to use it.
history and culture
there have been several documented cases of avoidable deaths caused by frauds pretending to be shamans during “traditional” ayahuasca ceremonies. the ingredient known to cause problems is known specifically as brugmansia, which can cause issues when co-administered with an maoi. an effective ayahuasca brew does not have to be more complicated than a suitable source of dmt (such as mimosa or acacia) and a reversible inhibitor of monoamine oxidase a (rima or maoi). using other ingredients along with the ayahuasca can potentially be dangerous; any potential interactions should be carefully researched before ingestion.
another concern of ayahuasca ceremonies is the culture of mysticism and pseudoscience produced from centuries of mythological ritual, leading to a bias following the delusion of a single cultural narrative. there is an irrational belief that ayahuasca should only to be used in the amazon rainforest in the presence of a shaman. this belief leads many to shun the idea of taking ayahuasca outside of this potentially toxic environment for no logical reason.
ayahuasca’s psychedelic effects have been confirmed to come from its efficacy at the 5-ht2a receptor as a partial agonist. however, the role of these interactions and how they result in the psychedelic experience continues to remain an object of scientific eludication.
harmala alkaloids are classed as mao-inhibiting beta-carbolines. the three most studied harmala alkaloids in the b. caapi vine are harmine, harmaline and tetrahydroharmine. harmine and harmaline are selective and reversible inhibitors of monoamine oxidase a (mao-a), while tetrahydroharmine is a weak serotonin reuptake inhibitor (sri).
this inhibition of mao-a allows dmt to diffuse unmetabolized past the membranes in the stomach and small intestine, eventually crossing the blood–brain barrier (which, by itself, requires no mao-a inhibition) to activate receptor sites in the brain. without rimas or maois of mao-a, dmt would be oxidized (and thus rendered biologically inactive) by monoamine oxidase enzymes in the digestive tract.