The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications



Other Names


Ambihuasca, ambiwáska, ayawáska, biaxíi, brew (“the brew”), caapi, cají, calawaya, camaramti (Shipibo), chahua (Shipibo), cipó, daime, dapa, dapá, djunglehuasca, djungle tea, doctor, dschungelambrosia, el remedio, hoasca, honi, iyaona (Zapara), jungle ambrosia, jungle-huasca, jungle tea, kaapi, kahi, kahpi, la droge (Spanish, “the drug”), la purga (Spanish,“the purgative”), la soga, masha (Shipibo), metí, mihi, mii (Huaorani), moca jene (Shipibo, “bitter brew”), muka dau (Cashinahua, “bitter medicine”), natem (Achuar), natema, natemá, natemä, nepe, nepi, nichi cubin (Shipibo, “boiled liana”), nishi sheati (Shipibo, “liana drink”), nixi honi, nixi paé, notema, ohoasca, ondi (Yaminahua), pilde, pildé, pinde, pindé, rao (Shipibo, “medicinal plant”), remedio, sachahuasca, santo diame, uni (Conibo), vegetal, yagé, yajé, yaxé


The psychoactive drink known as ayahuasca has been used by shamans and medicine men in the Amazon region for healing rituals and shamanic experiences since pre-Columbian times (Naranjo 1979). Such use is probably as ancient as South American civilization itself and apparently was first discovered in the western regions of the Amazon basin (now Ecuador) (Naranjo 1979). In the coastal regions of Ecuador, so-called witches’ pots—used for brewing ayahuasca—have been discovered in archaeological excavations. These pots are estimated to be about 3,500 years old (Andritzsky 1989, 57*).

How the beverage was first discovered is still a mystery. But it certainly was more than just an accidental discovery made by primitive Indians:


A long time ago, a skilled hunter lived in the rain forest. One day, when he was far from his home, he heard a liana speaking to him. The hunter, who knew many things about making arrow poisons from roots, barks, and seeds for hunting, understood the power of plants. He returned to his house with his new find.



Banisteriopsis caapi stems are the basis of all ayahuasca preparations.



The leaves of Psychotria viridis, which contain DMT, are the most popular ayahuasca admixture.


During the following night, he had a dream in which the spirit of the liana explained to him how to prepare it into a brew that one could use to heal many diseases.


Today, shamans still use the “drink of true reality” to determine the origins of diseases, travel into the normally invisible world of the forest, communicate with the lords of the animals and plants, and accompany the participants of tribal rituals into the world of myths.

The beverage is a unique pharmacological combination of the Banisteriopsis caapi liana, which contains harmaline, and chacruna leaves (Psychotria viridis), which contain DMT. Harma-line is an MAO inhibitor—it inhibits the excretion of the endogenous substance monoamine oxidase, which breaks down the psychoactive substance N,N-DMT. It is only through this combination of active ingredients that the drink is able to produce its consciousness-expanding effects (Rivier and Lindgren 1972). Because of the powerful and often three-dimensional visions, ayahuasca is sometimes jokingly referred to as “Amazonian television” (“the Nature Channel”) or “jungle cinema.”

The shamans attribute the effects of ayahuasca not to any active constituent but to the plant spirits who reveal themselves as master-teachers to humans when they are under the influence of ayahuasca. The plant spirits make it possible for humans to discover the origins of a disease, obtain the recipe for a medicine, and find out where the wild game is hiding deep in the forest. The shamans have been using their magical drink for a long time, and clearly with great success. As former rain-forest regions have become increasingly urbanized, more and more non-Indians have come into contact with the magical drink, which has led to the development of an urban shamanism. Now, many Catholic mestizos have set themselves up as urban shamans and use the drink to treat the afflictions of city dwellers. Their rituals are a colorful mix of Indian and Catholic customs during which Christian songs are sung and the spirits of the forest invoked (Dobkin de Rios 1970, 1972, 1989, 1992; Luna 1986). Numerous ayahuasca churches and sects have emerged, as has a vigorous ayahuasca tourism.



In the past, methods for preparing ayahuasca were well-protected secrets of the shamans. Only they knew the ingenious recipes. Only they knew which plants to use, where to find the lianas and herbs, which protective spirits needed to be invoked, and how to prepare the brew.

Banisteriopsis caapi stems are the basis for all ayahuasca recipes. To prepare ayahuasca, manageable-size stems of this liana must be boiled, after which chacruna leaves (Psychotria viridis) are added. The mixture is allowed to sit on the fire until a black, thick, horrible-tasting liquid results. The drink should never be prepared in aluminum pots, as it will corrode the aluminum and may in some cases produce inedible aluminium salts. Although cold-water extracts of Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis will also produce the desired effects, they are only rarely made.

In the recipes of the Amazonian Indians, the liana itself is typically the main ingredient. Tests of different samples have found 20 to 40 mg, 144 to 158 mg, and even 401 mg of β-carbolines as well as 25 to 36 mg of N,N-DMT per dose. The ayahuasca prepared by the urban mestizos contains consistently higher concentrations of alkaloids (especially N,N-DMT) than are found in the Indian preparations. The highest concentrations are said to be found in the preparations of the Barquinha Santo Daime church (Luis Eduarda Luna, pers. comm., 1996).

Natema Recipe of the Shuar


The Shuar shamans (uwishin) split a 1- to 2-meter-long piece of Banisteriopsis caapi stem into small strips. They place the strips in a pot along with several liters of water. They then add leaves of Diplopterys cabrerana, a Herraniaspecies, Ilex guayusaHeliconia stricta, and an unidentified Malpighiaceae known as mukuyasku. The resulting mixture is boiled until most of the water has evaporated and a syrupy fluid remains (Bennett 1992, 486*). The Kamsá, Inga, and Secoya make similar preparations (Bristol 1965, 207 ff.*).

Ecuadoran Recipe


The bark of the Banisteriopsis caapi liana is peeled off and placed beneath a certain tree in the forest.


A Shipibo man inspects his chacruna plant (Psychotria viridis).



Ayahuasca prepared from Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis.



A Tukano ayahuasca vessel and drinking bowls. (From Koch-Grünberg, Zwei Jahre bei den Indianern Nordwest-Brasiliens [Two Years among the Indians of Northwest Brazil], 1921)



These paintings on the community house (maloca) were inspired by the use of ayahuasca. (From Koch-Grünberg, Zwei Jahre bei den Indianern Nordwest-Brasiliens [Two Years among the Indians of Northwest Brazil], 1921)


The bare stems are then split into four to six strips and boiled together with fresh or dried Psychotria viridis leaves.A piece of liana approximately 180 cm long and forty Psychotria leaves represent a single dosage, although a piece of stem just 40 cm long and 3 cm thick is also said to be sufficient. In general, the less vine that is used, the easier the ayahuasca is on the stomach.

Preparation of the União do Vegetal (UDV), Brazil


Pieces from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine are pounded, mixed with leaves from Psychotria viridis, and boiled for 10 to 12 hours in rust-free steel pots until all that remains is a thick liquid with globules of fat on the surface that shimmer in all colors of the spectrum.

Recipe of the Shipibo of San Francisco/Yarinacocha


A fresh piece of Banisteriopsis caapi bark is boiled together with a handful of chacruna leaves (Psychotria viridis) and a flor de toé (Brugmansia suavolens flower) until a thick liquid decoction is produced. This preparation is said to have especially strong effects and to produce many visions.


Indigenous ayahuasca preparations exhibit considerable variation. Numerous plant admixtures can be used to induce psychoactive effects, and stimulating or medicinal drinks can also be produced. An Ecuadoran preparation of Banisteriopsis caapi and Ilex guayusa is purported to be a strong purgative. Recipes that cause delirium often contain tobacco and angel’s trumpets (Brugmansia). Experienced ayahuasca shamans possess a vast wealth of knowledge about the effects of many plants and may utilize more than one hundred different admixtures in order to achieve the effects they desire.

These traditional preparations are often devoid of N,N-DMT. However, it is precisely those drinks that do contain high concentrations of DMT and that do produce visionary effects that have exerted such a powerful attraction on legions of Western enthobotanists, psychedelic cognoscenti, artists, New Age tourists, and seekers of the esoteric (Leginger 1981*; McKenna 1989*; McKenna and McKenna 1994*; Perkins 1995). For most outsiders, experiences with Amazonian ayahuasca have tended to be rather disappointing (McKenna 1993). Westerners seeking “highs” or healing experiences are often duped by the pranks of curanderos or self-proclaimed shamans. As early as 1953, William Burroughs reported, “. . . I had been conned by medicine men ”(Burroughs and Ginsberg 1963, 15). But there are also examples of more positive experiences (Pinkson 1993; Wolf 1992).


A very ancient, presumably pre-Columbian petroglyph found on a granite cliff in Nyi on the lower Río Piraparaná (Colombia). The Tukano believe that it was at this sacred place that the Sun-Father wed the first earth woman, thereby creating the Tukano people. The Desana (one of the Tukano tribes) interpret the triangular face as the cosmic vagina and the stylized human figure below it as a winged phallus. They say that ayahuasca was created at the beginning of history when the two poles were united. (Redrawn by C. Rätsch)



Traditional Ayahuasca Admixtures


(from Ayala Flores and Lewis 1978; Bennett 1992*; Bianchi and Samorini 1993; Faust and Bianchi 1996; Luna 1984b, 1986; Ott 1993, 269 ff.*; Ott 1995; Pinkley 1969; Schultes 1972; modified and expanded)











“The natives use ayahuasca in ceremonies for healing and to obtain visions and describe the liquid as their ‘university.’”






(1997, 142*)


“Gradually, faint lines and forms began to appear in the darkness, and the shrill music of the tsentsak, the spirit helpers, arose around him. The power of the drink fed them. He called, and they came. First, pangi, the anaconda, coiled about his head, transmuted into a crown of gold. Then wampang, the giant butterfly, hovered above his shoulder and sang to him with its wings. Snakes, spiders, birds and bats danced in the air above him. On his arms appeared a thousand eyes as his demon helpers emerged to search the night for enemies. The sound of rushing water filled his ears, and listening to its roar, he knew he possessed the power of Tsungi, the first shaman. Now he could see. Now he could find the truth. He stared at the stomach of the sick man. Slowly, it became transparent like a shallow mountain stream, and he saw within it, coiling and uncoiling, makanchï, the poisonous serpent, who had been sent by the enemy shaman. The real cause of the illness had been found.”






(1973, 15 f.)


“I came to the realization, that all plants which are called the doctores, or vegetales que enseñan ( = plants, the teachers) either 1) elicit hallucinations when they are taken alone, 2) in some way influence the effect of the ayahuasca drink, 3) cause dizziness, 4) have strongly emetic and/or cathartic qualities, or 5) elicit very vivid dreams. Often a plant has all of these characteristics or at least some of them.”






(1984a, 135–56)


“Every time I took ayahuasca I became dizzy, sometimes I traveled through the air, where I remember seeing the most beautiful views, such as big cities, high towers, wonderful parks, and other incredible things. Other times I found myself lost in the forest, where I was attacked by wild animals.”






(1858, 373)



In the Brazilian Santo Daime cult, certain religious songs are sung at worship ceremonies while worshippers are under the influence of ayahuasca. The most important of these songs were released privately on a CD in 1996. (CD cover, ©Richard Yensen, Orenda Institute)


Traditional Uses


To the shaman, ayahuasca is inseparable from the rain forest. The power of the drink enables him to see the spirits that are present in the plants and animals of the forest. He communicates with them and acquires a knowledge of their innermost being. In this way, he comes to know the significance of every individual animal and every single plant and to understand why each species has its necessary place in the “circle of life.” With the aid of ayahuasca, he seeks out the lords of the animals. In the “true reality,” these appear to him in human form, and from them he learns, for example, why the hunters are no longer able to find their children, the animals. The reason might be that an unknown hunter has killed too many animals, leaving the bodies behind in the jungle, unused and rotting. This enrages the lord of the animals, and he demands compensation. The shaman must impregnate the soul of a female animal so that there will again be enough offspring. The shaman returns to everyday life, reports about his experiences, and warns the hunters that they will be able to hunt these animals again only if they give them time to recover. Any hunter who violates this law will be punished by the lord of the animals, perhaps with an invisible magical arrow.

The shamans utilize the visionary effects of ayahuasca to travel to the true reality, often referred to as the “blue zone,” where they are able to explore the secrets of the past, present, and future; to heal sick members of the tribe; or to fight against a harmful sorcerer, a “black shaman” (Reichel-Dolmatoff 1996b*), who typically sends invisible objects (such as arrows, thorns, or crystals) into the body of his victim. In the mundane world, nothing about the victim appears to be different. It is only when the shaman drinks the ayahuasca that he is truly able to see. If he can recognize the alien magical objects, he can suck them out and remove them. To make the invisible healing process manifest to the external, visible world, he proudly shows the patient and the others in attendance a bloody thorn that he had previously placed in his mouth with a clever sleight of hand. This small “deception”—which serves only to make the invisible visible—is essential to the success of the treatment (Ott 1979).


Fiery hot chili pods (Capsicum sp.) may be added to the ayahuasca drink.



In Mayan culture, the kapok tree (Ceiba pentandra) is regarded as the World Tree, which links the different levels of the universe with one another. The shaman can use the tree to climb up to the heavens or to descend to the underworld. The kapok is also viewed as a World Tree and shamanic tree in South America, where it is used as an ayahuasca admixture. Although the tree does have a symbolic significance, it probably has no psychoactive effects. (Photographed at Palenque in Chiapas, Mexico)



Chorisia insignis, the sacred Argentinean tree known as palo borracho (“drunken tree”), looks like a “pregnant” Ceiba pentandra, and the two trees are very easily confused. Its bark is sometimes used as an ayahuasca additive.



Many South American peoples venerate the pink-flowering Chorisia speciosa as a shamanic tree or World Tree. The bark of this tree is used as an ayahuasca additive.



The fruit of this rattletree (Thevetia sp.) is added to ayahuasca as a powerful magical substance; such use, however, appears to be very dangerous.



In Amazonia, the tropical tree Couroupita guianensis is regarded as a medicine that stimulates dreams; for this reason it is added to ayahuasca. Because of the flowers’ unusual beauty and the unusual way in which they grow directly out of the trunk, the tree has spread into all tropical regions as a decorative plant. In Thailand, it is even religiously venerated.



This Tournefortia species is used as an ayahuasca additive. (Photographed in northwestern Peru)



Ipomoea carnea, known locally as toé, is used as an ayahuasca admixture in the Pucallpa region. (Photographed in Peru)


Nixi honi vision vine boding spirit of the forest origin of our understanding give up your magic power to our potion illuminate our mind bring us foresight show us the designs of our enemies expand our knowledge expand our understanding of our forest.”






(WEIL 1972, 106)


Amazonian shamans usually travel to the other reality while in a different form. The payé has “turned his stomach inside out”—this is how the Tukano describe the condition in which the shaman’s body lies as if dead while his consciousness has taken off into another reality. The shamanic soul has transformed itself into a jaguar and now flies over a rainbow to the Milky Way. The most fantastic colors and forms unfold before the shaman’s inner eye. Honeycomb patterns dance by and change into crystals filled with an otherworldly light. Wavy lines flow out and back together into colorful swirls. The jaguar shaman is irresistibly sucked in. The swirls open into a tunnel made of circling skulls, at the end of which shines a warm, blue light. The jaguar shaman has reached the Milky Way, where he meets the ayahuasca woman who revealed the true reality to humans at the dawn of creation and gave them the secret of the “drink of true reality” (Reichel-Dolmatoff 1971*, 1975*, 1978*).

Although the true reality lies beyond the Milky Way, it is nevertheless a mirror image of the rain forest. To the shamans, the mundane visible world is only a world of appearances; behind its manifestations, the world of myths, gods, and spirits operates. All that happens in the mundane world finds its cause in this true reality. Here is where the causes of diseases, absent wild game, and droughts and floods can be found. The true reality is hidden from the normal eye (Baer 1987; Reichel-Dolmatoff 1996*), and one can attain a glimpse of it only through dreams and visions. The shaman is a specialist in dreams and visions, and he functions as a kind of tour guide in the other reality. His most important tool for this task is the magical drink ayahuasca (Deltgen 1993). Because the contents of the ayahuasca visions are culturally interpreted, they often become standardized patterns that make it possible for the Indians to swiftly and purposefully arrive in the realm of the all-important visionary world (Langdon 1979).

Shamans often prepare for an ayahuasca session by remaining sexually abstinent for a time (from three days to six months), adhering to special dietary rules, and using purgative and laxative substances,enemas, libations, and so on. The ayahuasca diet prohibits the consumption of salt, chili (Capsicum spp.), spices, and fat. The Jíbaro drink guayusa (Ilex guayusa) to make themselves vomit. The Siona and Secoya drink a cold-water extract of the liana they call hetu bisi (Tournefortia angustiflora Ruíz et Pav.; Boraginaceae) to purify themselves before the ritual (Vickers and Plowman 1984, 8*).

Ayahuasca rituals are often accompanied by the continuous smoking of tobacco (Nicotiana rustica or Nicotiana tabacum). The tobacco is said to banish evil spirits, that is, unpleasant and threatening visions. In addition, participants may also drink great quantities of chicha or some other type of alcohol (Bennett 1992, 486*) and chew ipadú (Erythroxylum coca). Sometimes, Brugmansia leaves will be soaked in rum and drunk as a tonic. The mestizo shamans burn camphor (Cinnamomum camphora) as an incense during their ayahuasca healing ceremonies, possibly to enhance the psychoactivity (Luna 1992, 246 f.). If a shaman wants to learn about an unknown plant and its healing properties, he may add the plant to an ayahuasca mixture before he drinks it.



A great number of different artifacts are related to ayahuasca (Mallol de Recasens 1963). The Tukanos interpret many Amazonian petroglyphs as ayahuasca images (Reichel-Dolmatoff 1967*). They decorate their houses with the patterns and figures they see during their ayahuasca journeys. These patterns often take on symbolic dimensions and can tell initiates entire stories from the other reality (Reichel-Dolmatoff 1978*). The patterns seen under the influence of ayahuasca are also woven into such everyday objects as baskets (Reichel-Dolmatoff 1985*, 1987*).

Jíbaro artists make many images depicting their ayahuasca experiences (Münzel n.d., 204, 205, 207, 212, 213). Yando Rios, a Peruvian artist who now lives in California, made numerous paintings of his early ayahuasca visions (Andritzky 1989, 191). The paintings of the former ayahuasquero Pablo Amaringo are particularly impressive and have become quite renowned. His visionary paintings portray the entire ayahuasca mythology (including the syncretic elements), the jungle pharmacopoeia, and the other reality of the shamanic universe (Luna 1991; Luna and Amaringo 1991). Many Latin American and Western artists, e.g., Alexandre Segrégio, have also painted their ayahuasca visions (Weiskopf 1995).

In 1953, William Burroughs (1914–1997) traveled to the Amazon basin to learn about the ethnopharmacology of the mysterious magical drink of the Amazon Indians and to try it himself. His experiences were published in the book The Yage Letters (Burroughs and Ginsberg 1963).

The best-selling novel The Incas contains numerous descriptions of ayahuasca experiences (Peters 1991*). The Peruvian poet César Calvo published a magnificent poem, inspired directly by ayahuasca and the story of Bruce Lamb (1974), in his book The Three Halves of Ino Moxo (1995).

The Shipibo-Conibo Indians have developed an astonishing method for encoding and decoding the patterns they see under the influence of ayahuasca in songs. When they want to use a certain pattern to paint their face, an article of clothing, or a piece of pottery, they sing the pattern. The person who is doing the painting, usually a woman, will then translate the song into a design (Gebhardt-Sayer 1985, 1987; Illius 1991).395

Ayahuasca songs also play a role in traditional shamanism, where they are used primarily as a map for the journey into the other reality. Whistled melodies for creating certain standardized visions have an important part in the ayahuasca shamanism practiced by the urban healers of Iquitos (Katz and Dobkin de Rios 1971). The so-called icaros (shamanic power songs) are also used for this purpose (Luna 1986, 1992).


A Shipibo ceramic jug (chomo) painted with ayahuasca designs.



Ayahuasca designs—originally seen under the influence of the magical drink—on a piece of Shipibo fabric.



The preparation of the ayahuasca drink, as depicted on a painting by Pablo Amaringo, a former ayahuasquero.



Ayahuasca Music—A Discography


Ethnic recordings


Brazil—The Bororo World of Sound (Auvidis-Unesco D 8201, 1989)

Brésil Central—Chants et danses des Indiens Kaiapó (VDE-Gallo, 1989)

Indian Music of the Upper Amazon: Cocama, Shipibo, Campa, Conibo (Folkways Records FE 4458, 1954)

Indiens d’Amazonie (Le Chant du Monde LDX 74501, n.d.)

Music of the Jivaro of Ecuador (Ethnic Folkways Records FE 4386, 1972)

Santo Diame—Sacred Music from the 1930s to the 1990s (Orenda Institute, Baltimore, 1996)

Waorani Waaponi—Archaic Chanting in the Amazon Rainforest (Tumi Records CD043, 1994)

Music inspired by ayahuasca


Tori Amos, Under the Pink (WEA/Warner, 1994)

Greg White Hunt, Enter the Orienté (All Is Well Records, 1997)

Inti César Malasquez, Earth Incarnation (Meistersinger Musik NGH-CD-453, 1996)


Ayahuasca Churches


In addition to the true shamanic use of ayahuasca, in recent decades various syncretic churches that use ayahuasca as a sacrament have emerged in Amazonia. Some ayahuasca churches have integrated African orishas into their cult. In Brazil, there are also non-Christian sects that use ayahuasca ritually to venerate spirits (Prance 1970, 67*).

Both in the Santo Daime cult and in the ayahuasca church known as União do Vegetal, regular meetings are held at which the followers—overwhelmingly mestizos from the lower and middle classes—drink ayahuasca communally and sing devotional songs. Guided by a priest, the congregation travels to both the spirits of the forest and to the Christian saints. Many of the cult participants discover a new purpose in life and find healing for their souls. Like the shamans of the forest, the adherents of these Brazilian churches (which have now gained a foothold in Europe as well) are legally permitted to use the magical and ritual drink, which they prepare from Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis (Lowy 1987). The DMT content of their brew is typically higher than that of the more traditional preparations (Liwszyc et al. 1992). At the meetings, pleasant-smelling breuzinho (incense made from Protium heptaphyllum and Protium spp.) is burned. Sometimes Cannabis indica (Santa María) is consumed as well.

Barquinha Daniel Periera de Matos, the founder of one branch of the Santo Daime cult, was once in the navy. As a result, his congregations are structured along military lines and the congregants all wear uniforms. Barquinha saw his church as an institution open to the entire world, and the cult has been carried to the Western world with missionary zeal (Bogers 1995). Men, women, and children are all allowed to take part in the ceremony. Even pregnant women drink daime. It is said that this has never resulted in problems of any kind!

“The modern ayahuasca cult originated in the Amazon when a Christian took this substance and had a vision of Mary, who appeared to him as Our Lady of the Forest. She was clad in green and revealed the outlines of the ritual use of ayahuasca—which the devotees call daime—as a communion.”








In the Daime cult, the Banisteriopsis caapi liana is regarded as the embodiment of Jesus and the leaves of Psychotria viridis as Mary. The finished brew is regarded as the flesh and blood of Christ. During the ceremony, Cannabis(which they call Santa María) is smoked as a sacrament. Europeans often report having profound spiritual experiences, during which Jesus, Mary, and the spirits of the forest reveal themselves (Luczyn 1994; Weigle 1995). Often consumed daily, daime is considered both healthy and therapeutic (Groisman and Snell 1996), and various types of addictions are now being treated within the context of the Santo Daime cult (Yatra 1995). In Peru, the Takiwasi project is investigating the effects of shamanic therapy with ayahuasca on drug addicts. Initial reports indicate that this method has great promise (Mabit et al. 1986).

The other large ayahuasca church, which was founded by Gabriel da Acosta, is known as the União do Vegetal (UDV). In recent years, this church has attracted increasing numbers of Brazilians, most of whom have been culturally uprooted. Because the effects of the ayahuasca drink are clearly regarded as positive, the Brazilian government has made this psychoactive agent legal when used within the framework of cult and religious ceremonies. This unusual sociopolitical situation has made it possible to carry out interdisciplinary research. Under the direction of Charles Grob, Dennis McKenna, and James Callaway, universities in the United States (California), Finland, and Brazil joined together to investigate the medicinal, pharmacological, and health effects of regular ayahuasca use on the members of the church. The research was carried out on location, that is, in the temples of the UDV. Standardized psychiatric tests accepted throughout the world were administered to a test group before, during, and after the ingestion of ayahuasca. The test subjects were also given standard medical tests while they were under the influence of ayahuasca. The data that was obtained was analyzed at the University of California at Los Angeles. A control group of Brazilian workers who had never taken ayahuasca were given the same tests for purposes of comparison. The pilot study for this large-scale project revealed that the cult members who regularly ingested ayahuasca were on average far more healthy in both body and mind than the group that had never had contact with ayahuasca. This research project will certainly provoke a radical rethinking of the medicinal and psychiatric attitudes about psychoactive substances that are currently accepted in the West (Callaway et al. 1994; Grob et al. 1996; cf. Dobkin de Rios 1996).

Ayahuasca Tourism


The many reports of travelers’ experiences with Amazonian shamans have led to a kind of pilgrimage of Westerners to the rain forest. For years, tourists from around the world have been attracted to the magical realm of ayahuasca. Many of these seekers have promised themselves personal insights and mystical experiences. In turn, numerous greedy, self-proclaimed pseudo-shamans have exploited the hopes of these tourists. They openly offer ayahuasca rituals, but the desired effects typically do not occur. These entrepreneurs are not initiated shamans who know what their recipes can do. In the best cases, the brew they offer simply is ineffective. Sometimes, however, even highly toxic plants may be tossed into the brew, which is then offered at great cost as “genuine Amazonian ayahuasca.” The journey, which should take one to mystical domains, may actually end with the tourist in a coma or at the hospital (Dobkin de Rios 1995).

But those travelers who have the good fortune to encounter real shamans typically report having spiritual, mystical, and healing experiences (Ayala Flores and Lewis 1978; Pinkson 1993; Wolf 1992).



Unbelievable rumors and amazing reports of the wondrous effects of ayahuasca have been making their way to the West since the nineteenth century. It was said that people under the influence of ayahuasca were able to go through walls, locate hidden treasures, see through mountains, know the future, and take part in events happening in far distant places. Both missionaries and physicians have claimed that the drink could awaken and even increase telepathic abilities.

It was only in recent times that the neuro-chemical secrets of the visionary effects of ayahuasca could be clarified (Rivier and Lindgren 1972). The two main active constituents of ayahuasca are harmaline (= telepathine) and N,NDMT. When ingested, DMT cannot reach the brain because it is broken down by the enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO). Harmaline (as well as harmine and several other β-carbolines) inhibits the release of MAO. (It was recently discovered that ayahuasca inhibits only MAO-A [D. McKenna 1996*].) This makes it possible for DMT to pass unhindered through the blood–brain barrier, occupy specific receptor sites, and cause the nervous system to enter into an extraordinary state characterized by brilliant and overwhelming visions (McKenna et al. 1994a, 1994b; McKenna and Towers 1985*).

The effects last for some four hours. The harmaline first induces a sedation that sometimes results in immobility. During this phase, in which the effects first become manifest, harmaline can cause profound nausea and frequently induces vomiting. The psychedelic DMT effects set in some forty-five minutes after ingestion of the drink. The main visionary effects last for about an hour and then suddenly cease. The nausea usually disappears when the DMT effects begin. When ayahuasca is used on a regular basis, the body becomes accustomed to the pharmacological action of the harmaline, and many chronic users find that they no longer experience nausea. Because the body does not build up tolerance to N,N-DMT, a person can consume ayahuasca several times a day.

The Legal Situation


At the present time, ayahuasca is completely legal in Brazil. The legal situation in other Amazonian countries is less clear. Because the drink contains the prohibited substance N,N-DMT, the legal situation is very difficult in Western countries.

Patent No. 5751, which the International Medicine Corporation (represented by Loren Miller) registered at the United States Marks and Patents Office in June 1996, created a perversely odd situation (Fericgla 1996a). In taking the step, this corporation hoped to secure for itself a patent and copyright on ayahuasca, that is, to monopolize the chemical and pharmacological principles of ayahuasca. If the patent had come into force, the Indians—the inventors and guardians of the ayahuasca brew—would have been forbidden to brew their own drink or, more precisely, would have been allowed to make it only if they paid licensing fees to the corporation. In Ecuador, for example, which recognizes American patent laws, the few remaining traditional Indians would have had to pay money to the owners of the copyright on ayahuasca every time they prepared it. As of 2004, however, this patent has not gone into effect.

The heads of some four hundred Amazonian tribes wrote an open letter to then president Bill Clinton protesting this incredible impudence. As Valerio Grefa, the speaker of the Confederation of Indian Organizations of the Amazon Basin, exclaimed: “Patenting our medicine, which we have inherited through many generations, is an attack on the culture of our peoples and on all of humankind.”

“Because the Yebamasa have a theory of reality that differs from ours, they also have a different conception of true consciousness and of the true recognition of reality. The ability that enables the Yebamasa to recognize reality is neither intellectual nor emotional nor intuitive. It encompasses all these kinds of awareness and adds another—the mystical experience, through hallucinations and visions in the state of toxic ecstasy, of a realm of reality that cannot normally be experienced. According to the Yebamasa conception, humans are able to penetrate the foreground of ordinary reality with cají [= ayahuasca]. To those who are knowledgeable, this ordinary reality appears as the world of effects, whereas the world of myths is that of causes. . . . The mythological reality experienced in the cají visions is just as real and natural as the ordinary world—perhaps even more real.”




(1993, 125 f.)


“The songs have a special importance during the ayahuasca séances, for through them all the figures of the ayahuasca world manifest themselves as visions. The songs are the activating and formative stimulus that structures and controls the sequence of the mentally preexisting cultural-mythic pattern of the visions.”




(1989a, 186)


“The narcotics produced a miracle! My performance is greeted with appreciative comments and deemed to consist of true natem songs. But soon my intoxication takes a new turn. Against the serene glow of the night, phosphorescent circles begin to whirl, then merge and separate, forming constantly changing kaleidoscopic designs. One after another all the symmetrical patterns invented by nature pass before me in a subtle continuum: lozenges first red, then yellow, then indigo, delicate traceries, crystalline prisms, iridescent scales, the eyes of butterfly wings, feline pelt markings, reticular carapaces.”






(DESCOLA 1996, 207*)




See also the entries for ayahuasca analogsBanisteriopsis caapiPsychotria viridis, and harmaline and harmine.


Andritzky, Walter. 1989a. Ethnopsychologische Betrachtung des Heilrituals mit Ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi) unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Piros (Ostperu). Anthropos 84:177–201.


———. 1989b. Sociopsychotherapeutic functions of ayahuasca healing in Amazonia. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 21 (1): 77–89.


Arévalo V[alera], Guillermo. 1986. Al ayahuasca y el curandero Shipibo-Conibo del Ucayali (Perú). América Indígena 46 (1): 147–61.


Ayala Flores, Franklin, and Walter H. Lewis. 1978. Drinking the South American hallucinogenic ayahuasca. Economic Botany 32:154–56.


Baer, Gerhard. 1969. Eine Ayahuasca-Sitzung unter den Piro (Ost-Peru). Bulletin de la Société Suisse des Américanistes 33:5–8.


———. 1987. Peruanische Ayahuasca-Sitzungen. In Ethnopsychotherapie, ed. A. Dittrich and C. Scharfetter, 70–80. Stuttgart: Enke.


Baer, Gerhard, and Wayne W. Snell. 1974. An ayahuasca ceremony among the Matsigenka (eastern Peru). Zeitschrift für Ethnologie 99 (1/2): 63–80.


Bianchi, Antonio, and Giorgio Samorini. 1993. Plants in association with ayahuasca. Yearbook for Ethnomedicine and the Study of Consciousness 2:21–42. Berlin: VWB. (Contains an excellent bibliography.)


Bogers, Hans. 1995. De Santa Daime Leer: Ayahuascagebruik in een religieuze setting. Pan 1:2–10.


Burroughs, William, and Allen Ginsberg. 1963. The Yage Letters. San Francisco: City Lights Books.


Califano, M., et al. 1987. Schamanismus und andere rituelle Heilungen bei indianischen Völkern Südamerikas. In Ethnopsychotherapie, ed. A. Dittrich and C. Scharfetter, 114–34. Stuttgart: Enke.


Callaway, James. 1995a. Ayahuasca: A correction. Eleusis 2:26–27.


———. 1995b. Ayahuasca, now and then. Eleusis 1:4–10.


———. 1995c. Pharmahuasca and contemporary ethnopharmacology. Curare 18 (2): 395–98.


———. 1995d. Some chemistry and pharmacology of ayahuasca. Yearbook for Ethnomedicine and the Study of Consciousness 3 (1994): 295–98. Berlin: VWB.


Callaway, James, Charles Grob, and Dennis McKenna. 1994. Platelet serotonin uptake sites increased in drinkers of AyahuascaPsychopharmacology 116:385–87.


Calvo, César. 1995. The three halves of Ino Moxo: Teachings of the wizard of the upper Amazon. Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions International.


Chango, Alfonso. 1984. Yachaj sami yachachina. Quito: Ediciones Abya-yala.


Deltgen, Florian. 1993. Gelenkte Ekstase: Die halluzinogene Droge Cají der Yebámasa-Indianer. Acta Humboldtiana 14. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag.


Dobkin de Rios, Marlene. 1970. A note on the use of ayahuasca among urban mestizo populations in the Peruvian Amazon. American Anthropologist 72 (6): 1419–22.


———. 1972. Visionary vine: Hallucinogenic healing in the Peruvian Amazon. San Francisco: Chandler.


———. 1981. Socio-economic characteristics of an Amazon urban healer’s clientele. Social Sciences and Medicine 15B:51–63.


———. 1989. A modern-day shamanistic healer in the Peruvian Amazon: Pharmacopoeia and trance. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 21 (1): 91–99.


———. 1992. Amazon healer: The life and times of an urban shaman. Bridport, Dorset: Prism Press.


———. 1994. Drug tourism in the Amazon. Anthropology of Consciousness 5 (1): 16–19.


———. 1995. Drug tourism in the Amazon. Yearbook for Ethnomedicine and the Study of Consciousness 3 (1994): 307–14. Berlin: VWB.


———. 1996. Commentary on “human psychopharmacology of hoasca”: A medical anthropology perspective. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 181 (2): 95–98.


Fericgla, Josep Ma. 1994. Los Jíbaros, cazadores de suental. Barcelona: Integral.


———. 1996a. Ayahuasca patented! Eleusis 5:19–20.


———. 1996b. Theory and applications of ayahuasca-generated imagery. Eleusis 5:3–18.


Fischer-Fackelmann, Ruth. 1996. Fliegender Pfeil. Munich: Heyne. (On Santo Daime.)


Gebhardt-Sayer, Angelika. 1985. The geometric designs of the Shipibo-Conibo in ritual context. Journal of Latin American Lore 11 (2): 143–75.


———. 1987. Die Spitze des Bewußtseins: Untersuchungen zu Weltbild und Kunst der Shipibo-Conibo. Münchner Beiträge zur Amerikanistik. Hohenschäftlarn: Klaus Renner Verlag.


Giove, Rosa. 1992. Madre ayahuasca. Takiwasi 1 (1): 7–10.


Grob, Charles S., et al. 1996. Human psychopharmacology of hoasca, a plant hallucinogen in ritual context in Brazil. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 181 (2): 86–94.


Groisman, Alberto, and Ari Bertoldo Snell. 1996. Healing power: Cultural-neurophenomenological therapy with Santo Daime. Jahrbuch für Transkulturelle Medizin und Psychotherapie 6 (1995): 241–55.


Harner, Michael. 1973. The sound of rushing water. In Hallucinogens and shamanism, ed. Michael Harner, 15–27. London: Oxford University Press.


Illius, Bruno. 1991. Ani Shinan: Schamanismus bei den Shipibo-Conibo. Münster and Hamburg: Lit., Ethnologische Studien Bd. 12.


Junquera, Carlos. 1989. Botanik und Schamanismus bei den Harakmbet-Indianern im südwestlichen Amazonasgebiet von Peru. Ethnologia Americana 25/1 (114): 1232–38.


Katz, Fred, and Marlene Dobkin de Rios. 1971. Healing sessions. Journal of American Folklore 84 (333): 320–27.


Kusel, Heinz. 1965. Ayahuasca drinkers among the Chama Indians of northeast Peru. Psychedelic Review 6:58–66.


Lamb, F. Bruce 1974. Wizard of the upper Amazon. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.


———. 1985. Rio Tigre and beyond: The Amazon jungle medicine of Manuel Córdova. Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books.


Lamb, F. Bruce, and Manuel Córdova-Rios. 1994. Kidnapped in the Amazon jungle. Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books.


Langdon, E. Jean. 1979. Yagé among the Siona: Cultural patterns in visions. In Spirit, shamans, and stars, ed. D. L. Browman and R. A. Schwarz, 63–80. The Hague: Mouton.


Liwszyc, G. E., E. Vuori, I. Rasanen, and J. Issakainen. 1992. Daime—a ritual herbal potion. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 36:91–92.


Lowy, B. 1987. Caapi revisited—in Christianity. Economic Botany 41:450–52.


Luczyn, David. 1994. Reise zum Geist des Waldes. Esotera 5/94:30–35. (On Santo Daime.)


Luna, Luis Eduardo. 1984a. The concept of plants as teachers among four mestizo shamans of Iquitos, northeast Peru. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 11 (2): 135–56.


———. 1984b. The healing practices of a Peruvian shaman. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 11 (2): 123–33.


———. 1986. Vegetalismo: Shamanism among the mestizo population of the Peruvian Amazon. Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis, Stockholm Studies in Comparative Religion 27. Stockholm: Almqvist und Wiskell International.


———. 1991. Plant spirits in ayahuasca visions by Peruvian painter, Pablo Amaringo: An iconographic analysis. Integration 1:18–29.


———. 1992. Icaros: The magic melodies among the mestizo shamans of the Peruvian Amazon. In Portals of power: Shamanism in South America, ed. E. Jean M. Langdon and Gerhard Baer, 231–53. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.


Luna, Luis Eduardo, and Pablo Amaringo. 1991. Ayahuasca visions. Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books.


Mabit, Jacques, Rosa Giove, and Joaquín Vega. 1996. Takiwasi: The use of Amazonian shamanism to rehabilitate drug addicts. Jahrbuch für Transkulturelle Medizin und Psychotherapie 6 (1995): 257–85.


Mac Rae, Edward. 1995. El uso religioso de la ayahuasca en el Brasil contemporáneo. Takiwasi 3:17–23.


Mallol de Recasens, Maria Rosa. 1963. Cuatro representaciones de las imágenes alucinatorias originadas por la toma del yagé. Revista Colombiana de Folklore 8 (3): 61–81.


McKenna, Dennis J. 1996. Ayahuasca: An overview of its chemistry, botany and pharmacology. Lecture given at the Entheobotany Conference, San Francisco, October 18–20, 1996.


McKenna, Dennis J., Luis Eduardo Luna, and G. N. Towers. 1995. Biodynamic constituents in ayahuasca admixture plants: An uninvestigated folk pharmacopeia. In Ethnobotany: Evolution of a discipline, ed. Richard Evans Schultes and Siri von Reis, 349–61. Portland, Ore.: Dioscorides Press.


McKenna, Dennis J., G. H. N. Towers, and F. Abbott. 1994a. Monoamine oxydase inhibitors in South American hallucinogenic plants: Tryptamine and β-carboline constituents of ayahuasca. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 10:195–223.


———. 1994b. Monoamine oxydase inhibitors in South American hallucinogenic plants. Part 2: Constituents of orally active myristicaceous hallucinogens. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 12:179–211.


McKenna, Terence. 1993. Bei den Ayahuasqueros. In Das Tor zu inneren Räumen, ed. C. Rätsch, 105–39. Südergellersen: Verlag Bruno Martin.


Münzel, Mark. n.d. Schrumpfkopf-Macher? Jíbaro-Indianer in Südamerika. Frankfurt/M.: Museum für Völkerkunde.


Naranjo, Plutarco. 1979. Hallucinogenic plant use and related indigenous belief systems in the Ecuadoran Amazon. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 1:121–45.


———. 1983. Ayahuasca: Etnomedicina y mitología. Quito: Ediciones Libri Mundi.


———. 1986. El ayahuasca en la arqueologia ecuatoriana. América Indígena 46 (1): 117–27.


Narby, Jeremy. 1999. The cosmic serpent: DNA and the origins of knowledge. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher.


Ott, Jonathan. 1995. Ayahuasca—ethnobotany, phytochemistry and human pharmacology. Integration 5:73–97.


Ott, Theo. 1979. Der magische Pfeil: Magie und Medizin. Zurich: Atlantis.


Payaguaje, Fernando. 1990. El bebedor de yajé. Shushufindi: Ediciones CICAME, Vicariato Apostolico de Aguarico.


Paymal, Noemi, and Catalina Sosa, eds. 1993. Mundos amazonicos: Pueblos y culturas de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana. Quitó: Fundación Sinchi Sacha.


Perkins, John. 1995. Und der Traum wird Welt: Schamanische Impulse zur Aussöhnung mit der Natur. Wessobrunn: Integral Volkar-Magnum.


Pinkley, Homer V. 1969. Plant admixtures to ayahuasca, the South American hallucinogenic drink. Lloydia 32 (3): 305–14.


Pinkson, Thomas. 1993. Amazonian shamanism: The ayahuasca experience. Psychedelic Monographs and Essays 6:12–19.


Rätsch, Christian. 1994. Ayahuasca: Der Zaubertrank. Geo Special: Amazonien 5/94:62–65.


———. 1997. Ayahuasca, der Schamanentrunk von Amazonien. Naturheilpraxis 50 (10): 1581–85.


Reichel-Dolmatoff, Gerardo. 1969. El contexto cultural de un alucinogeno aborigen: Banisteriopsis caapiRevista de la Academia Colombiana de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales 13 (51): 327–45.


———. 1970. Notes on the cultural context of the use of yagé (Banisteriopsis caapi) among the Indians of the Vaupés, Colombia. Economic Botany 24 (1): 32–33.


———. 1972. The cultural context of an aboriginal hallucinogen: Banisteriopsis caapi. In Flesh of the gods: The ritual use of hallucinogens, ed. Peter T. Furst, 84–113. New York: Praeger. Repr. rev. ed., Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press, 1990.


Rivas, Agustin. 1989. Meisterpflanze Ayahuasca. In Amazonas: Mae Mañota, ed. C. Kobau, 182–83. Graz: Leykam.


Rivier, Laurent, and Jan-Erik Lindgren. 1972. “Ayahuasca,” the South American hallucinogenic drink: An ethnobotanical and chemical investigation. Economic Botany 26:101–29.


Schultes, Richard Evans. 1960. A reputedly toxic Malouetia from the Amazon. Botanical Museum Leaflets 19 (5): 123–24.


Schultes, Richard Evans, and Robert F. Raffauf. 1960. Prestonia: An Amazon narcotic or not? Botanical Museum Leaflets 19 (5): 109–22.


Shoemaker, Alan. 1997. The magic of curanderismo: Lessons in mestizo ayahuasca healing. Shaman’Drum 46:28–39.


Taussig, Michael. 1987. Shamanism, colonialism, and the wild man. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.


Weigle, Ewald. 1995. Die wunderbare Heilkraft des Ayahuasca. Yearbook for Ethnomedicine and the Study of Consciousness 3 (1994): 299–305. Berlin: VWB.


Weil, Andrew. 1972. The natural mind: A new way of looking at drugs and higher consciousness. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.


Weiskopf, Jimmy. 1995. From agony to ecstasy: The transformative spirit of yajé. Shaman’s Drum (Fall 1994): 41–47. (With images by Alexandre Segrégio.)


Wolf, Fred Alan. 1992. The eagle’s quest. New York: A Touchstone Book (Simon & Schuster).


Yatra, Atmo. 1995. From addiction to health with the magic of ayahuasca. Unpublished manuscript, Amsterdam. (Cited 1998.)


Ayahuasca Analogs and Pharmahuasca


Other Names


Anahuasca, ayahuasca borealis


The effects of the pharmacological principle that was discovered during the investigations of traditional ayahuasca can be imitated with other plants that contain the same constituents (harma-lineharmineN,N-DMT/5-MeO-DMT). Today, nontraditional combinations of plants with these ingredients are known as ayahuasca analogs or anahuasca. Combinations composed of isolated or synthesized constituents are referred to as pharmahuasca:


Paradoxically, psychonautic research on pharmahuasca . . . , which is so far out of the scientific mainstream that nearly three decades had to pass before unfunded and independent scientists working underground and in secrecy put the enzyme-inhibitor theory of ayahuasca pharmacology to the test, may turn out to be at the center of research on the biochemistry of consciousness and the genetics of pathological brain function! Not only is ayahuascaresearch now at the neuroscientific cutting edge, but the reversible MAO-inhibitors in ayahuasca may prove to be viable, less toxic alternatives to the noxious compounds currently in use! (Ott 1994, 69)


The term ayahuasca analog appears have been coined by Dennis McKenna. The American ethno-botanist Jeremy Bigwood was probably the first person to test pharmahuasca (100 mg each of harmalinehydrochloride and N,N-DMT) on himself; he reported “DMT-like hallucinations” (Ott 1994, 52). The chemist and chaos theorist Mario Markus used the Heffter technique (self-experimentation) to perform extensive experiments into the optimal proportions for mixing the alkaloids:


Markus reported on the studies that he had carried out several years earlier in which the plant combinations used by Indian peoples in the Amazon region for ritual purposes were simulated experimentally. In those experiments, Markus mixed one sample each of a representative of the β-carbolines (harmine, harmaline, or 6-MeO-harmalane) with a tryptamine (5-MeO-DMT). This yielded a domain of different optimal mixture ratios within which a marked psychoactive productivity with hallucinatory effects occurred. Within quite specific dosage limits, there was a good overall tolerance without serious side effects. (Leuner and Schlichting 1986, 170*)


For Jonathan Ott, the value of the ayahuasca analogs lies in their entheogenic effects, which can help one attain a more profound spiritual ecology and a mystical perspective. Ayahuasca and its analogs can induce a state of shamanic ecstasy, but only when used at the proper dosage:


Shamanic ecstasy is the real “Old Time Religion,” of which modern churches are but pallid evocations. Our forebears discovered in many times and places that in the ecstatic, entheogenic experience, suffering humankind could reconcile the cultivated braininess, which isolated each individual human being from all other creatures and even from other human beings, with the wild and feral, beastly magnificent bodies that we also are. . . . There is no need for faith, it is the ecstatic experience itself that gives one faith in the intrinsic unity and integrity of the universe, in ourselves as integral parts of the whole; that reveals to us the sublime majesty of our universe, and the fluctuant, scintillant, alchemical miracle that is quotidian consciousness. . . .

Entheogens like ayahuasca may be just the right medicine for hypermaterialistic human-kind on the threshold of a new millennium which will determine whether our species continues to grow and prosper, or destroys itself in a massive biological Holocaust unlike anything the planet has experienced in the last 65 million years. . . .

The Entheogenic Reformation is our best hope for healing Our Lady Gaea, while fostering a genuine religious revival for a new millennium. (Ott 1994, 89–90)




All recipes must contain an MAO inhibitor as well as a source of DMT. To date, experiments have been conducted only with Banisteriopsis caapiBanisteriopsis spp.Peganum harmala, and synthetic (pharmaceutical) MAO inhibitors. But there are other MAO inhibitors in nature, such as Tribulus terrestris. The ongoing investigations into St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum L.) and other Hypericumspecies396 as possible MAO-inhibiting admixtures are very interesting. Hypericin, the primary active constituent in Hypericum spp.,“has been proven to be a monoamine oxidase inhibitor” (Becker 1994, 48*). Psychotria viridis and Mimosa tenuiflora have been looked at as sources of DMT, but numerous other possibilities also exist (see the tables on the following pages). The dosages are determined by the alkaloid concentrations in the various admixtures (DeKorne 1996; Ott 1994).


Many grasses (from the genera ArundoPhalaris, and Phragmites) contain DMT and are increasingly being tested for use as ingredients in ayahuasca analogs. (Woodcut from Gerard, The Herball or General History of Plants, 1633)


As with traditional ayahuasca, most ayahuasca analogs have a thoroughly disgusting taste and are therefore generally difficult to force down (because they are forced up again from below). Chewing sliced ginger (Zingiber officinale) can help counteract the often repulsive taste (DeKorne 1994, 98*).

The following recipes are formulated to yield a single dose.

Classic Ayahuasca Analog


25 g Psychotria viridis leaves, dried and ground

3 g Peganum harmala seeds, crushed

Juice of one lemon

Enough water to boil all the ingredients (approximately 200–350 ml)

Place all the ingredients in a steel pot. Slowly bring to a boil, then boil rapidly for two to three minutes. Reduce the heat and simmer for approximately five more minutes. Pour off the decoction. Add some water to the herbs remaining in the pot and boil again. Pour the first decoction back into the pot. After a while, pour out the liquid once more. Add fresh water to the remaining herbs and bring to a boil again. Remove the plant remnants and compost them, if possible. Mix together the three extracts. Carefully heat the mixture to reduce the total volume. The tea should be drunk as fresh as possible (allow to cool first), although it can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days. The effects begin about forty-five minutes after ingestion. The visionary phase lasts about an hour.

Juremahuasca or Mimohuasca


Connoisseurs consider this ayahuasca analog to be both the most easily tolerated and the most psychoactive preparation.

3 g Peganum harmala seeds, finely ground

9 g Mimosa tenuiflora root cortex

Juice of one lime or lemon

The crushed Syrian rue (P. harmala) seeds may be either swallowed in a gelatin capsule or mixed in water and drunk. The decoction of lemon juice and mimosa root cortex should be drunk fifteen minutes later.

Prairie Ayahuasca


This blend is especially popular in North America. Predominantly pleasant experiences have been reported (Ott 1994, 63; cf. DeKorne 1994, 97*).

3–4 g Peganum harmala seeds, finely ground

30 g Desmanthus illinoensis root cortex (prairie mimosa, Illinois bundleweed, Illinois bundleflower)

Juice of one lemon or lime

Prepare in the same manner as juremahuasca (above).


Precisely measured ingredients for mimohuasca, an ayahuasca analog made with 9 g of Mimosa tenuiflora root cortex and 3 g of Syrian rue (Peganum harmala).



The root of the American shrub known as prairie mimosa (Desmanthus illinoensis) is rich in DMT and is a popular ingredient in ayahuasca analogs.




This blend is especially popular in Australia and has been used with good success.

3 g Peganum harmala seeds, finely ground

20 g Acacia phlebophylla leaves, ground (cf. Acacia spp.)

Juice of one lemon or lime

Prepare in the same manner as juremahuasca (above).



In Europe, various combinations of Phalaris arundinacea or Phalaris aquatica (see Phalaris spp.) and Peganum harmala have been investigated. Unfortunately, the experiments have met with little success to date as far as pleasant visionary experiences are concerned. Because of the toxic alkaloid (gramine) that occurs in the reed grasses, these preparations can be very dangerous (Festi and Samorini 1994).



This preparation is a combination of Peganum harmala and Lophophora williamsii. It may be pharmacologically very dangerous.

San Pedro Ayahuasca


The following amounts and ingredients have been reported to produce pleasant effects (in Entheogene 5 [1995], 53).

1–3 g Syrian rue (Peganum harmala)

20–25 g San Pedro cactus powder (see Trichocereus pachanoi)

This blend may be pharmacologically dangerous.

“May the Entheogenic Reformation prevail over the Pharmacratic Inquisition, leading to a spiritual rebirth of humankind at Our Lady Gaea’s breasts, from which may ever copiously flow the amrta, the ambrosia, the ayahuasca of eternal life!”




(1994, 12)








This mixture, which is also known as mushroom ayahuasca or soma ayahuasca, consists of:

3 g Peganum harmala and 3 g mushrooms (Psilocybe cubensis)


2 g Peganum harmala and 1.5 g Psilocybe semilanceata in sage tea

Because the effects of these blends can be extremely unpleasant, people are generally warned against using them (Kent 1995; Malima 1995).

LSA/Desmanthus Ayahuasca


Although the report (in Entheogene 5 [1995]: 40 f.) spoke of a quite pleasant experience, this mixture appears to be potentially dangerous.

3 g Peganum harmala

Argyreia nervosa seed

3–4 g Desmanthus illinoensis root cortex



For several years, there has been considerable speculation that the pre-Columbian Maya may have used a psychoactive ritual drink that was an ayahuasca analog. It has been conjectured that the Mayans used a Banisteriopsis species (Banisteriopsis spp.) that grows in the Mesoamerican lowlands in combination with a source of DMT to make a “Mayahuasca” (Hyman 1994). It is entirely possible that Banisteriopsis muricata was used for this purpose, as its stems contain harmine and its leaves DMT. In other words, it is possible that an ayahuasca analog was made from just one plant.



For pharmahuasca, 100 mg N,N-DMT and 50 mg harmaline is usually the recommended dosage per person. However, combinations of 50 mg harmaline, 50 mg harmine, and 50 mg N,N-DMT have also been tested with success. As a rule, the fewer β-carbolines, the less nausea; the more DMT, the more spectacular the visions. The constituents are put into separate gelatin capsules. The capsule with harmaline/harmine is swallowed first and the capsule containing the DMT is taken some fifteen to twenty minutes later. The purely synthetic MAO inhibitor Marplan is also suitable in place of harmaline and harmine (Ott 1996, 34).




The summer cypress, Kochia scoparia [syn. Bassia scoparia], indigenous to Asia, contains substantial amounts of harmala alkaloids and may be useful in ayahuasca analogs as an MAO inhibitor.


5-MeO-DMT can be used instead of N,N-DMT, or a mixture of both DMTs can be used.



The pharmacologist James Callaway has hypothesized that under certain circumstances a kind of pharmahuasca (which he calls endohuasca) is produced in the brain when both endogenous β-carbolines and endogenous DMT are excreted. This endohuasca produces dreams in a neuro-chemical manner (Callaway 1995; cf. also Ott 1996).


Tribulus terrestris (known as burra gokhru) may be of psychopharmacological interest and urgently merits further research. (Woodcut from Gerard, The Herball or General History of Plants, 1633)



The root cortex of Desmanthus pulchellus is rich in DMT and is thus suitable for use as an ingredient in ayahuasca analogs.




See also the entries for Peganum harmalaPhalaris arundinaceaPhalaris spp.ayahuascaN,N-DMTharmaline and harmine, and β-phenethylamine.


Appleseed, Johnny. 1993. Ayahuasca analog plant complexes of the temperate zone. Integration 4:59–62.


Callaway, James. 1995. Pharmahuasca and contemporary ethnopharmacology. Curare 18 (2): 395–98.


DeKorne, Jim, ed. 1996. Ayahuasca analogs and plant-based tryptamines. E. R. Monograph Series, no. 1. El Rito, N.M.: The Entheogen Review.


Drost-Karbowska, K., Z. Kowalewski, and J. David Phillipson. 1978. Isolation of harmane and harmine from Kochia scopariaLloydia 41:289–90.


Festi, Francesco, and Giorgio Samorini. 1994. “Ayahuasca-like” effects obtained with Italian plants. Lecture at the II° Congrés Internacional per a l’Estudio dels Estats Modificats de Consciencis, October 3–7, 1994, Llèida, Catalonia (manuscript).


Hyman, Richard. 1994. Speculations on the ritual use of Banisteriopsis by the ancient Maya. Unpublished manuscript, London. (Cited 1998.)


Kent, James. 1995. Mushroom ayahuasca. Psychedelic Illuminations 8:74–75.


Malima. 1995. Psilocybin und Harmala—Psilohuasca. Entheogene 5:6–12.


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