Ayahuasca is a psychedelic tea originating from the Upper Amazon in South America. It is typically prepared from two plants– Psycotra viridis, containing the psychedelic compound DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine), and Banisteriopis Caapi (the ayahuasca vine) which contains monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) that prevent DMT from being broken down in the gut and liver. This combination allows DMT to have psychoactive effects when taken orally, and prolongs the intense psychedelic experience.
Ayahuasca has a long history of ceremonial consumption among various indigenous populations throughout the region, in countries such as Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru. Ayahuasca is considered in its traditional context as an important element of shamanic tradition and as a medicine. As such, it is consumed within a ceremony or ritual under the guidance of a Shaman; a person of significant social standing who is sought for the healing of physical, emotional and psychological issues. More recently, its psychedelic properties and therapeutic potential have attracted significant attention in the global West, with a rapidly-emerging tourism sector centred around offering the ayahuasca ceremony to international visitors at ayahuasca retreats.
As a psychedelic drug, ayahuasca is increasingly consumed outside of traditional retreats and ceremonies due to the online availability of the plants used in ayahuasca preparation. New trends in consumption have led to controversy around the impact on the traditional communities where its plant components grow, and the potential risks of unsupervised use. For a deeper exploration of these debates, please find here the Drug Science podcast episode with Dr Simon Ruffell on ayahuasca.