Ayahuasca is hitting the big time. Once shuttered away from mainstream western culture, the traditional Amazonian psychedelic whose name means ‘vine of the dead’ or ‘vine of souls’ is gaining traction in North American and European consciousness, showing up more and more in media and pop culture references.
The latest example came in the “Ayahuasca Monologues,” an event held in New York this week, where various speakers pontificated on the uses, benefits, pitfalls and mysteries of the divine substance. Newsweek sent a reporter to the gathering and summarized some of the action:
Hamilton Morris of Vice explained the nuts and bolts behind the famed psychedelic. Ayahuasca, Morris told the crowd, is a mix of derivatives of the vine Banisteriopsis caapi and the shrub Psychotria viridis. The active ingredient, DMT, can cause otherworldly visions and a visit to the spirit world. The outcome can be enlightening, but it’s not to be taken lightly. “It’s not a fun substance,” Morris said, according to Newsweek.
Chris Kilham, author of The Ayahuasca Test Pilots Handbook: The Essential Guide to Ayahuasca Journeying, described an ayahuasca voyage as joyful but difficult. The substance often causes prolific vomiting, sometimes compared to a literal purging of whatever is troubling the mind, heart or spirit of the participant. In a separate interview with Newsweek, Kilham described taking his first ayahuasca experience to help confront depression after his mother passed away. “After grieving for too long, I realized I needed help,” he said. After he drank the concoction, he heard his mother tell him to go live his life. “After conversing for a couple minutes, the grief was gone, and it hasn’t come back,” Kilham said.
“Ayahuasca can help us save the world,” anthropologist Luis Eduardo Luna told the crowd, lauding its ability to facilitate human growth, healing and understanding. Then former Van Morrison guitarist John Sheldon sang about how he used an ayahuasca experience to quit taking Prozac for depression. He said he channeled love into his sadness, Newsweek reported, and saw the depression fly away from his chest in the form of a dragon. “And after that, I never took a pill again,” he sang.
Word is getting around about ayahuasca and other psychedelic substances’ utility in combating addiction, depression, anxiety, PTSD and other disorders, and Reset has cataloged a number of healing experiences that people have had. In one instance, Juliette Greenham wrote about how she found the courage to come out as transgender and move forward with transitioning after participating in a ceremony. “It made me face my fears, bringing me to utter terror and beyond death in three ceremonies,” Greenham wrote. “In this test, I was supposed to surrender and trust, and so I did. The rewards were immense. By facing your fears you receive the great gift of getting to know yourself, and what your real strengths are.”
Chris Isner revealed how ayahuasca helped him understand his negative energy during a retreat in Costa Rica. And John C. wrote, “ever-deepening ego encrustations were exposed and expelled: My self-distraction, self-deception, persistent adolescent identity and narcissism — all of the core defenses that I had built up just to survive my childhood, that were then reinforced by a corrupt society.” Ayahuasca, he said, helped him identify and escape the layers of negative conditioning that society places on men.
Not for the faint of heart, then, but a valuable journey for people prepared to face their inner demons and emerge with a deeper understanding of themselves and the outside world. “Ayahuasqueros use sound and suggestion to direct healing energy into parts of the body and unexamined aspects of an individual’s personal history where psychic tension has come to rest,” renowned philosopher Terrance McKenna once said. “Often these methods exhibit startling parallels to the techniques of modern psychotherapy; at other times they seem to represent an understanding of possibilities and energies still unrecognized by western theories of healing.”
More details about ayahuasca journeys and how the substance works can be found on Erowid, a non-profit that provides information on psychoactive plants and chemicals.