Sacred Vine of Spirits: Ayahuasca

Today I finished reading Ralph Metzner’s Sacred Vine of Spirits: Ayahuasca.

Ayahuasca (which translates to either “vine of the dead” or “vine of the spirits”) is a hallucinogenic tea, native to South America and used there for shamanic healing purposes since pre-history. Also known as caapi, hoasca, yagé, natéma, mihi, kahi, pinde, and dapa, the brew is made of the bark of the vine Banisteriopsis caapi (which itself is also known as Ayahuasca) and (most commonly) the leaves of Psychotria viridis. Psychotria viridis is what contains the dimethyltryptamine (DMT), making the mixture hallucinogenic, but the DMT, when consumed orally, is made inactive by monamine oxidase (MOA). Thus the bark of the Banisteriopsis caapi is used for its MOA inhibiting property, allowing the DMT to take its course. Most interestingly, DMT is almost identical in structure to Serotonin, a neurotransmitter produced throughout the brain and responsible for “higher functions of behavior, such as planning and other time-related events.” Serotonin is eventually deactived by the same thing that deactives DMT, MOA. So, one could consume only the bark of the Ayahuasca vine (or any other MOA inhibiter) and receive a similar psychoactive active to that produced by DMT. (Apparently some antidepressants take this route.) Terence McKenna, in many of his recordings, fondly referred to the Ayahuasca brew as “brain soup”, since nothing in it is not naturally in your body.

As another interesting aside, there is DMT in your body right now (the human body naturally produces it), yet, in the United States, it is illegal to possess without a DEA license. Go to jail.

The first 100 pages or so of the book goes over the scientific, medical, and psychological properties of the tea, providing for more knowledge on the brew than I thought possible to know. The rest of the book is devoted to various first-hand experiences with Ayahuasca – all of which are excellent. I recommend the book highly for anyone remotely interested in Ayahuasca, psychology, or medicine.

(During my reading of this book, the U.S. Supreme Court came very close to recognizing Ayahuasca as a religious sacrament.)