According to Dennis McKenna, professor at the Spirituality Centre of the Minnesota University (north of the USA), “every night there are close to one hundred ceremonies in New York, and that surely applies to Los Angeles and San Francisco”.

With this sacred Amazonian plant a hallucinogenic beverage is prepared, which is subject to studies in psychiatry as a potential cure for addictions, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dominique was “a complete coke addict” and smoked two packs of cigarettes a day when she discovered ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic potion of Amazonian origins: “I quit everything overnight without effort”.

This French-American from Los Angeles is one of the thousands of adepts of this psychedelic beverage that is causing furore in the United States and that is the object of interest of psychiatry researchers as a potential cure for addictions, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder

Qualified as a hard drug by the sanitary authorities of the USA, ayahuasca is not exempt of risks, especially because it is consumed in the underground, which opens the doors to deviations.

This decoction of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and the chacruna leaves, prepared and ingested according to shamanic rituals, has been increasingly gaining a following for about ten years, especially in Silicon Valley and Hollywod (California), where many stars, from Sting to Lindsey Lohan, from Paul Simon to Tori Amos, have ingested it and told of their experience.

“There has been this misconception that it is the hippies that come with feathers in their hair, but there are fashion designers, actors, stylists, businessmen, lawyers…,” says Jeff, who organises ayahuasca ceremonies in the Los Angeles area and who did not want his real name used.

“In a time defined by consumerism and entertainment, people want to have strong experiences, one might consider spiritual experiences, something sacred”, says Jeff.

A hundred ceremonies every night in New York

According to Dennis McKenna, professor at the Spirituality Centre of the Minnesota University (north of the USA), “every night there are close to one hundred ceremonies in New York and that surely applies to Los Angeles and San Francisco”.

But it is difficult to know precisely due to the illicit nature of this substance that contains DMT (dimethyltryptamine), a potent psychotropic.

Critics make fun of the ayahuasca-mania, which they see as simply a trend to “fly” like many others.

Supporters say, in turn, that they take it with caution after several months of interval. They must firstly follow a strict “diet” before participating in the ceremonies that usually take place outdoors, accompanied by meditation sequences and traditional chants.

Violet swallows

The ingestion of ayahuasca generates euphoric hallucinations “I had the sensation of leaving my body”, tells Dominique. “I saw pink and violet swallows, green geometric shapes”, completes Leonard, another enthusiast of this drug.

But other visions are darker, even terrifying, generally accompanied by vomiting. This is what is called the “purge”. “In the jungle it is considered a purifier”, affirms Jeff.

Some claim to have undergone radical transformations. “I stopped smoking, I started meditating, reconnecting with nature, reconciled with my family”, assures Leonard.

The potential healing effects of ayahuasca interest researchers increasingly.

Such is the case of Jessica Nielson, from the Brain Damage Centre in the University of California in San Francisco (UCSF), that started studying this drug after a trip to Peru in which she saw how “two people affected by a post-traumatic stress disorder seemed totally cured” after an intake.

Nielson tries to get permission from the American medication authority, the FDA, to perform a clinical test but the road seems hard as it is treated as a “hard” drug, although psychotropics like MDMA or LSD are being used in psychiatry.

Charles Grob, a lecturer of the Psychiatry Department of the Harbor-UCLA Medical Centre of Los Angles, considers that “it is worth studying these tracks”. “Western medicine has difficulties treating addictions to drugs and alcohol”, says this doctor, who participated in an ayahuasca research 20 years ago.

Potentially dangerous

If in the United States the research is restrained by legal matters, in other parts of the world it is multiplying, especially in Brazil, where ayahuasca is legal –as it is in Mexico, Peru or Colombia- and in Spain, where there is a legal vacuum.

Grob cites especially “a pilot study that took place in Brazil on people suffering chronic depression and who did not respond well to antidepressants. The preliminary results are positive”.

Ayahuasca can nevertheless be dangerous, especially for those who take antidepressants, have psychotic or heart problems, epileptics and asthmatics.

“We have to make sure that people are physically and mentally able to endure it”, explains Jeff. If these precautions are taken “it is not dangerous”.

The popularity of this plant, that some by over the Internet also attracts charlatans, admit experts like Jeff and McKenna.

And it can generate drama, because this drug elicits euphoric trances and also depressive phases and –although more rarely- panic crisis and paranoia. In Peru, where ayahuasca tourism is massive, aggressions have been denounced, especially sexual. Also in that country a British man was stabbed to death by a Canadian after a ceremony a year ago.

“What is required is more research”, concludes Mark Barad, psychiatrist of the UCLA.


Ayahuasca International holds Inner Evolution retreats with therapeutic use of Ayahuasca in several countries in Europe. For bookings or to request any further information call to +49 (0) 171 987 6655 (also available by whatsapp) or write to [email protected] 


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