Mama Pacha

Ayahuasca – Medicine Plant


The word ayahuasca is a Quechua term that combines two words “aya” which means “soul”, “spirit”, “ancestors”, “the dead” and “huasca” which means “vine”, “liana” or “rope”. It is, therefore, translated as the “vine of the soul”, or the “rope of ancestors/the dead”.
Ayahuasca is a plant brew that originated in the Amazonian rainforest used by different indigenous communities living in Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil and Bolivia. Indigenous communities have used ayahuasca for centuries for healing, divination, magic and rituals.  

Components and Chemistry

Ayahuasca is a tea made from several different recipes. It often varies on the shaman/curandero that cooks it. The original and most basic recipe consists of mainly two plants. Therefore, the most common ayahuasca ingredients are ayahuasca vine, banisteriosis caapi, and chacruna leaves –psychotria viridis. However, indigenous people add other plants to the brew looking for different benefits and properties. There are over 80 other plants identified that can be added to the ayahuasca brew by indigenous people. For this reason, it is crucial to know the brew ingredients and their properties before drinking it.  

Banisteriosis Caapi

Banisteriosis Caapi is the ayahuasca vine. It consists of woody braided vines that climb different trees and grow throughout the Amazonian forest. Its leaves can reach 7 inches long and 3 inches wide. These contain alkaloids which act as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI). 

There is a wide variety of ayahuasca vines. The sky ahayuasca, white, red, black and thunder ayahuasca, among others. They all serve different purposes and their names are given based on the purpose, colour of the plant or the tint they give to their visions. The most commonly used for people that don’t drink it with regularity is the sky or cielo ayahuasca.

Psychotria Viridis

Psychotria viridis, popularly known as chacruna, is a perennial shrub that can reach up to 196 inches. Its leaves contain dimethyltryptamine (DMT). DMT already exists naturally in the human body. Some researchers believe it may be responsible for inducing mystical experiences in events such as death or near-death experiences, birth, psychosis and dreams. 


When ingested, DMT is metabolized in the stomach by the monoamine oxidase enzymes (MAO). However, the other ingredient of the brew, the banisterosis caapi present in the chacruna leaves, disables the MAO enzymes. It allows the DMT to pass the blood-brain barrier and achieve its psychoactive effects.

Preparation & Dosage


The vine is usually crushed and cooked together with the leaves in a process that can take several hours until the desired concentration and thickness are achieved.

Depending on the person’s intention of what they want to achieve, the shaman/curandero might add other plants to the brew. It is crucial to know which plants are used to make your brew.

Dosage and Guidance

Ayahuasca is a potent brew in which proper dosages are essential. Ayahuasca intake in excess can induce unwanted adverse effects such as panic, delusion, and intense fear or cause health complications. For this reason, the dosage and guidance from an experienced shaman/curandero are crucial. 

The dosage depends on multiple factors such as the decoction’s concentration, the person’s previous experience drinking brew and the shaman/curandero’s evaluation of the person’s needs.

Ayahuasca Ceremony

An ayahuasca ceremony last around 4 hours, and the effects emerge around half an hour after ingestion. The effects experienced during the ceremony are deeply personal. Every ayahuasca journey is unique. Yet, there are some common effects people have recognised in their experience.

Sensory Changes

Perception and senses can be altered during an ayahuasca ceremony. Sensory changes can be  auditory stimuli, altered body sensation or perception of the environment. People do not lose consciousness during an ayahuasca ceremony. There is an altered state of being, yet the person can walk or talk if needed. The intensity of the trance state during an ayahuasca ceremony varies, and the focus is inner. Yet, it does not mean the person will lose understanding of who they are, where they are and what they are doing.


Visions are possible due to the DMT component present in the chacruna leaves. It opens the pineal gland, also known as the inner eye. The visionary aspect of an ayahuasca ceremony comes and goes like waves. They can be a vast spectrum such as kaleidoscopic patterns, colourful abstractions, animals, entities and images related to the person’s life.

Even when there are no visions, healing is still present. Although most western people come to the experience because of its visionary effects, this is not the most crucial aspect for amazonian people. Indigenous people believe in the healing properties of the ayahuasca vine which is not a visionary plant by itself. The visionary aspect engages the mind and helps the person to surrender to the experience.  



Purging is another common effect. As mentioned previously, ayahuasca ceremonies are personal, meaning that some people won’t purge, others may struggle to do so, and others may not purge at all. To purge in an ayahuasca ceremony is felt as liberation. Although most people are afraid or do not want to purge, they come to understand its function. Indigenous people understand purging as the plant releasing all the blockages and negative energies stored in our bodies.
The purge is very much a catharsis. The first process in every session is cleaning to go deeper into ourselves.   

Risks and Safety

Research in humans and animals have shown that ayahuasca is a safe substance when the composition is known and is taken in an appropriate setting with guidance and support. Undesired adverse effects can be reduced by following a good diet before and after the retreat, having support throughout the experience as well as attending integration sessions. The set and setting are crucial for having a good experience. For this reason, people take it in the jungle with an experienced curandero/shaman. It is essential to keep in mind the list of foods incompatible with MAOI and the medication. If there is any hesitation please speak with the shaman or the person in charge.  

Medical Contraindications

There are medical contraindications when taking ayahuasca. One of the ayahuasca’s effects is the rise in blood pressure and heart rate, for this reason, it is not recommended for people suffering from heart disease or high blood pressure. Secondly, although studies have not shown ayahuasca as the main cause of psychotic breaks, if there are underlying conditions, these episodes can occur. Therefore, using this plant by people with bipolar disorder or a history of psychotic breaks is not recommended.


 Prescribed Medication

Many antidepressants, tricyclics, heterocyclics, migraine medication, amphetamines and opiates may cause serious interactions when combined with MAOIs. Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) can induce a serotoninergic crisis called serotonin syndrome. Whilst there are no documented cases of such interactions most guidelines highly recommend avoiding its combination.  

Any medication is potentially contraindicated when using ayahuasca. Numerous over-the-counter pharmaceuticals such as antihistamines, decongestants, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, diet pills and allergy medication can create potentially serious complications in combination with ayahuasca. Shamans would ask the person to stop using the medication for some time before and after the ceremony. This is to avoid chemical conflict and unwanted adverse effects.

Recreational Drugs 

Lastly, the use of any recreational drug is contraindicated whilst taking ayahuasca. Marihuana users may need to abstain from its use before and after the ceremonies as it can block the visions and intrude on the healing process. Other substances such as cocaine, MDMA and amphetamines must be avoided too. The combination of ayahuasca with these substances can cause intoxication. Furthermore, according to researchers, it could lead to an overdose even with small amounts of the mentioned substances.

Vitamins and supplements 


Concerning supplements and herbal medicines, there are some contraindications too. A candid conversation with the person in charge of the ceremony regarding any drug, medication or herbal medicine you are taking is highly recommended. 


The psychoactive present in the ayahuasca brew, DMT, is a Schedule I controlled substance according to the 1971 United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances. DMT manufacture and sale are illegal except for very limited scientific uses. Yet, ayahuasca decoction itself is not under international control. Its illegal status depends on each country and its use.  

In Amazonian countries such as Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia and Brazil the possession and use of ayahuasca are legal. This applies as well to religious practices under which the use of the substance is legal even in countries where the substance is illegal in recreational settings. Some countries do not seem to have any regulation on the matter as the use of the substance is not common. 

Please see the link to find out information about the legalities of ayahuasca in each country.

Ayahuasca's Therapeutic Potential


Although ayahuasca has been used for centuries by the Amazonian people, it is relatively new in the western world. There is an increasing interest in understanding the effects of ayahuasca scientifically, this is seen by new research emerging year by year. There is still loads of research to be conducted as ayahuasca establishes itself as a psychoactive plant with enormous healing potential.

Several kinds of research have shown ayahuasca to have transformative effects on people suffering from PTSD, depression, anxiety and substance misuse. Ayahuasca has also been found beneficial in existential crises, such as struggling to find a life purpose and social isolation, as it helps improve de quality of one’s relationships. Additionally, ayahuasca can improve our relationship with nature and with ourselves. Some ayahuasca users have developed healthier habits after participating in these ceremonies.

Shadow work

One of ayahuasca’s main therapeutic potentials is that it confronts the person with the aspects of themselves that need to be brought to awareness. The person is confronted with the root cause of their suffering. This is different from western medicine where the focus is on the alleviation of the symptoms.

Some studies have shown an increase in neuronal activation where new neuronal connections have been made as a result of consuming ayahuasca. Some studies show that this medicine can also modify brain structure. This can correlate to better performance on psychological tasks and positive changes in personality traits that have also been found.  

There are some common therapeutic benefits indicated in research such as the reduction of symptoms and a feeling of peacefulness.  

 Guide for Transformation

Ayahuasca has the potential to be a powerful healer and spiritual teacher however, drinking it only does not solve all problems. The person that decides to embark on this journey will use ayahuasca and all the support offered to find healing, but it is an active journey. In this way, this practice separates itself from the medical concept of ‘patient’ which etymologically means the one who waits patiently. In the plant medicine world, the person that searches for healing is an active participant in their healing journey. 

To ensure long-term and lasting effects, doing an integration process after the experience is vital. Otherwise, the experience starts fading with time. Integration can maximize benefits and becomes a crucial aspect of healing with master plants. Integration not only helps the person gain all possible therapeutic benefits, but it also helps the person deal with the adverse effects this powerful medicine can bring.