The term “Ayahuasca” comes from the Quechua language and literally translates as the “rope of spirit” (“aya” is spirit and “huasca” rope). The plant Ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi) is a vine in the Amazon región, and is called a "master of masters" plant for it´s ability to teach. When blended with the leaves of the chacruna tree (Psychotria viridis) in precise ratios, the brew, also called "Ayahuasca", has purgative and psycho-active effects, and it´s use in a ceremonial context forms the basis of Amazonian shamanism.
The Ayahuasca brew is most commonly reddish brown in color (variable according to the characteristics of the vine), has a bitter taste, characteristic odor and somewhat thick consistency. Throughout the Amazon regions it has traditionally been used to cure and learn about various human ailments, when ingested in group sessions and in a ritual context.
This medicine is an ancient discovery of the Amazon Indians. The very discovery of this combined plant brew demonstrates the deep and extraordinary wisdom of the ancients, in a time before any modern medical and chemical testing. The Ayahuasca vine is rich in β-carbolines (harmine, harmaline and tetrahydroharmine), which gives it the ability to inhibit the action of the enzyme Mono Amine Oxidase (MAO)*, naturally found in the human digestive tract and liver. Without the Ayahuasca vine´s abilities to inhibit it, the MAO enzyme would normally destroy the psycho-active androgen dimethyltryptamine (DMT)** , the substance contained in the chacruna leaves. The MAO enzyme also competes with the serotonin 5 HT1 receptors, so through the process of inhibiting the MAO enzymes there is also an increase of catecholamines and seronina levels. This, combined with the effects of the DMT, produces an intense psychotropic effect on the brain.
Ayahuasca has been ingested for more than 12,000 years, since the first inhabitants of the Amazon began to seek medicinal plants to cure their illnesses. Over time it has been passed slowly from generation to generation.
Ayahuasca is widely considered by many who know and use it, as a masterpiece of nature that cures ills, teaches us, corrects us and punishes us (like a loving mother who scolds us, so that we leave behind our weaknesses, our weights and continuously improve as conscious human beings).
In the Andean and Amazon cultures the native communities consider Ayahuasca to be a "mother plant" of the plant world, understanding the term "mother" not in its common meaning, but as a main source and channel capable of providing access to other plants in the natural world.
Before and during a ceremony it is important for the participant to focus on a particular intention which they wish to gain or learn about , from drinking Ayahuasca. In this way we are consciously drinking the sacred medicine with an open heart and an increased ability to give and receive love. When you open your heart fully, you then begin to open your mind.
The first Ayahuasca visions are usually presented after a period of dizziness, that allows the participant to purge the medicine through vomiting (although not in all cases). This purgative process serves the purpose of physically and energetically cleansing participants, thereby eliminating all impurities contained in the body and spirit. Purging is a natural process of an Ayahuasca ceremony, and usually occurs about 30 or 40 minutes after taking the medicine.
When a person first drinks Ayahuasca they can be startled by the wealth of information, insights and spirits of the natural world (animals, plants, etc.), that begin to interact with them. Initially their visions can mix with their internal fear, weaknesses and doubts, and this initial fear and disorientation is often greater for those who are less connected with the spiritual and natural world in their day to day lives. However once Ayahuasca has had to a chance to fully connect with the person any initial disorientation then gives way to a heightened sense of alertness and inner peace, as they are then surrounded by softer visions.
* MAO are enzymes that catalyze the oxidation of monoamine neurotransmitter degradation and - amines (serotonin, norepinephrine). They are attached to the outer membrane of the mitocondria, which exists in most cell types of an organism.
** DMT is a psycho-active substance that is naturally present in many different plants, animals and organisms in nature, including the human brain. The chemical pharmacologically belongs to the family of tryptamine.