Ayahuasca is an Amazonian psychedelic plant medicine that has been used for thousands of years, by indigenous shaman across the upper Amazon throughout Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil.

Unlike all other sacred plant medicines, ayahuasca is made from two plants – the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and the leaf of the chacruna plant (Psychotria viridis). Both plants are collected from the jungle to create a potent mixture that offers access to the realm of spirits and an energetic world that that we are typically unable to perceive in our ordinary state of consciousness.

In chemical terms, the chacruna plant contains the powerful psychoactive dimethyletryptamine (DMT), which, by itself, is not orally active because it is metabolized by the stomach enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO).

However, certain chemicals within the ayahuasca vine contain MAO inhibitors which prevent the breakdown of DMT.

This means the psychoactive compound can enter the blood stream and reach the brain where it triggers powerful visionary experiences and enables us to access otherworldly realms and our hidden, inner subconscious landscapes. (1)

DMT is a naturally occurring compound found in miniscule amounts in our brains and urine. It is unclear where and why this is endogenously produced – with theories that it may come from our pineal gland (with recent research finding it in the brains of rats) and facilitate our dream state. But its presence could be simply metabolic waste, generated as a by-product during the synthesis of neurotransmitters like serotonin or tryptophan. (2)

Researchers are trying to understand how it acts on the brain with a recent study performed in 2019 by Imperial College London where they injected 13 participants with intravenous DMT showed that their EEG – a study of brainwave activity – was similar to that of a someone dreaming with a rise in theta waves and a drop in alpha waves. Brain activity was also seen to be more chaotic and less predictable which is different to “similar studies done with psilocybin or LSD, where we see mainly only reductions in brainwaves.” (3)

Functional MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) has shown hyperactivation of the brain region related to emotional memory, ‘temporarily modifying the ordinary flow of information within the brain.’ (4) It is thought that the disruption of neural patterns allows new pathways to form which increases creative ‘divergent’ thinking. (5) This often provides the user with new insights and perspectives and can change how they relate to emotionally charged experiences in their past.

For the last 20 years, many foreigners and Amazonian people have worked with the medicine in ceremonies, led by trained healers, in order to face the causes of their conditions, illnesses and imbalances personally and to take part in the healing equation. Effectively, this means moving healing into a co-creative relationship between the healer, the plant spirits, ayahuasca, the participant and their own inner physician.

The drinker is able to uncover and take personal responsibility for issues that had been hidden in their unconscious and resulted in energetic blockages – often the cause of the dis-ease, or emotional/psycho-spiritual imbalance. (1)

This has come at an important time – when we are facing a global pandemic of psycho-emotional dis-ease that modern medical systems do not seem able to address.

Drinking ayahuasca on your own without the presence, protection and skilled work of an experienced healer is not advised.

It will not provide the level of safety, depth of healing and overall efficacy that can be achieved when ayahuasca healing is practiced by skilled healers who are working with a multitude of plant spirits and ikarus (songs) in ceremony to assist in getting to the roots of issues. (1)

It also needs to be mentioned that when research is being done on this exciting plant – these elements within the ceremony are considered as part of the medicine. It is all to easy for Western medicine – with its tendency for reductionism – to focus on the ‘active ingredient’ without acknowledging factors such as the setting, intention, lineage and skill that are also involved and are highly likely to be contributing to the overall benefit that is being seen in early trials with this plant medicine.


(1) The Temple of the Way of Light, 2023, Ayahuasca and Shamanism, Accessed 07/02/2023, https://templeofthewayoflight.org/shamanism-ayahuasca/ayahuasca-and-amazonian-shamanism/

(2) Beckley Foundation, 2016, Do Our Brains Produce DMT and If So Why?, Accessed 07/02/2023, https://www.beckleyfoundation.org/2017/07/05/do-our-brains-produce-dmt-and-if-so-why/

(3) Science Daily, 2019, Ayahuasca compound changes brainwaves to vivid ‘waking-dream’ state, Accessed 07/02/2023, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/11/191119075305.htm

(4) McKenna. D, Riba. J. 2018. ‘New World Tryptamine Hallucinogens and the Neuroscience of Ayahuasca’ Current Topics In Behavioural Neurosciences, Vol 36:283-311

(5) Kuypers K.P.C, Riba, J. 2016. ‘Ayahuasca enhances creative divergent thinking while decreasing conventional convergent thinking.’ Psychopharmacology, Vol 233:3395-3403


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