What is Ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca is a brew prepared by boiling of several plants. The most important plants, typical for the Amazonian region, which are used to make Ayahuasca are Banisteriopsis Caapi and Psychotria Viridis. This brew is regarded as having both medical and sacred function at the same time, and it gets consumed during shamanic ceremonies. Most of the shamanic traditions of Amazon Basin use this brew as the central element of their ceremonies.
The word Ayahuasca derives from two Quechua words: “aya”, meaning “deceased” or “spirits”, and “huasca” which may signify “rope” or, referring to a rampant plant such as Banisteriopsis, it might be translated as “liane”. Therefore, the word Ayahuasca might be translated as “liana of the spirits”. The origin of this name is linked to the affirmation of indigenous peoples, which sustain to be able to communicate with the spirits of “teacher plants” through visions produced by Ayahuasca ingestion.
Which effects does Ayahuasca have?
On one hand, ingestion of Ayahuasca offers a visionary experience – usually loaded with emotional and spiritual meaning for the individual – while on the other hand it purges the organism through mechanisms of vomiting and diarrhea. As a result, the individual attains a complete mental and physical purification, which is often associated with a heightened sense of wellbeing.
The effects during the first sessions with this medicine might be completely absent, difficult to identify or to interpret, or they may be strong and uncontrollable. As one gets familiar with this experience, there is an increase in awareness and trust in process. One starts controlling the altered state of consciousness and learning how to use it beneficially. This process is defined by shamans as a real dialogue with the plant and with spirits.
It is through this very dialogue that learning, which is the ultimate aim of any work with Amazonian medicine, takes place. The learning can include botanical, medical and psychological areas, arriving to practical matters such as hunting, farming, architecture and art.
How is Ayahuasca absorbed by the organism?
This brew has a very special action. The two plants used to produce Ayahuasca are functional only synergically.
Banisteriopsis Caapi contains chemicals that inhibit the activity of the monoamine oxidase enzyme family. This enzyme, if not inhibited by Banisteriopsis Caapi, destroys dymetiltriptamin, a chemical with “psychedelic” properties which is found in Psychotria Viridis and which is responsible for the visionary effects of the brew. From a scientific point of view it is impossible to explain how did the indigenous people, lacking all advanced technology, manage to discover this mechanism of interaction between two plants out of 80,000 vegetal species found in Amazon forests – the sheer quantity of plant species excludes the possibility of trial-and-error approach.
This is the basic explanation of psychophysiological mechanism of Ayahuasca – a mechanism so complex as to constitute an interesting object of scientific studies, but also of any kind of philosophical and spiritual speculation.
Obviously, it would be erroneous to presume that the biochemical components of this brew are sole responsible for the experience in a ceremony. These components are only the keys that unlock the experience, allowing us to access a larger spiritual reality and to experience it directly.
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