Bosley_J (BosleyJ@ORE.PSB.BLS.GOV)
Thu, 7 Dec 1995 16:49:00 EST

Laura L-P writes:

"Has anyone any information concerning current use of Ayahuasca tea? I
understand that Ayahuasca is a vine plant, that some part of the plant is
mixed with some part of the cawa plant to make a tea that is described as
"meditative". I have been told that it is used by the Jivaro and Conibo
Indians of Ecuador/Peru - along the Rio Ucayali drainage. And that it is a
current favorite in California. Anyone familiar with it?"

There is a really rich haul of material about ayahuasca, or yage, or jage,
or caapi, on the World Wide Web--just do a search on the term. I was
involved in research on psychedelic--or hallucinogenic, if you will-drugs
back in the '60's, before the likes of Tim Leary queered the deal for all of
us by getting the no-brainers all stirred up about the possiblility that
these compounds might have something to do with radical politics (in my
experience, they certainly don't), and yage was a compound of considerable

Pharmacologically, the tea called ayahuasca (from the Inca "vine of the
dead, vine of souls") is brewed from segments of a vine named Banisteriopsis
caapi. (In Quecha, "aya"="spirit, ancestor, dead person" and
"huasca"="vine") I think these images give you a pretty vivid idea of the
kinds of psychedelic experiences that often follow ingestion of the tea. :-)
Indeed, to call the tea "meditative" is, to me, like calling a nuclear blast
"fairly strong." :-)

The major activity comes from a group of alkaloids, harmaline, harmine,
d-tetrahydroharmine and some say dimethyltryptamine or DMT, although perhaps
the DMT in the tea comes from additional plants brewed along with the vine.
(DMT itself has been synthesized and used as a psychedelic in "the West.")
The structures of these compounds are similar to those of mescaline or the
psychedelic psylocibin from "magic mushrooms." The structure of these
alkaloids is also similar to the neurotransmitter serotonin, which of course
has been discussed from time to time as being possibly involved in
schizophrenia or other mental disorders.

The tea is used freely throughout the Amazon--Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and
Brazil and has been apparently for millenia as a means of entering the
supernatural world, healing, foreseeing the future, and as an ingredient in
worship. Not surprisingly these effects have attracted the attention of a
variety of folks, from anthropologists to poets to flying saucer kooks and
New Age mavens. Citations to a number of works along these lines can be
found through the links that come up if you do a Web search on "ayahuasca."