This Drug Fact Friday is one of the big champions of the jungle ones folks. This is a concoction of different chemicals that some of your more groovy/hippie friends may have mentioned at a party once or twice. Ayahuasca (sometimes called yagé) is a powerful psychedelic brew. The brew is created because the DMT containing plant needs a vine that has what’s known as an MAO inhibitor in it. If anyone ever tells you Ayahuasca is one thing, hit them. This concoction of a couple of plants allows the DMT to survive what’s known as first pass metabolism and reach your bloodstream. Traditionally, shamans may also add other plants to the mixture, but the DMT & the MAOI are the two primary ingredients. These brews are traditionally consumed during tribal music & shamanistic ritual. It’s not something that has a lot of festival/club use, as many people report severe nausea, vomiting & diarrhea while on it. If you thought you were going to puke when you took shrooms and went to see Ratatat that one time, this blows that out of the chunky water. Some of my friends in San Francisco & NYC have lovingly referred to it as a “bucket & diaper” drug, for this exact reason. And yes, the purging properties the drug has are referred to as “la purga” (guess what that translates to) in shamanic tradition, so get with it.Now that I’ve sufficiently grossed out all the kids, let’s talk about how & why people take this stuff. “Ayahuasca” is a non-indigenous spelling, as the natives of Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru & Columbia may prefer ayawaska, and the cultural differences between taking it in the jungle & taking it in a loft in Brooklyn are as striking. Like all other psychedelic experiences, set, setting, goal, community & purpose can mean the difference between a transcendent journey or a nightmarish stumble. The ceremony associated with Ayahuasca helps align people to their goals and can have a tremendously therapeutic, possibly life-changing effect. The plants making the brew, importantly, are not illegal. The chemical, DMT, within the plant is illegal, but the plants from which the DMT is obtained are not scheduled. There are plenty of super positive experiences listed within the Erowid vaults but I’m not going to bore people with “I got so high I saw the galaxy” stories. It’s a much more sophisticated experience, as the research diagram below shows. Even the purging aspect of the drug has a purpose. It was administered traditionally at non-psychoactive doses to vacate parasites & worms from a digestive tract.There’s been a continuing problem of recreational users doing powerful psychedelics in contexts that don’t require them, or in places where their use is very risky. Whether it’s taking the brew without knowing its potency, doing so because some cute girl is doing it, or even because you’re using it to escape from your life, there are plenty of risks involved with using Aya improperly. The most important is possibly an exacerbation of pre-existing heart conditions. With these hugely potent psychedelic experiences, significant increases in blood pressure & pulse rates have been reported. To stress, no one has died from Ayahuasca per se. The deaths associated with the brew may be due to complications because of medication regimens & the addition of problematic plants & other additives to it. This VERY tongue in cheek video (oh my God, please don’t yell at me, plant teachers are important, I agree and there are a ton more serious videos on Aya here.) shows a lot of the dark sides of people calling themselves shamans & abusing powerful psychedelics without proper context or motivation. There have been reports of “shamans” exploiting drug tourists, there have been people who died because they didn’t disclose all of the prescriptions they’re taking during their consultations with the shaman.So, I think it’s important to keep that in mind that what is known about the chemicals clinically is fundamentally different than what is experienced by the ingestion of the brew in a particular place & time. And it can help people in really tangible ways. Ayahuasca has been shown to fight addiction and has a growing following when it comes to its use in processing trauma. A veteran by the name of Ryan LeCompte took a squad of veterans down to the jungle to have a real ceremony, with a real shaman, and work on some real problems. Not “my apartment doesn’t get enough southern light & my boyfriend can’t commit” level problems. Real veterans, who saw some shit, people who have dealt with things that would make the average basic cry. Lisa Ling from CNN went down to the jungle with them and saw what real healing, post-OIF/OEF looks like. There’s a lot of disputation about whether psychedelics can heal in the academic/ivory tower community. Among Ryan’s comrades in arms, I don’t think that’s an argument they’re having anymore. There is a real potential to help people using this brew, and there are wise people who will watch over you when you do it. If you can find them. This drug is hugely contentious for precisely this reason, so join ravelrie, NY DanceSafe Stay Safe Seattle & I at 4:30pm EST/1:30pm PST for #ayaFF on Twitter to learn more & join in the conversation about it.