The Mystical World of Ayahuasca: Medicine or Drug

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There is a controversial substance brewed from plants tucked away in the Amazon jungle by mysterious shaman that chant, sing and douse participants in ritualistic smoke and fragrant waters. This mystical brew has been concocted in various countries in South America for hundreds if not thousands of years and is known by such names as mihi, caapi, yage and natema to the local folks. However, the popular name of this potion that is spreading through many societies of the world is ayahuasca.
Ayahuasca is what the Quechua people, abiding mainly in Peru, call this ancient tea. The name can be translated as “vine of spirits” or “vine of the soul”. The concoction normally utilizes the banisteriopsis caapi vine and psychotria viridis leaves, although other plants are sometimes added, that are cooked together over a period time during which the shaman recites prayers. Ayahuasca is used by natives for healing and to achieve deeper knowledge. As a matter of fact, it is called oni by the Shipibo people which means “cooked knowledge”. The mixture is supposed to provide takers access to spirit worlds that are hidden from natural eyes in order to gain insight into physical, mental and emotional issues for the purpose of healing and growth.
The natives and locals consistently refer to the concoction as “medicine” often saying “I take the medicine” instead of using the term ayahuasca or similar dialectic references. However, is ayahuasca really a medicine that can bring healing to those afflicted by physical, psychological and emotional ‘demons’, or is it simply another drug used by spiritual seekers to obtain fanciful visions and expanded sensations?
How Ayahuasca Works
Due to modern science, it is no longer a mystery how ayahuasca affects those who ingest it. The leaves harvested from the chacruna plant possess DMT (dimethyletryptamine) which is a psychoactive substance. The banisteriopsis caapi vine is added because it inhibits the DMT from being broken down by the MAO (monoamine oxidase) enzyme which is produced in the stomach. This allows participants to experience the effects of DMT through a digested venue. The juice from the ayahuasca vine also stimulates the purging of toxins from the body through either vomiting (commonly) or diarrhea (less commonly).
DMT is naturally present in all plant and animal life forms in varying amounts and can be extracted from several sources (mainly plants and seeds), or it can be synthetically manufactured. It is naturally produced in the human body by the pineal gland located in the base of the brain. The pineal gland is a pea-sized gland in the shape of a pine cone that has been referred to by various ancient civilizations as “the base of the soul”. In its natural state, DMT is the substance responsible for creating dreams during sleep and has been found to be released when people experience death. This explains why clear and “otherworldly” visions are extremely common among people dying or those who have gone through near death experiences. Its link to spirituality and god-like visions has led to DMT being dubbed “the god particle”.
You can find more of this article in our April 2015 issue of ModelsMania

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