Translated loosely to “vine of the soul”, ayahuasca is a medicinal herb derived from the ayahuasca plant and known for its ability to put the user in a trance-like state. The plant is found in parts of the Amazon jungle in South America and has long been used by indigenous peoples, most commonly by shaman, during rituals and religious ceremonies.
Ayahuasca is most often brewed with tree bark and other leaves and ingested as a hot beverage. The active ingredient in ayahuasca is dimethyltruptamine (DMT), a substance that causes the user to engage in intense mental introspection. As such, not everyone who goes on an ayahuasca “trip” returns happy. Although each person will experience different things while taking ayahuasca, many report having existential thoughts about why there are here and where “here” is in the bigger scheme of existence. Other effects include sensory hallucinations.
Because it operates much like LSD, the US government has banned the active ingredient, DMT. However things that do not have usable DMT without some sort of preparation, like brewing, are not themselves banned. Thus, the ayahuasca plant in and of itself is still legal. Due to high demand for the hypnotic effect of the drug, a thriving tourism industry has developed for people who wish to travel to South America an experience ayahuasca during organized retreats.
Scientific examination of DMT has found that it is, in fact, a reversible MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor). As such, DMT is easily absorbed by the digestive system and can easily cross the blood-brain barrier.
Although there is no scientific evidence of long-term side effects, short-term problems associated with ayahuasca ingestion include stomach upset, particularly diarrhea and vomiting. Perhaps as a way to discourage people from discontinuing use, many elders of Amazon tribes teach users that this type of voiding is necessary in order to fully experience the ayahuasca enlightenment and, in fact, has become a primary reason for taking the drug.