Banisteriopsis caapi, Psychotria spp. and Diplopterys cabrerana (see also Yagé Complex below)

These three plants are the ones most commonly used to create a visionary drink used by numerous indigenous groups from the Amazon basin. 

When B. caapi is prepared with D. cabrerana, the drink is known as yagé (also spelled yajé). 

When the crushed stems and trunks of B. caapi containing β-carbolines (an MAO Inhibitor) are boiled in water with the leaves of P. viridis, a source of Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), the resulting sacramental beverage is called ayahuasca, a composite Quechua word (aya/huasca) meaning Spirit Vine in reference to an interlinked “organic” community of beloved ancestors.  

Worldwide interest in ayahuasca has grown enormously in recent years. It has become a recurring theme in the mainstream media and in prominent publications such as David Wallace-Wells’ bestselling The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming (2019), in which the author describes a burgeoning Wellness Movement, saying, “What has been called the “new New Age” arises from a similar intuition—that meditation, ayahuasca trips, crystals and Burning Man and microdosed LSD are all pathways to a world beckoning as purer, cleaner, more sustaining, and perhaps above all else, more whole. This purity arena is likely to expand, perhaps dramatically, as the climate continues to careen toward visible degradation…”

Researchers such as Luis Eduardo Luna and Dennis J. McKenna, who have been writing for decades on this phenomenon that has been called an Archaic Revival, emphasize the transformative ecological perspectives that many people experience—and it’s not always pretty! Luna describes how ayahuasca can “increase fully-sensed body-and-mind awareness of the current perils of environmental destruction, nuclear disaster and social turmoil.” McKenna proposes ayahuasca as a teacher, an “ambassador from the community of species,” and, most importantly, “a catalytic influence in changing global environmental consciousness.”

In this regard, ayahuasca might propitiate a visceral, indelible, impassioned understanding of the term “biophilia,” a love of life worth defending against its powerful enemies. 

Additionally, as Dale Millard points out, the healing properties of harmine in ayahuasca are of utmost consideration. 

Millard’s research overview demonstrates its “wide variety of therapeutic activity inducing antimicrobial, anti-diabetic, anticancer, antidepressant, antiparasitic, DNA-binding, osteogenic, chondrogenic, neuroprotective and other effects.

Harmine is by far the most abundant constituent of the medicine ayahuasca

Its presence in pharmacologically active amounts may therefore provide a rationale for its contribution in ayahuasca’s wide application in traditional medicine and its general reputation for treating a broad range of diseases and ailments.” 

P. viridis is the species of Psychotria that is the preferred ayahuasca admixture plant, though there is evidence that the closely-related species Psychotria carthagenensis also is used, especially by the formidable Lamista shamans in Peru, according to University of Cambridge medical anthropologist Françoise Barbira Freedman in her study “Shamanic Plants and Gender in the Healing Forest.” Barbira Freedman affirms that “shamanic plant knowledge acquisition involves the understanding of the dynamic relations between the gendered species and the engineering of balance among them.” She goes on to explain that there are androgynous trees as well as some plants that are not gendered: “For instance, the various plants that are labelled ayahuasca (several varieties of Banisteriopsis and Brugmansia) are paired with plants that activate the visionary quality of the brews. These plants are generically called chacruna; the most commonly used species are two shrubs (Psychotria viridis and Psychotria carthagenensis) and a scandent vine (Diplopterys cabrerana).” It is interesting to note that, etymologically, the word chacruna is from the Quechua verb chakruy, which means to mix. In this important region of shamanic traditions, chacruna is not solely associated with P. viridis (as it is elsewhere) but has, instead, a generic use and refers to a range of ayahuasca admixture plants.  Despite certain controversies regarding the actual alkaloidal content of P. carthagenensis in the context of phytochemical lab testing (See Leal and Elisabetsky (1996) and McKenna, et al. (1998)), the ritual Amerindian use of this species of Psychotria is well documented.  For this reason, we are pleased to include Psychotria carthagenensis among the sacred plants of Microcosms.

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