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Science and pharmacology. Ayahuasca is a bitter drink which has been extracted from plants found in the rainforest around the Amazon delta in South America. The leaves from the plant Psychotria Viridis contain the psychoactive drug Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) that has a structural resemblance with Serotonin, which is a chemical transmitter substance naturally found in the brain. When DMT binds to the nerve receptors in the brain, a change in the state of consciousness takes place. If DMT is taken orally it will be broken down by enzymes in the stomach. To prevent this from happening so-called MAO-inhibitors has to be present to neutralize the enzymes. The leaves from the Psychotria Veridis is cooked with bark from the Banesteriopsis Caapi tree. The bark contains beta-carbolines, which are MAO-inhibitors.

Ayahuasca has been used by native South American Indians and Shamans during at least a thousand years for spiritual and healing purposes. To day large religious organisations such as Santo Daime and Uniao do Vegetal in Brazil use Ayahuasca legally and on a regular basis as a holy drink at their spiritual ceremonies. Unlike a chemically synthesized hallucinogen such as LSD with all its unknown riscs, Ayahuasca is prepared on the basis of natural plants, and has shown no harmful side effects over the last thousand years.

Only recently western science has shown interest in Ayahuasca. In 1993 both American and Brazilian scientists conducted the so called Hoasca Project in the Amazon Delta, where a group of long term users of Ayahuasca (belonging to the religious organisation Uniao do Vegetal) was compared to a group of non-users. In addition to the biochemical, pharmacological and physiological investigations the subjects were given a thorough psychological/psychiatric examination. A large percentage of the long-term users of Ayahuasca were cured of alcohol and substance abuse. In contrary to the control group they were found to be more trustworthy, loyal, optimistic, spontaneous, energetic and emotionally mature. In addition the long-term users had better results than the control group regarding tests that measures concentration and short-term memory. There were not found any side effects due to long term use of Ayahuasca. 

Ayahuasca expands consciousness.  Through the activation of the unconscious, Ayahuasca expands a person’s consciousness to encompas other realities. This reality is similar to the reality we experience every night during dreaming. Ayahuasca increase the ‘twilight state’ between sleep and awake, the so called hypnagogic state. In this state the person is awake and aware in a relaxed, dreamlike manner, where so to speak a “magnifying glass” is put on their unconscious processes.

It is interesting that the ability to dream lucid is being highly stimulated for a period after the intake of Ayahuasca. Lucid dreaming is a state of dreaming where you are aware that you are dreaming and often you have an influence on the dream content. Under the influence of Ayahuasca, you are able to access your own unconscious without interference from the analytical mind and its critical voice which is pacified for the moment. This is exactly what happens during hypnosis, but during the Ayahuasca intake a person is his or her own hypnotist and therapist. A person can receive new profound insights in old thinking and behaviour patterns and learn to integrate former unconscious material on a higher level of consciousness.

Ayahuasca, meditation and emotional release.  The altered state of consciousness induced by Ayahuasca has many similarities with meditation. My scientific EEG studies of people taking Ayahuasca and of people meditating show a large resemblance between the two activities. Ayahuasca may be regarded as a catalyst (magnifier) of meditation. During meditation as well as during an Ayahuasca ritual a person is able to access old traumatic memories and suppressed emotions. If a person is able to look at these phenomena passively and then let them go, it has a healing and integrating effect on the personality.

If a person undertakes feeling release therapy after the intake of ayahuasca, ayahuasca promotes this process as well. Suppressed traumatic memories and emotions that surface under the influence of Ayahuasca can be dealt with afterwards during therapy. There is a synergetic effect between Ayahuasca, meditation and feeling release therapy since they all tend to release blocked energy in both mind and body. It is interesting to note that all three methods have the same effect on the brainwaves, namely more Alpha- and Theta waves and a better balance between the left- and the right hemisphere. This indicates that the person has expanded his or her consciousness and that the energy flows more freely in the body.

The use of Ayahuasca in a ritualistic way has expanded from the native shamans and the organisations’ religious use to become a profound tool in feeling release therapy and energy work. The Brazilian woman, Yatra da Silveira Barbosa has in a unique way understood to use this combination of therapy, meditation and Ayahuasca in her workshops “Quest for Inner Truth” in Brazil. The primary goal in these workshops is to promote spiritual growth and transformation of consciousness. According to Yatra meditation and feeling release therapy are tools with which you can break through your emotional blocks to higher states of consciousness with Ayahuasca as a catalyst.

Effects of a Psychedelic, Tropical Tea, Ayahuasca, on the EEG Activity of the Human Brain during a Shamanistic Ritual - MAPS Magazine, Spring 2001

By Erik Hoffmann, Jan M. Keppel Hesselink, Yatra-W.M. da Silveira Barbosa

EEG data from 12 volunteers participating in a workshop in Brazil were recorded under field conditions before and after a shamanistic ritual in which the psychoactive tea, Ayahuasca, was consumed. Following three doses of the tea, the subjects showed strong and statistically significant increases of both EEG alpha (8-13Hz) and theta (4-8Hz) mean amplitudes compared to baseline while beta (13-20Hz) amplitudes were unchanged. The strongest increases of alpha activity were observed in the occipital lobes while alpha was unchanged in the frontal lobes. Theta amplitudes, on the other hand, were significantly increased in both occipital and frontal areas. Our data do not support previous findings of cortical activation with decreased alpha and increased beta activity caused by psychedelics (e.g. LSD, mescaline, psilocybin). They rather point to a similarity between the altered states produced by ayahuasca and marihuana which also stimulates the brain to produce more alpha waves. We suggest that these findings of increased EEG alpha and theta activity after drinking Ayahuasca reflect an altered state of consciousness. In this state the subjects reported increased awareness of their subconscious processes. This is an altered state comparable to, however more profound than, the meditative state. Ayahuasca seems to open up the individual to his feelings and provide personal, psychological insights, and thus it may be a valuable adjunct to psychotherapy.

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