In 1995 I published a book called The Cosmic Serpent that dealt with ayahuasca and other subjects. The enthusiasm of many readers took me by surprise. In the book I describe ayahuasca as foul-tasting and my experience drinking it as an ordeal involving vomiting and frightening visions of serpents. Yet time and again readers would ask me: “ Where can I get some?”
Before the 1990s, ayahuasca did not arouse much interest outside the Amazon. In the 1960s, a first generation of Westerners began experimenting with the natural hallucinogens used by indigenous people, such as peyote and psilocybin mushrooms. William Burroughs, a novelist, and Allen Ginsberg, a poet, were the first to write a non-academic book about ayahuasca; published in 1963, The Yagé Letters included detailed descriptions of the authors’ experiences drinking the brew; vomiting and frightening visions of death and serpents featured prominently. But their book did not set off a wave of enthusiasm. In fact, all through the 1970s and 1980s ayahuasca remained an obscure Amazonian hallucinogen.