Ayahuasca, known by various names by different indigenous groups in South America, is a generic term commonly associated with preparations of the mildly psychoactive vine Banisteriopsis caapi. Ayahuasca literally translates from the Quechua language of the North Andes as “soul vine” or “vine of the dead” and has traditionally been consumed by indigenous communities such as the Aruák, Chocó, Jívaro, Pano, and Tukano across the upper reaches of the Amazon River system in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.
Ayahuasca is most commonly consumed by indigenous communities in liquid form as part of shamanic rituals designed to communicate with celestial supernatural forces or the spirits of the forest. The psychotropic effects of the drink are caused by three beta-carboline alkaloids: harmine, harmoline and tetrahydroharmine. Owing to their ability to intensify and prolong this psychotropic effect, other natural substances such as tree barks and coca or tobacco leaves can also be combined with the vine.