Ayahuasca (pronounced /eye-uh-WAHS-kuh/ and also known as Yagé) is an umbrella term that refers to a wide variety of traditional and modern brews and infusions of natural plant sources that produce powerful psychoactive or hallucinogenic effects. Of these, it most commonly consists of a DMT-containing plant source in combination with one that contains an MAOI or RIMA (typically sources like B. caapi vine or syrian rue) to produce uniquely potent, sometimes medicinal, psychedelic effects.
The co-consumption of an MAOI agent is necessary for the combination to work, as the DMT molecule (which is a monoamine closely related to serotonin) is rendered almost entirely inactive when digested by itself due to the presence of monoamine oxidase enzymes in the stomach, which rapidly degrades it.
Ayahuasca is used as a traditional spiritual medicine in ceremonies among the Indigenous peoples of Amazonian Peru, many of whom say that they received the instructions in its use directly from the plants and plant spirits themselves. Ayahuasca was first described outside of Indigenous communities in the early 1950s by Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes, who became aware of the Native communities who use it for divinatory and healing purposes.
As is the case with psychedelics in general, ayahuasca is not considered to be dependence-forming or addictive by the research and medical community.Nevertheless, unpredictable adverse reactions such as anxiety, paranoia, delusions and psychotic breaks can still always occur, particularly among those predisposed to psychiatric disorders. While these negative reactions or “bad trips” can often be attributed to factors like the user’s inexperience or improper preparation of their set and setting, they have been known to happen spontaneously among even the most experienced of users as well. This is why despite its scientifically-backed reputation for possessing both negligible-to-no physical and neurotoxicity, it is still highly advised to approach this powerful and unpredictable hallucinogenic substance with the proper amount of precaution, and harm reduction practices if one chooses to use it.