By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Just before dusk, eighteen strangers entered a yurt on a Midwestern homestead. Peruvian tapestries decorated the walls of the large, round structure, and rattles stood poised for ceremony.
The participants -- professional men and women ages 35 to 65 – put on comfortable clothing and set up sleeping bags, pillows and blankets. Everyone got a plastic bucket, cheerfully colored in green, red or blue.
“It looks like a big pajama party,” joked the host, Kim.
The shaman, a North American who had trained in South America for more than a dozen years, took a seat at the front and led the group through a conversation about what to expect. Stay with your breath, he advised. There’s no talking, no touching. Purging in any direction is a distinct possibility. The bucket is your friend.
He dimmed the lights, and after intoning a prayer, poured a foul-smelling brown liquid into a series of cups. One by one, all eighteen visitors lifted it to their lips and drank.
For forty minutes, the yurt fell silent. Then the shaman began to sing.
Around the same time, the drink took effect. Some who consumed it cried, others belched, several fled for the outhouse. Many reached for their buckets and vomited.
For the next four to five hours, those in the room did what many call “the work.” Some took trips back into their childhood memories. Others had visions: of nature, of healers, of fireworks. Afterward, they would say that the tea offered an opportunity to look at their problems in a new light.
“It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life,” says Fred, a kind-eyed, gray-bearded man in his fifties.
Kim and her husband, Josh, have organized about fifty of these gatherings since the summer of 2010. In that time, they’ve seen hundreds of people have an experience like Fred’s.
All three asked that their real names not be used out of fear of the law. Though no one in the United States’ underground network has yet been prosecuted, the liquid falls into the category of Schedule I controlled substances.
The risks scare her, but the way Kim sees it, she doesn’t have a choice.
“My life is not my own anymore,” Kim says. “If that were to mean standing up in the face of legal action, I’d do it.... After seeing how much this helps people -- truly heals people -- I’d do anything.”
The psychoactive brew goes by many names. William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg called it Yage. In Brazil, it’s known as Hoasca. Other aliases include the Spirit Vine, the Vine of the Soul, and the Vine of the Dead.
Its most common name is ayahuasca. The indigenous cultures of the Amazon have brewed the plant concoction, and its naturally occurring dose of the hallucinogen DMT, for centuries.
In recent years, the West has caught on. The tea cropped up in the Jennifer Aniston flick Wanderlust and the Showtime series Weeds; proponents include everyone from Sting to The Howard Stern Show’s Robin Quivers. One ayahuasca expert estimates that on any given night, between fifty and a hundred ayahuasca groups are in session in New York City alone.
Some of the same doctors and researchers who have, in recent years, gotten FDA approval for breakthrough studies involving MDMA and psilocybin mushrooms are now turning their attention to ayahuasca. Preliminary work suggests the brew could help treat depression, chronic addiction and fears of mortality.
People with less-defined diagnoses but with a hunger for something missing, say ayahuasca offers something ineffable: compassion, connectedness, spirituality.
“Ayahuasca is penetrating American society, and its highly successful people, way more than any other psychedelic,” says Rick Doblin, the head of MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a nonprofit research association based in Santa Cruz, California. “The number of people who have had incredible experiences with ayahuasca ― if they could all surface in the public sphere at the same time, it would be absolutely astonishing.”
In a greenhouse at the University of Minnesota, Dennis McKenna walks past the cacao (chocolate) and the Punica (pomegranate), and strides straight to the back corner, where the vines of the plant Banisteriopsis have twisted around each other -- and nearby electrical cords -- to reach the room’s rafters.
McKenna, a white-bearded professor wearing wire-rimmed glasses and a denim shirt tucked into his jeans, points at one of the younger vines, a supple green stem the width of a pencil.
“This is nothing,” he says, explaining that mature plants can reach 1,500 feet and weigh several tons. “Usually, the part you use is the thickness of a finger.”
McKenna would know: He has drunk ayahuasca several hundred times since 1981. An ethnobotanist and ethnopharmacologist by trade, McKenna first tangled with psychedelics as a teen coming of age in the ’60s. He tried everything from LSD to jimson weed, but never ayahuasca; there was none.
“It was this rare, legendary thing,” McKenna remembers.
@Sid- you forgot the other half of that nugget of info - only for people who were predisposed already. And that goes for most psychoactive substances including caffeine.
Ibogaine blocks the physical symptoms of withdrawal. It's not a cure... You can only successfully quit if you are mentally ready... But it sure is a damn good starting point. It's a shame these types of medicines aren't mainstream.
Yes.... Ibogaine.. My friend was a heroin addict and he was on methadone for years... Flooded Ibogaine and it was a complete turn around
Actually it is used among the tribes in South America and another similar substance that has actually successfully cured heroin addiction is ibogaine no first hand experience tho
Ayahuasca has helped millions of people in south Africa nonetheless around the world, it would be dumb not to take it into consideration as a healing medicine in the states. But then again why in the world would our government want a medicine that spiritually awakens and shows hope in this distraught world we live in. O and don't forget all the antidepressant companies, they would no longer be needed. Can't have that happen
Only if people would actually read this with an open mind, makes me happy though the Denver Westword atleast tries to shine a lil light on this subject. Namaste