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DMT Traditional Use
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Pablo AmaringoHuman beings have used DMT and 5-MeO-DMT in the form of the various entheogenic snuffs used in the Amazon basin for at least 2000 years, perhaps longer. These include yá-kee, yá-to, and yopo, in Colombia, epéna in Brazil and Venezuela, and paricá and nyakwána in Brazil. These snuffs are derived from the seeds of Anadenanthera species and various species of Virola, a genus of trees in the nutmeg family. Traditionally these snuffs are administered by forcefully blowing a mixture of powdered plant material up another person’s nose, sometimes using the hollowed-out bone of a bird’s leg. This rather painful method of delivery produces an out-of-body experience of approximately the same duration as smoking synthetic 5-MeO-DMT, during which the shaman undergoes a “journey” While on this journey, the shaman undergoes a transformation that allows him or her to obtain significant knowledge from direct interaction with the gods.

The origins of ayahuasca, and indeed of the tryptamine snuffs themselves, may be much older than we can realize, as they appear to predate written records, but there does seem to be some evidence that indicates that ayahuasca is the more recent invention. The first ethnographic record of ayahuasca use come from 1855, so we can be confident that it has been in use for a couple of hundred years at least. Archeological evidence of the use of the 5-MeO-DMT snuffs reach back further than the ethnographic evidence of ayahuasca use, but current speculation suggests that there could be an upper limit of detecting tryptamine alkaloids in archeological artifacts of around 1,500 to 2,000 years.”


~ James Oroc, Tryptamine Palace. (2009)



Traditional DMT Snuffs
Cohoba, Yopa and Vilva ~ The Entheogenic Legumes


Snuff materialsDuring Columbus' second voyage to the Americas, 1493-1496, the Admiral himself commented on a mysterious "powder" which the "kings" of the Taíno Indians of the island of Hispaniola would "snuff up," and that "with this powder they lose consciousness and become like drunken men" (Torres 1988; Wassén 1967). Columbus commissioned Friar Ramón Pané to study the customs of the Taíno, and Pané wrote of the practice of the buhuitihu or shaman who "takes a certain powder calledcohoba snuffing it up his nose, which intoxicates them so they do not know what they do…" (Wassén 1967). Pané also referred to the drug and cogioba, and in the later text of Peter Martyr the name is given as kohobba. More than four centuries were to pass before cohoba was definitively identified by American ethnobotanist W.E.Safford as a preparation of the seeds of Piptadenia peregrina, today more correctly known as Anadenanthera peregrina (Reis Althschul 1972; Safford 1916). While some had earlier confused cohoba with tobacco, also used by the Taíno, Safford in part based his identification on the widespread use of A. peregrina snuff under the name yopo by various South American Indian groups of the Orinoco River basin.. Archaeological remains in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Domincan Republic, Haiti, Perú and Puerto Rico testify to the broad range and antiquity of entheogenic snuff use in the Caribbean and South America (Cordy-Collins 1982; Franch 1982; Furst 1947b; Pagan Perdomo 1982;Torres 1981; Torres 1987; Torres 1992; Torres et al 1991; Wassén 1965; Wassén 1967; Wassén & Holmstead 1963). There is evidence of the modern survival of Anadenanthera snuff use among the Mataco Indians of the Río Bermejo and Río Pilcomayo area of Argentina (Repke 1992; Torres 1992) and it was recently reported that three species are used as inebriants by Paraguayan Indians: Anadenanthera peregrina (curupáy); A. colubrina var. cébil (= Piptadenia macrocarpa; curupáy-curú) and A. Rigida ( curupáy-rá; Costantini 1975). As late as 1976, snuffs made from A. peregrina were being prepared in the Orinoco basin (Brewer-Carias & Steyermark 1976).

Yopo SeedsPharmacotheonYopo snuff use was first reported in 1801 by the explorer A. von Humboldt among the Maypure Indians of Orinoco, and he identified the source of the seeds used in the snuff as Acacia niopo (later called Mimosa acaciaoides by R. Schomburgk), incorrectly, however, ascribing the potency of the snuff to the "freshly calcined lime" mixed with the fermented, powdered seeds (Humboldt & Bonpland 1852-1853). Fifty years later, the great botanist Richard Spruce made the first in-depth report of the use of yopo by the Guahibo Indians of the Orinoco basin, notes that were not published until another 57 years had passed (Schultes 1983c; Spruce 1908). Spruce called the source plant Piptadenia niopo. In Preu and Bolivia, a snuff called vilca or huilca(knows as cébil in northern Argentina) is derived from seeds of the closely related Anadenanthera colubrina (Reis Altschul 1964; Reis Altschul 1967), the use of which was reported amont Inca shamans in the sixteenth century (Schultes & Hofmann 1980).


There is also circumstantial evidence the Incas employed vilca as a clyster or enema, although it is not clear whether the purpose was inebriation or purgation (De Smet 1983). There is evidence the Mura and Omagua Indians (and perhaps other Amazonian indigenous groups) employed A peregrina also as an enema, under the name paricá; although this is a generic name for entheogenic snuffs in parts of Amazonia, and usually refers to preparations of another plant, Virola spp., about which more will be said below (De Smet 1983; De Smet 1985a; Furst & Coe 1977). Since Anadenanthera species are not found in Amazonia, there is doubt in the case of the Omagua Indians whether the curupa leaves used in entheogenic snuffs and enemas were referable to this genus (De Smet 1983; Torres et al. 1991).


~ Jonathan Ott, Pharmacotheon (pp. 164-5)


Bruce Parry Does Yopo, Part 1 Bruce Parry Does Yopo, Part 2




AyahuascaAlthough first reported as a primary ingredient in some of the South American snuffs, N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is more commonly used as the primary entheogen in its traditional form as a brew (either cooked or cold distilled) used by indigenous South American Indian tribes and morerecentlyamongst that continent’s mestizo communities. It was originally known by its Spanish (Colombian) name yagé, but now more commonly known by one of its many local names, ayahuasca.


DMT itself is inactive when taken orally; a sophisticated enzyme in the stomach called Monoamine oxidase (MAO) that neutralizes the DMT upon contact. The DMT in ayahuasca however becomes active due to the presence of harmala alkaloids that are powerful MAOI-inhibitors that are also in the ayahuasca. These MAOI inhibitors neutralize the enzyme in the stomach that would other-wise neutralize the DMT, and the DMT is thus able to be absorbed thru the stomach lining and into the blood stream.


It is, without a doubt, one of the most sophisticated and complex drug delivery systems in existence…. If Ayahuasca is not the most complex binary drug delivery system in existence, what is? It certainly must be the oldest. Exactly how the technology was devised to locate and combine certain plants to enable the oral activity of DMT remains a mystery.

~ J.C. Callaway (edited by Ralph Metzner).
Sacred Vine of the Spirits: Ayahuasca


The ayahuasca vine itself (banisteriopsis caapi) contains the harmala alkaoids (MAOI inhibitors) that neutralize the defensive enzymes in the stomach, while the DMT itself is generally provided by the leaves of the Psychotria viridis. There are however more than 80 different ayahuasca cultures scattered across the Amazon basin and surrounding highlands that use different plant combinations to provide the DMT portion of the brew – the banisteriopsis caaapi vine (of which there are several different sub-species) is the common ingredient. The various Indian tribes regard the vine with great reverence, calling it ‘Vine of the Souls’ or ‘Vine of the Dead’, and have clearly recognized that it is the essential ingredient in their sacred preparations. When one considers the ‘search-space’ of the plant biology of the Amazon basin and how many different plants are available to them, how the primitive Amazonian shamans discovered the sophisticated pharmacology that allow these plants and admixtures to prolong their effect on human consciousness remains one of the greatest of ayahuasca’s numerous mysteries.


Cooking AyahuascaIn 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. 


More recently there has been some evidence that suggests that ayahuasca use actually increases the number of serotonin receptors in the users brain – therefore making it easier for the user to be ‘naturally’ happy. It has been suggested that ayahuasca (or ayahuasca derived medicines) may therefore be more healthy/useful for treating depression than current MAOI’s like PROZAC etc.



The Encyclopaedia of Psychoactive SubstancesThe Encyclopaedia of Psychoactive Substances

Ayahuasca is the name given to both the central ingredient of a South American Indian psychoactive potion (a species of the Banisteriopsis genus) and the potion itself. Almost invariably other plants are mixed together with the jungle vine Banisteriopsis; about a hundred different species are known to have been added to the potion at different times and places. Ayahuasca has been used in a number of countries in South and Central America, including Panama, Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, and by at least seventy different indigenous peoples of the Americas. In addition to ayahuasca, other native names include yajé, caapi, natema, pindé, kahi, mihi, dápa and bejuco de oro, the last meaning 'vine of gold'. Ayahuasca itself means 'vine of the soul'. Ayahuasca is made in the form of a drink or potion. The bark of the Banisteriopsis vine is either mashed to a pulp and then mixed with cold water or, in other regional methods of making the potion, it is boiled for a number of hours and then the resulting liquid is consumed. Ayahuasca gained a reputation for providing telepathic powers and a psychoactive alkaloid found to be present in it was named telepathine (now known to be the same as the alkaloid harmine found in Syrian rue). Harmaline is also present in both ayahuasca and Syrian rue. The reports of its telepathic powers have long since been rejected by experts, although the legend lives on in some quarters.

The presence of other plants alongside the Banisteriopsis species significantly increases the overall psychoactive effects of these native preparations. The psychoactive tryptamines contained in these additives are inactive when administered orally, unless substances called MAO inhibitors (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) are present. As both harmine and harmaline are MAO inhibitors they complement the tryptamines and the conjunction of the two kinds of alkaloid facilitates the powerful hallucinogenic effects of the ayahuasca mixtures.

Richard Schultes, during his many years of botanical research in the Amazon region, encountered a number of indigenous peoples who use ayahuasca. His overview of its effects and uses is highly illuminating:

Ingestion of Ayahuasca usually induces nausea, dizziness, vomiting, and leads to either an euphoric or an aggressive state. Frequently the Indian sees overpowering attacks of huge snakes or jaguars. These animals often humiliate him because he is a mere man. The repetitiveness with which snakes and jaguars occur in Ayahuasca visions has intrigues psychologists. It is understandable that these animals play such a role, since they are the only beings respected and feared by the Indians of the tropical forest; because of their power and stealth, they have assumed a place of primacy in aboriginal religious beliefs. In many tribes, the shaman becomes a feline during the intoxication, exercising his powers as a cat. Yekwana medicine men mimic the roars of jaguars. Tukano Ayahuasca-takers may experience nightmares of jaguar jaws swallowing them or huge snakes approaching and coiling around their bodies … shamans of the Conibo-Shipibo tribe acquire great snakes as personal possessions to defend themselves in supernatural battles against other powerful shamans. The drug may be the shaman's tool to diagnose illness or to ward off impending disaster, to guess the wiles of an enemy, to prophesy the future. But it is more than the shaman's tool. It enters into almost all aspects of the life of the people who use it, to an extent equalled by hardly any other hallucinogen. Partakers, shamans or not, see all the gods, the first human beings, and animals, and come to understand the establishment of their social order.

Schultes' understanding of the cultural significance of ayahuasca is in stark contrast to the derisory accounts of early travellers. The earliest Europeans to mention ayahuasca were Jesuits travelling in the Amazon. One of the earliest such reports of this 'diabolical potion' from 1737 describes it as: 'an intoxicating potion ingested for divinatory and other purposes and called ayahuasca, which deprives one of his senses and, at times, of his life.'

The serious scientific study of ayahuasca began with the field investigations of the English botanist Richard Spruce throughout the 1850s. In 1851 he collected samples of Banisteriopsis among the Tukanoan people of Brazil and sent them home for chemical analysis. Ayahuasca-type potions are still used by the Tukanoan peoples of the Colombian north-west Amazon, who call such preparations yajé. Yajé-induced geometric images play a highly significant role in shaping their cultural life. These hallucinatory signs are the raw visual data upon which is constructed a complex cultural code, each different sign representing a number of key social beliefs and institutions. These geometric forms and the states of visionary consciousness that they are perceived in are considered by the Tukano as pertaining to a higher reality than that experienced in ordinary states of consciousness. The powerful nature of these geometric forms is so pervasive in their cultural life that their decorative art is almost completely based on such designs. Their architecture, decorated pottery, sand drawings, masks, musical instruments, necklaces, stools, weapons, etc are all adorned in the same fashion. Even many of their songs and dances are said to be based on auditory and visual hallucinations resulting from their use of the potion.

The hallucinatory experiences of these people also have a marked sexual content. This applies not only to yajé but to hallucinogenic snuffs and other psychoactive substances used by them. Shamans in discussion with the anthropologist Reichel-Dolmatoff described hallucinogens as 'all semen' and the visions that they induce are states of sexual arousal and orgasm, often involving fantasies of incest. For the majority of native users of yajé' the experience is a very positive one (although some find it literally nauseating or sometimes even terrifying) and in a few instances the erotic visions are transmuted into a mystical union with the mythical age and cosmic womb.

Among the Tukanoan peoples each of the tribes is the traditional 'owner' of one or more types of yajé. This indigenous form of classification is not based on botanical distinctions but on the different psychoactive effects of particular plants and their parts. Thus, the different altered states of consciousness, distinct fields of inner space, and the specific kinds of the drug are apportioned to the prevailing order and structure of Amazonian societies. Similar ways of classifying ayahuasca or yajé exist elsewhere in the Amazon. The Harakmbet Indians of the Peruvian south-west Amazon distinguish over twenty different types according to their meaning, effect and associated symbols. For example, one type, boyanhe, induces visions of hunting and fishing; sisi, known as 'the flesh of the ancestors', gives visions of heaven; benkuje, or 'woodpecker', has leaves which contain a spirit that chops apart illness and so assists the healing process; yari huangana is a particularly potent type which causes delusions and should only be used with great caution: unconsciousness, even death await the reckless user. These selected examples can only give a glimpse of what is probably the most complex cluster of hallucinogen-using societies in the world today. The actual number of ayahuasca additives and preparations is impossible to calculate; many are the sole prerogative of single shamans. Whilst usage is by no means restricted to shamans, there is often a qualitative difference between the visions of shamans and others. The shaman's special knowledge of ayahuasca embraces the entire process of selecting, collecting, preparing and consuming the jungle vine and its additives in the potion. By supervising the doses administered to both themselves and other they are able to control, to an extent, both the content and intensity of the altered states of consciousness.

Ghillean Prance, now Director of the Botanic Gardens at Kew, has recorded an amusing anecdote he picked up in Amazonian Brazil: 'I met an air force captain who had once taken movies to show at Tarauacá to the Indians up river. He said that the Indians were distinctly disappointed by the movies (one a cowboy film, and the other a documentary about Brazil). They told him that they had seen all that and even more while under the influence of cipó, and they said that in the future they would use cipó instead.' Whilst the use of ayahuasca is culturally sanctioned in a great many Amazonian societies its use is shunned in others. In an ethnobotanical report on an isolated Indian group of eastern Ecuador, Wade Davis and James Yost note that:

Amongst most Amazonian tribes, hallucinogenic intoxication is considered to be a collective journey into the subconscious and, as such, is a quintessentially social event. The Waorani, however, consider the use of hallucinogens to be an aggressive and anti-social act; so the shaman, or ido, who desired to project a curse takes the drug [Banisteriopsis muricata] alone or accompanied only by his wife at night in the secrecy of the forest or in an isolated house.

With the urbanisation of Amazonian peoples ayahuasca continues to be used for its magical and medicinal properties. The anthropologist Marlene Dobkin de Rios undertook a special study of its use among inhabitants of the city of Iquitos in the Peruvian Amazon. The slums of Iquitos are populated by people who have come in from the forest, and poverty, unemployment, malnutrition and crime dominate social life. Many of the slum dwellers seek out traditional ways of dealing with the myriad problems that they encounter; among these is the use of ayahuasca for its curative powers. Surgeries conducted by native healers take place at night in forest clearings on the outskirts of the city. These healers carefully screen their prospective patients and will not allow those suffering from extreme mental disorders to take part in the ayahuasca ceremonies for fear of disrupting the entire healing session. A communal cup is passed around and the amount consumed by each patient is monitored by the healer, who makes his or her assessment of the appropriate dosage according to each individual's body weight, physical condition and mental health. When all the patients have drunk from the cup the healer will then also take ayahuasca. Throughout the ceremony the healer moves around the gathering shaking a rattle, blowing cigarette smoke on some patients (tobacco smoke is considered to have healing properties) and exorcising evil spirits which are seen as the cause of various diseases and disorders. Many of the problems which the native healers try to cure are what we would call psychological traumas and depression. In the eyes of the slum dwellers they are more often seen as caused by the evil eye, witchcraft, and sorcery.

Rather like the Native American Church, whose members use the peyote cactus as a sacrament, Neo-Christian churches have arisen in South America that use ayahuasca in a similar way. These religious cults appear to have begun at the beginning of the twentieth century and the most well-known of them is called I>Santo Daime. Some of these cults have thousands of members, many of whom do not come from societies where ayahuasca was traditionally consumed. Santo Daime now has branches in the United States and various European countries, including Spain. Although these urban-based cults seem likely to guarantee the continuing use of ayahuasca as an entheogen there is also a growing interest in ayahuasca among Western drug users. This has led to the growth of what Jonathan Ott has called "'ayahuasca' tourism", i.e. groups of tourists visit the rainforest to partake in the 'jungle drug', usually paying high prices for the privilege. Since ayahuasca is not readily available in the Western drug scene, its price is fairly prohibitive. Ott reports that ayahuasca potions brewed in greenhouses in the United States sell for as much as $800 a time. Bearing in mind that such extortion is really pricing itself out of the market, Ott has noted that:


Americans, ever on the lookout for innovations, particularly in an open and unregulated field such as the underground drug market, have put considerable effort into the creation of temperate-zone analogues of ayahuasca, that is, combinations of temperate-zone plants which will supply a source of DMT and a source of Beta-carbolines that, when combined, will yield an entheogenic potion similar to the decidedly tropical ayahuasca. Dennis McKenna [the brother of Terence McKenna] has proposed the name ayahuasca borealis for temperate-zone ayahuasca analogues.


~ Ayahuasca reference from: The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Substances
by Richard Rudgley, Little, Brown and Company (1998)


(Collated without permission)


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