Science and religion wrestle over aya

November 26, 2016

In a sign of the growing interest, the second World Ayahuasca Conference happened a month ago in the Amazon in Brazil; the first was in Ibiza in 2014; 750 people attended this one. One slogan was, "Ayahuasca is hope."


In his excellent blog about the conference, Jose Carlos Bouso writes that the conference was a coming together — and a splitting apart. There are basically two kinds of people who are invested in ayahuasca: the Amazonians who have been drinking it for ages and think it comes from god (and their followers); and the Northern, Science-types who think it's an interesting collection of molecules worth studying (and their followers). Since this conference was one of the rare times the Amazonians and the Scientists met en mass, an epic brawl broke out.


The Amazonians cried "It's ours! You can't have it!" Many protested that all knowledge about it must come from jungle culture, and all drinking of it must be done with them present. They didn't even approve of the conference at all, since it was organized by Scientists. Several stormed out.


The Scientists said, "It's everybody's!" They said you can, in fact, separate it from Brazilian jungles. After all, people drink it in the North without rituals or chants or feathers on their heads, and it still works: they're happier after a single session. And … why shouldn't that be the case? After all, penicillin came from the North, but it works just as well on Brazilians.  


Here's one of the active molecules, harmaline: 





In her series from the conference, Vice's Marina Lopes wrote that millennials are ruining ayahuasca, that women are leading ceremonies for the first time, and that an ayahuasca rehab center has opened for crack addicts where, every night, they drink ayahuasca. (Every night!) There was a film festival dedicated just to the brew — not sure if ayahuasca was served during the festival; if it was, you'd need a puke bucket next to your popcorn bucket.


In other news, the Times of London mentioned ayahuasca in an article on microdosing, and wrote about treating PTSD with it. News reports and scientific journals continue to investigate ayahuasca's ability to cure addiction. Ayahuasca was mentioned in great Baltimore Magazine piece called "The Existential Medicine."


A group is raising money to plant 5,000 ayahuasca vines in America. It already grows in Hawaii and Florida. And I wrote an article that mentions ayahuasca, although it's mostly about how LSD and mushrooms cure certain medical ailments.

And, finally, ayahuasca continues to grow in the public's mind … at least as a punchline. See: "Hope For The GOP: A Nude Paul Ryan Has Just Emerged From An Ayahuasca Tent With Visions Of A New Republican Party."

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Ayahuasca is a  jungle vine that allows your brain's natural psychedelic, DMT, to persist and affect you. I first encountered it when Karla took me to visit her family in the Amazon nine years ago. Her tribe, the Shipibo, has used it for hundreds, thousand of years, and her mom drank it for stomachaches as a little girl. So it's either children's Tylenol or uber-LSD, or both. But for unknown reasons, it helps depression, drug addiction and acedia — at least it did for me.

Reilly Capps // reporter
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