My Ayahuasca newsletter:
QUICK INTRO TO AYA:
Two Amazonian plants, a vine and a leaf, are boiled to create this foul-tasting tea. Drink it, and for four hours you think and feel differently. Nature looks deeper and more textured. Close your eyes, and colorful patterns and images appear. These effects are sometimes called ayahuasca's "drunkenness," but, for me, that's imprecise. Ayahuasca feels like alcohol's opposite. Instead of blurring, dimming and numbing the world, like alcohol does, aya brings it to life. Instead of causing addiction, like alcoholism, aya seems to treat it. Both aya and booze make you puke. But the next day, after aya, you don't feel worse, you feel better — a reverse hangover.
Aya is a sacred Amazonian drink, but now Western science studies it, Americans commercialize it and pop stars trendify it. Here's some news about it, upsides and downsides:
Aya can calm you, as four sessions of aya improved folks' capacities for mindfulness — calm and focus — as much as an eight week stress-reduction course.
Aya can sober you, as aya helped folks smoke less crack and use less alcohol and tobacco.
Aya reduced sadness in folks with treatment-resistant depression, and in juvenile monkeys.
Aya is legal for religious purposes in many countries. Canadians courts affirmed the right of two Canadian churches to import ayahuasca.
In celebrity mentions, Paul Simon's new biography says aya "enabled me to hear new sounds in my head, which led to me being able to write songs much faster than before." Michael Sam, the NFL's first openly gay player, said aya helped him face his fears. And Michael Pollan, famous food guru, has a new book on psychedelics; an aya trip confirmed his long-held belief that plants have consciousness. The book reached number one on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list.
Aya might hurt fetuses, as pregnant rats given eight times an average ayahuasca dose every day during a sensitive time in gestation suffered some fetal death and birth defects.
Aya is known to occasionally induce mania. A 25-year-old schizophrenic took amphetamines and drank aya alone in his apartment, broke his own windows and got in a fight with a cat.
Aya is persecuted some places, as the Dutch government told an aya church there it couldn't operate anymore.
Deep in the Amazon, a respected 81-year-old shaman and civil rights leader was shot dead in her home. Locals blamed a Canadian man who was in the area to study ayahuasca. The locals beat and strangled the Canadian to death in broad daylight, filmed the lynching and posted it on Facebook. About 11 tourists have died in the last decade on ayahuasca-related trips to the Amazon, in various ways. Ayahuasca itself is not lethal.
A CLOSING PERSONAL NOTE
Aya helped me have a better life, and got me interested in psychoactive substances, and for two years now I've been the drugs reporter for Rooster Magazine in Boulder, Colorado. I get to write about the cannabis black market, the destructive effects of fentanyl, the Filipino drug war, DMT, how ecstasy helps war veterans and therapeutic ketamine. I'm a lifelong reporter, but this is the most interesting beat I've ever had.
My weekly recap "This is your news on drugs" — written like this newsletter but about all mind-changing substances — appears Fridays at theRooster.com.