Going on a Trip with Ayahuasca: The Ultimate Mind-Bending Experience

Discover the mystical world of ayahuasca and its potential as a powerful tool for spiritual enlightenment and psychedelic therapy. Explore its impact on mental health disorders and the environment, while examining the controversy surrounding ayahuasca tourism.

Going on a Trip with Ayahuasca: The Ultimate Mind-Bending Experience
The ayahuasca vine and chacruna leaves, the two key ingredients in the preparation of the psychedelic brew used in ayahuasca ceremonies. Credit: Wikipedia

Yagé is the name that William S. Burroughs gave to that "spirit" of the jungle that he tried to appropriate in an arduous and tiring way in his Yagé Letters. The Colombians of the northern jungle also know it by that name, but in his triumphant campaign, which has taken him all over the world, beyond the Colombian borders, most consumers call the spirit of the jungle by its Peruvian name: ayahuasca.

The experience of many ayahuasca users is that the drug takes the form of a female character who guides them through the cascades of the ego to finally reach the universe. During this process, she establishes a dialogue with her companions, sometimes harsh and vulgar, sometimes sweetly loving.

While ecstasy and cocaine established themselves as the drugs of choice in Cold War times, yagé epitomizes the spirit of our time, when the boundaries between friend and foe, between self-discovery and self-optimization, are beginning to blur. London, Rio, Tokyo, Berlin: in every corner of the world, circles are being created around the new ayahuasca practitioners, who lead their clients on this cosmic journey.

Psychedelic Research in the 1960s and 1970s

In August 1960, Timothy Leary, then still working as a professor of psychology at Harvard University, traveled to Cuernavaca and tried, for the first time, a mushroom called teonanácatl. He later referred to that experience and stated that he had "learned more about the brain and its possibilities in the five hours after taking [these mushrooms] than in the 15 years of the psychological research study."

Between 1953 and 1973, the U.S. government authorized $4 million in funding for 116 studies and 1,700 scientific approaches to the effects of LSD. Hallucinogens were used in experiments on alcoholics, patients suffering from an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder or depression, autistic children, schizophrenics, cancer patients, and prisoners.

However, after the passage of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, which resulted in a strict ban on the use of most psychotropic drugs, all research revolving around these chemicals was scrapped, and suddenly Leary's experiments with LSD, previously considered scientific, became illegal. Due to the numerous scandals, he caused, the once-respected researcher rose to fame as a guru and became an iconic figure of the hippie movement.

Ayahuasca and the Perception of Death

When the plant speaks, many people hear the same thing: we are all one, and all is love. As a result, most ayahuasca users experience a sense of gratitude that lasts for months after the trip. This perception of harmony and connection with the universe, which Freud called the "oceanic feeling," is the stated goal of many spiritual practices.

Death and the renewal of life are the threads that run through almost every religion and almost every act of worship. Most ayahuasca users encounter death on one of their first trips. Although this observation might be extremely disturbing, what usually follows is the conclusion that it was only one's ego that breathed its last breath at that moment.

What remains is the soul, stripped of the uniform of man-made cultural conformity. In Mexico, the people who gather on the nights of the full moon to consume ayahuasca usually form a very heterogeneous group, a mixture of rich and poor, young and old, conservative and alternative.

During these nights, such characteristics, which commonly create a very deep division within Mexican society, do not seem to matter at all. Small children are also present, a fact that automatically brings to mind those images that Joan Didion, author of The Beat Generation, drew in an imposing way concerning the kindergartens where LSD was consumed.

A group of people gathers to participate in an ayahuasca ceremony, led by a shaman in the Peruvian jungle.
A group of people gathers to participate in an ayahuasca ceremony, led by a shaman in the Peruvian jungle.

The Promise of Psilocybin Therapy

A few years ago, a renaissance of psychedelic research began: scientists from several universities in the United States, Brazil, England, and Mexico started to use the compound psilocybin, synthesized from the theonanacatl mushroom, to treat anxiety disorders in cancer patients, people who have suffered from depression for a long time, and drug addicts.

According to the results of a group of researchers from the Imperial College London who conducted studies on the effect of psilocybin on people with chronic depression, the substance transports the study subjects to an almost childlike state. The neuroscientist Robin Carhart-Harris assures that in this mental state, the world is perceived without any filter. The various impressions provoke emotions that, as varied as the weather in April, make consumers laugh and cry.

In The Doors of Perception, published in 1954, Aldous Huxley concludes that the conscious mind is not a window into reality but rather its most selective editor. In the opinion of neuroscientists currently working with psilocybin, the fact that the psychopharmacological experiments of the 1970s got out of control was due to the lack of serious therapists in the field. There was no one to control the boundaries between here and there, to guide people and show them the way through their hallucinations.

Today, psychedelic therapists work based on a manual developed by psychologist Bill Richards, who, during the 1970s, compiled his experiences gained through thousands of psychedelic sessions and countless bad trips that took place within the framework of therapeutic constellations as well as at festivals such as the so-called bad trip tents at Woodstock. However, it is doubtful that the New Age practitioners of ayahuasca are aware of their responsibility.

Why Plants Have More to Say Than We Think

It also raises the question of why this plant, after a thousand years of silence, is suddenly so loquacious. The "Ayahuasca Manifesto", which was written by an anonymous author in 2011 and has been circulating on social networks ever since states that the plant decided to speak to humans because we are about to destroy its living space. Consequently, its voice is reduced to an end in itself.

Nevertheless, we should take the time to listen to her, because our planet is dominated by plants: 99% of the earth's biomass is made up of taciturn plants. Plants are sessile, i.e., they are not able to move as they are usually rooted in the ground. To compensate for the fact that they cannot flee from their enemies, they have a much more complex biochemistry than animals or people.

Many drugs, from aspirin to opiates, come from compounds that were originally designed by plants. They employ a complex molecular vocabulary to signal danger, poison their enemies, or defend themselves. It is estimated that each plant is composed of approximately 3,000 chemicals.

They are capable of recruiting animals to help them perform their various tasks and can poison them as needed. To achieve this, the plant analyzes the saliva residues released by the animal and determines which aromas and bitter substances it must produce in the future to become inedible or even deadly.

The Diplomats of Nature

The roots can change the direction of their growth in time to avoid contact with obstacles or poisonous substances. In addition, they can detect whether or not the other roots they encounter on their way are of the same kind. If it is another species, they proceed to determine whether there is enough space, water, and light for both to exist simultaneously or whether it is in their best interest to move elsewhere.

Seen from this perspective, plants are very good diplomats: they avoid conflict and always seek consensus. It seems that the time has come not only to make use of their inventory of chemicals to mimic their "architecture", but also to pay attention to their intelligence. The displacement of humans, which is gradually moving us away from our place at the center of the universe, began with the theories of Copernicus, whose sense is taken up by ayahuasca when he says that we are not the navel of the world but only part of it.

In the last century, one after another, the clearly defined borders that once marked the division between humans and animals have been erased. In the meantime, science has also granted animals the privilege—hitherto exclusive to humans—of possessing the capacities of language and reason, of building tools, of culture, or self-awareness. It is worthwhile, then, to pay attention to this representative of the silent plant kingdom, for perhaps it is time to recognize the position of plants and their importance for our planet.

Full Citation: Corinna Ada Koch. Mensaje De Una Planta | www.revistadelauniversidad.mx/articles/5a6470e3-ed96-4675-80ab-e2cb7b6fe6b6/mensaje-de-una-planta. Online