Ayahuasca: a shamanic miracle or 'crazy tea'?

By her own admission there aren't many recreational substances that Courtney Love hasn't tried. In a candid interview with the latest issue of the American magazine Fix, the former Hole singer and widow of Kurt Cobain rattled off a long list of her past addictions. But there was one high that even a committed connoisseur like Love hadn't hit.

"The one drug I'd like to try one day is ayahuasca, which should be mandatory for everybody," she said. "It's apparently this crazy tea that gives you these intense hallucinations."

Crazy tea is one way of putting it. A powerful hallucinogenic brew made from rainforest plants, ayahuasca has been used for centuries by indigenous communities in the Amazon in shamanic medicine. The viscous brown liquid is made from a boiled-down mixture of psychotropic plants and is treated with deep reverence by Amazon natives.

But over the years, an increasing number of Westerners have begun to use variations of ayahuasca, either for recreational highs or in therapy centres which offer their own versions of traditional Amazonian medicine.

The ingredient which makes the drink hallucinogenic is dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a naturally occurring psychedelic compound that, in synthesised form, is a Class-A substance. But while DMT itself is banned in Britain, ayahuasca is not, and there has never been a prosecution for its possession or use.

Bags of banisteriopsis caapi vines, the main ingredient for the potion, are freely available for sale on eBay, and a handful of healthcare centres across Europe have sprung up offering ayahuasca treatments openly. The vines themselves contain no DMT. It is only if they are boiled with the leaves of one of two psychotropic plants (also widely available online) that an orally active variant of DMT is produced.

Adherents of ayahuasca credit shamanic medicine for helping them work through emotional traumas and depression which conventional medicine has failed to cure.

In his autobiography Broken Music, the musician Sting recalled how during a tour of Latin America in 1987 he sought out a traditional shaman who helped him grapple with troubling childhood memories.

Writing about his resultant trip, he said: "Closing your eyes transports you to this other world, as real as any other, where sound becomes light and light becomes colour and colour turns into geometry... I am either dreaming awake or I am dead."

But there is concern among health workers that repeated use of ayahuasca could be dangerous, particularly for anyone with mental health issues. The television presenter Bruce Parry, who tried ayahuasca during the filming of his 2008 series Amazon, was shown throwing up in a bucket as he "battled with his ego" during a trip that he described as "at once disappointing, telling and humbling".

The images made compelling viewing, but Parry stressed that Amazonian cultures didn't take hallucinogens in the same way as recreational drug users in the West.

"Ayahuasca is not a recreational pastime," he said. "[It's] a medicine and a spiritual lesson."

The Herbal and Wellbeing Sanctuary in Ticehurst, East Sussex, is one of a handful of health centres in Britain to offer ayahuasca therapies. A spokesperson for the centre said shamanic medicine helped "people extract years of emotional, energetic, psychological and spiritual junk ... as well as to remove all kinds of toxins from their body".

There is no suggestion that any of the centre's therapies are illegal – the spokesperson said it did not boil the vines with psychotropic leaves and had asked both the Department of Health and local police before starting up the business.

The centre, like Parry, was keen to warn against recreational use of ayahuasca. "Our centre attracts people who don't want to go all the way to the Amazon to experience ayahuasca and also people who have come back from the Amazon and have found that they did not really get the healing that they wanted," the spokesperson said.

Celebrity users

Sting The former Police frontman said, "It's not a frivolous pursuit... There's a certain amount of dread attached to taking it – you have a hallucinogenic trip that deals with death and your mortality. It's not something you're going to score and have a great time on."



Paul Simon His song "Spirit Voices" is based on his experiences taking the drug. He said: "We went to see a [shaman] in a shack in a jungle. He chanted these beautiful melodies and then they made up this brew, and they said the anaconda will appear to you ... but no anaconda appeared."



Bruce Parry He took ayahuasca during the filming of the series Amazon. "I was presented with a myriad of spiralling colours and possible wormholes and intriguing places to explore, but as soon as my mind tried to reason with them they receded to a black-and-white untuned TV signal."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Project Coordinator

    Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

    Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

    £350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

    Embedded Linux Engineer

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

    Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

    £50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

    Day In a Page

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on