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."

News
peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
Voices
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
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

    Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

    £16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

    KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

    £100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

    IT Systems Manager

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

    IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

    £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

    Day In a Page

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum