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What is Ayahuasca?


First things first. What is Ayahuasca?

The word Ayahuasca is Quechua, the language of the Inca Empire.

Freely translated, it means "vine of the soul" or "vine of the dead."

Traditionally, the word ayahuasca can refer to a number of different things: the Banisteriopsis caapi liana, an MAO-inhibiting plant, or the brew made with this liana and a DMT-containing plant.

This brew consists of several parts and the source responsible for the psychedelic effects is the DMT-containing plant. Now you may be wondering why something is added to it.

Well, our body is very good at breaking down DMT.

So good in fact, that if we consumed these DMT-containing plants, we would notice no to extremely few effects.

And that is where Banisteriopsis Caapi comes to see.

This liana contains so-called MAO inhibitors that ensure that the active substances are broken down less quickly by the body.

The result: a psychedelic journey lasting a few hours full of visual, mental and healing effects.

In general, ayahuasca means the combination of both the MAO inhibitor Banisteriopsis Caapi and a DMT-containing plant.

Traditionally these are the leaves of Psychotria viridis (chacruna) or Diplopterys cabrerana (chagropanga or chaliponga). The brew is used for a variety of reasons and it is seen as one of the most psychedelic remedies available.

However, because more and more plants are found that contain DMT and more and more sources of MAO inhibitors are being discovered all over the world, this results in many experiments with different substances and sources.



And that is where Anahuasca comes into the picture. Especially in Europe, a lot of experiments are being conducted today with different combinations of DMT sources and MAO inhibitors to make Ayahuasca.

But because the age-old recipe uses the Banisteriopsis Caapi liana and not many of these new brews, one should not actually speak of ayahuasca, even though it is generally done.

The same applies to the use of replacement DMT sources, but the original DMT leaves and plants are less often regarded as "must-have" for an original ayahuasca brew.


But what is it then?

In both cases we are talking about an ayahuasca analogue, or in short Anahuasca.

The most popular substitute for Banisteriopsis Caapi in anahuasca that we see today is Peganum harmala, also known as Syrian wineglass or harmal.

This plant is used enormously because it is generally cheaper and easier to prepare than B. Caapi.

A popular source of DMT apart from chacruna or chagropanga is the root bark of Jurema Preta, also known as Mimosa hostilis.

Another variant that is increasingly used is the bark of the Hawaiian Acacia Confusa.

In short: Do you have a brew of Banisteriopsis caapi and chacruna or chagropanga? Then you have real ayahuasca in front of you.

Is one of these plants being replaced by another product?

Then you speak of an ayahuasca analogue or anahuasca.

Although the ayahuasca and anahuasca brews are chemically similar, there are some differences.

For example, the duration and intensity of the trip varies with the various combinations, but users also report other experiences in the field of visual hallucinations and mental functioning.

At Mother's House we work with Ayahuasca only




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Ayahuasca is an entheogenic brew made from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and the Psychotria viridis leaf. It is used in traditional ceremonies among the indigenous tribes of Amazonia. P. virdris contains DMT, a powerful hallucinogen, and B. caapi contains monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), which work synergistically with DMT to produce a long-lasting hallucinogenic experience.

Traditional ayahuasca healing ceremonies have recently become more popular amongst Westerners, leading to an increase in the appearance of ‘ayahuasca retreats’ where people far-removed from the traditional lifestyle can nevertheless attempt to receive the healing benefits of the sacred brew.

Various studies have shown that ayahuasca therapy may be effective in the treatment of depression and addiction, and as this ancient brew comes more into the limelight, we may see it become a widespread and accepted form of psychedelic therapy.


Ayahuasca is brewed using two separate plants: B. capii and P. viridis. The B. capii plant contains the MAOIs that allow DMT to have its psychoactive effect; these MAOIs include harmine, tetrahydroharmine (THH), and harmaline, although other alkaloids are also present. The P. viridis plant contains the single major hallucinogenic alkaloid, DMT.[4]

The concentration of the alkaloids in brewed ayahuasca beverages is several times greater than the plants from which they are prepared. In a 200-mL dose, there is an average of 30 mg harmine, 10 mg THH and 25 mg DMT, though concentrations will vary based on the geographical region and preparation methods.

Receptor interactions

Ayahuasca likely alters serotonin activity in brain areas that have been implicated in introspection and emotional processing.[5]

The DMT in the brew interacts with serotonin receptors (specifically, the 5-HT2A subtype) that are the target of traditional drug therapies like SSRIs. 5-HT2A receptors are the main target for other psychedelics including LSD and psilocybin.

The MAOIs in ayahuasca mainly act to prevent the breakdown of DMT in the stomach; [6] although they may also have anti-addiction effects through their effects on the dopaminergic system. [7]

Drug interactions

Ayahuasca affects both serotonin and monoamine oxidase levels. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of antidepressants, should be avoided before a ceremony to avoid dangerous adverse reactions.[8]

The MAOIs found in the brew can cause severe reactions when combined with foods such as cheese, beer, wine, yogurt, coffee and chocolate and with amphetamine-like compounds such as ephedrine and MDMA. The best way to avoid side-effects associated with these substances is to fast for twelve or more hours before the ceremony.

These substances/medications should also be avoided before/during an ayahuasca ceremony:

  • antihypertensives (high blood pressure medicine)

  • appetite suppressants (diet pills)

  • medicine for asthma, bronchitis, or other breathing problems; antihistamines, medicines for colds, sinus problems, hay fever, or allergies (any drug containing dextromethorphan/DXM or with DM, DX or Tuss in its name.)

  • CNS (central nervous system) depressants (xanax, ativan, etc)

  • Vasodilators

  • Antipsychotics

  • Barbiturates

  • Alcohol also lists many substances you should avoid or use caution with if you’re planning an ayahuasca trip.


Many lines of anecdotal evidence suggest that ayahuasca holds promise as a healing tool for disorders like addiction, several mental illnesses, and immune disorders.[12] One recent study of an ayahuasca ceremony in Canada found significant effects on the treatment of addictive behaviours.[13]

With appropriate supportive settings that include talk therapy and social network support, regular and long-term ayahuasca use may aid in lasting lifestyle changes, most notably with respect to substance abuse and addiction.

In a qualitative study surveying a group of people who joined the religious group UDV, who regularly use ayahuasca in their religious ceremonies, a large number of the members had histories of alcoholism, substance abuse, domestic violence, and other problem behaviors and lifestyles. These dysfunctional behaviors were virtually resolved after joining the UDV and attending regular ceremonies.

Ayahuasca may also help ameliorate serotonin deficiencies, which have been related to host of different disorders, including alcoholism to depression, autism, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and senile dementia. Some small studies (e.g., see reviewed in McKenna, 2004 [2]) suggest that long-term ayahuasca use can possibly increase serotonin availability in the body.

A recent study has become the first to analyse the antidepressant properties of ayahuasca in a controlled setting. 29 patients with severe depression were given either one session of ayahuasca or a placebo, then analysed for changes in their depression scores. One day immediately following the sessions, the ayahuasca group scored significantly lower on depression tests compared to the placebo group. After seven days, the placebo group had returned to a normal depression level, while the ayahuasca group were still on a much lower depression score.

It’s important to remember that if it does possess therapeutic value (which it almost certainly does), to obtain the most healing benefit possible one must take ayahuasca in a safe, therapeutic and supportive environment. Drinking the brew alone at home will most likely not help you out. We recommend considering an ayahuasca retreat, where you are surrounded by supportive people in a comfortable environment.

Other resources



The use of ayahuasca as a tool for enlightenment and spiritual growth among Westerners has surged in recent years alongside other psychedelics. Some claim that on any given night, hundreds of private ceremonies take place in New York City alone.[14]

Many who seek experiences of personal growth with ayahuasca report a sense of connectedness and compassion with others around them.[15]Some report spiritual awakenings that lead to long-term, stable perspective shifts. This is likely a result of achieving a level of particularly intense level introspection that leads to profound self-awareness and clarity regarding personal issues and belief systems.[16],[17] Dennis McKenna also cites ayahuasca’s ability to make users feel more interconnected with the natural world as one possible avenue by which the discussion around environmental conservation efforts can be elevated and expanded.[18]

Ayahuasca has also seen a surge in popularity among entrepreneurs and creatives that is beginning to penetrate mainstream culture. As one New Yorker article puts it, “If cocaine expressed and amplified the speedy, greedy ethos of the nineteen-eighties, ayahuasca reflects our present moment—what we might call the Age of Kale.” [19]

Tim Ferriss is also a vocal advocate of ayahuasca. After a particularly harrowing ayahuasca trip that included grand mal seizures and hyper-anxiety inducing hallucinations, Ferriss claims that “ninety per cent of the anger I had held onto for decades, since I was a kid, was just gone. Absent.” [20] He also claims that almost everyone of any influence in the startup industry uses ayahuasca at some point.

Ayahuasca retreat centers are opening up across the world, claiming to provide the ideal setting for self-improvement – although the high price tag and strict exclusivity of some retreats has raised concerns about the way this plant medicine is being incorporated into western culture.

Other resources


Ayahuasca’s legal status is complicated. Although it contains the internationally prohibited drug DMT, in many countries it is considered a sacred preparation and is not subject to the same prohibitions as DMT.

In the US, two religious groups (the UDV and Santo Daime) have been given approval to use ayahuasca as part of their healing ceremonies.

Ayahuasca is legal in Brazil and Peru, and these are the locations of most retreats. Its legal status in other countries is murky, and there are many cases of people being arrested for religious use.

See here for our full article on the worldwide legality of ayahuasca.



[1] Domínguez-Clavé, E., Soler, J., Elices, M., Pascual, J. C., Álvarez, E., de la Fuente Revenga, M., … Riba, J. (2016). Ayahuasca: Pharmacology, neuroscience and therapeutic potential. Brain Research Bulletin.

[2] McKenna, D. J. (2004). Clinical investigations of the therapeutic potential of ayahuasca: rationale and regulatory challenges. Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 102(2), 111–129.

[3] Labate B.C. & Goldstein I. (2009) Ayahuasca – from dangerous drug to national heritage. Intl. J. of Transpersonal Studies, 28(1), 53-64.

[4] McKenna, D. J. (2004). Clinical investigations of the therapeutic potential of ayahuasca: rationale and regulatory challenges. Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 102(2), 111–129.

[5] Riba, J., Romero, S., Grasa, E., Mena, E., Carrió, I., & Barbanoj, M. J. (2006). Increased frontal and paralimbic activation following ayahuasca, the pan-Amazonian inebriant. Psychopharmacology, 186(1), 93–98.

[6] Riba, J., Valle, M., Urbano, G., Yritia, M., Morte, A., & Barbanoj, M. J. (2003). Human pharmacology of ayahuasca: subjective and cardiovascular effects, monoamine metabolite excretion, and pharmacokinetics. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 306(1), 73–83.

[7] Brierley D.I. & Davidson C. (2012). Developments in harmine pharmacology. Prog. Neuro-Pharm. & Biol. Psychiatry, 39, 263-272.

[8] Callaway, J. C., & Grob, C. S. (1998). Ayahuasca preparations and serotonin reuptake inhibitors: a potential combination for severe adverse interactions. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 30(4), 367–369.

[9] Riba, J., Valle, M., Urbano, G., Yritia, M., Morte, A., & Barbanoj, M. J. (2003). Human pharmacology of ayahuasca: subjective and cardiovascular effects, monoamine metabolite excretion, and pharmacokinetics. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 306(1), 73–83.

[10] Riba, J., Rodríguez-Fornells, A., Urbano, G., Morte, A., Antonijoan, R., Montero, M., … Barbanoj, M. J. (2001). Subjective effects and tolerability of the South American psychoactive beverage Ayahuasca in healthy volunteers. Psychopharmacology, 154(1), 85–95.

[11] Tupper, K. W. (2009). Ayahuasca healing beyond the Amazon: The globalization of a traditional indigenous entheogenic practice. Global Networks, 9(1), 117–136.

[12] McKenna, D. J. (2004). Clinical investigations of the therapeutic potential of ayahuasca: rationale and regulatory challenges. Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 102(2), 111–129.

[13] Thomas et al. (2013). Ayahuasca-assisted therapy for addiction. Curr. Drug Abuse Rev, 6(1), 30-42.

[14] Yakowicz, W. (2015, October 16). Silicon Valley’s Best-Kept Productivity Secret: Psychedelic Drugs.

[15] LaVecchia, O. (2013, November 21). Ayahuasca Can Change Your Life — As Long as You’re Willing to Puke Your Guts Out.

[16] Editor, A. B. A. R., & Post, T. H. (400AD, 26:54). Shaman Explains How Ayahuasca Can Facilitate A Spiritual Awakening.

[17] Cohen, A. (2014, April 21). My Journey With a Life Altering Drug: Ayahuasca.

[18] Hill, D. (2016, July 30). Ayahuasca is changing global environmental consciousness. The Guardian.

[19] The Drug of Choice for the Age of Kale.

[20] Carson, B., Sep. 8, 2016, 26, 047, & 5. (n.d.). This Silicon Valley angel investor loves a drug that gave him hours of seizures.

This information is from who offer a lot of information about the safe use of psychedelics. 

They offer amazing courses on microdosing with psychedelics so you can safely do that in the comfort of your own home.