COMMON NAMES: Chacruna, Sami Ruca, Amiruca Panga, O-pri-to, Kawa, Rami Appane, Suija, Tupamaqui, Yage, Cahua (Shipibo-Conibo), Horova (Campa), Kawa (Cashinahua/Sharanahua), Oprito (Kofan, ‘heavenly people’)
Psychotria viridis is an evergreen shrub which can grow into a small tree with a woody trunk, but which usually remains at a height of 2-3 meters. It has long whorled, narrow leaves with a color ranging from light to dark green and a shiny top. The flowers have greenish white petals on long stalks. The fruit is a red berry containing many small long oval seeds. Psychotria viridis is native to forests throughout the Amazon basin, and as far north as Central America and Cuba (Ratsch 1998, 457).
Psychotria viridis is quite difficult to propagate from seeds, as they may require sixty days to germinate and sometimes as few as one in a hundred seeds will do so. Cultivation from cuttings is generally more successful – a small branch may simply be put in the ground and watered. Even pieces of branch containing only two leaves will often develop and grow successfully (Ratsch 1998 456-457).
TRADITIONAL USES: Psychotria viridis is the most common DMT-containing plant used in ayahuasca brews in the Amazon of Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, and parts of Brazil. It is also favoured by the modern ayahuasca churches Santo Daime and Uniao do Vegetal. The leaves provide most of the psychoactive, visionary effects in an ayahuasca brew. There are reports of other species of Psychotria, including some as-of-yet unidentified species, being used in ayahuasca brews.
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: Ayahuasqueros sometimes identify Psychotria viridis suitable for ayahuasca by the presence of tiny spine-like structures on the bottom of the midrib of the leaf. These may indicate strains containing DMT. The leaves must be gathered in the morning and can be used either fresh or dry in the preparation of ayahuasca. The leaves may be used to produce a thick, tarlike extract which may be smoked. As little as 1 ml of juice pressed from the fresh leaves is said to contain about 100 mg of N,N-DMT (Russo 1997).
MEDICINAL USES: The Machiguenga use the leaf juices of a species they call ‘sampakatishi’ as an eye drop to assist in hunting. It is said to cause a burning sensation which then subsides into heightened senses. They use these same drops to treat migraines. Similarly, the Andoke tribe crush the leaves and infuse them in water to make eye drops which are meant to give “clear vision…to see with understanding” (Russo 1997).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: Psychotria viridis can be quite variable in alkaloid content. The leaves have yielded .11-.34% alkaloids, .99% of which may be DMT. There are also traces of NMT and 2-methyl-THBC. The root bark is reportedly considerably higher in alkaloid content. There are reported cases of certain specimens containing no DMT alkaloids whatsoever, only NMT (Dennis McKenna, pers. comm. cited in Ratsch 1998, 457).
P. viridis leaves are usually combined in ayahuasca brews with Banisteriopsis caapi, a vine which contains harmaline. Harmaline is an MAO inhibitor. Since MAO (monoamine oxidase) usually breaks down DMT before it can cross the blood-brain barrier, the B. caapi vine allows the alkaloids from the P. viridis leaves to enter the central nervous system and create visions.
When ingested as part of an ayahuasca brew, Psychotria viridis effects include dizziness and nausea, intense visuals, and states ranging from aggression to euphoria. Most often reported by South American medicine men are visions of jaguars and snakes, which attack and overpower the individual. The shaman may also transform into one of these creatures, or learn of magic powers from them. The Kogan Indians say that when they use Psychotria viridis leaves as part of an ayahuasca brew it allows them to see the oprito, small ‘heavenly people’, who bear the same name as the plant (Pinkley 1969).
Additional Articles on Ayahuasca Ingredients
Hofmann, A., Ratsch, C., Schultes, R., Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers. Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 1992.
Pinkley, H.V. “Etymology of Psychotria in View of a New Use of the Genus.” Rhodora 71 (1969): 535–540.
Ratsch, Christian., The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and its Applications. Rochester: Park Street Press, 1998.
Russo, E.B. “An Investigation of Psychedelic Plants and Compounds for Activity in Serotonin Receptor Assays for Headache Treatment and Prophylaxis.” Maps 7, no. 1 (1997): 4–8.
Voogelbreinder, Snu, Garden of Eden: The Shamanic Use of Psychoactive Flora and Fauna, and the Study of Consciousness. Snu Voogelbreinder, 2009.