Ayahuasca Memories and Touchstones-By John Otis

Ayaahuasca has been sampled, studied or observed in the West by a variety of people:

• Rock Stars

“It’s not a frivolous pursuit,” said Sting who, like Paul Simon and Tori Amos, sampled ayahuasca in the Amazon jungle. “There’s a certain amount of dread attached to taking it,” he told Rolling Stone. “You have a hallucinogenic trip that deals with death and your mortality so it’s quite an ordeal.”

• UCLA Psychiatry Professor

Dr. Charles Grob, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at UCLA’s School of Medicine who has studied ayahuasca, says the plant could eventually prove to be a better way to treat depression than traditional anti-depressants.

• Hebrew University Psychologist

Dr. Benny Shanon, a cognitive psychologist at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, believes the plant can push the human mind to heights of creativity that far exceed those encountered ordinarily. In his book about ayahuasca, The Antipodes of the Mind, he also marvels at how the boundaries between the human and the Divine become blurred and how ayahuasca made him more spiritual.

“For years,” he writes, “I have characterized myself as a devout atheist. When I left South America, I was no longer one.”

• Iquitos Residents

At first, local Peruvians feared that a flood of party animals would turn Iquitos into a jungle Woodstock.

“I thought they’d be from the hippie graveyard, with tattoos and sunken faces,” said Gerald Mayeaux, a Houston native who runs The Yellow Rose of Texas restaurant in Iquitos. “But these are doctors and lawyers. These are professional people.”

• Supreme Court

Although legal in South America for traditional uses, drinking ayahuasca in the United States is prohibited because the plant mixture contains the hallucinogenic alkaloid dimethyltryptamine, or DMT. But there is one exception.

In 1999, federal agents seized 30 gallons of ayahuasca that the New Mexico branch of the União do Vegetal had imported from Brazil. The church, known as the UDV, sued and the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Drawing parallels to provisions that allow Native Americans to use peyote for religious ceremonies, the court ruled in favor of the church.

“The government failed to demonstrate … a compelling interest in barring the UDV’s sacramental use” of ayahuasca, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote.

• Novelist

Beat-generation novelist William Burroughs went to South America thinking ayahuasca would prove to be “the ultimate fix.” But in his 1963 book The Yage Letters, Burroughs describes feeling dizzy then hurling himself against a tree and throwing up six times.


Reprinted with permission from The Houston Times