What is ayahuasca, and whats is its origin?

Ayahuasca is a traditional medicine used by the shamans of the Amazon since ancient times. It is made through the decoction of a liana that grows in the jungle (ayahuasca, from which the concoction takes its name), along with the leaves of another plant, the chacruna. The result is a preparation with strong hallucinogenic power and, for many of its proponents, a healing power as well. Upon entering the body, the substance produces, among other effects, alterations in perception and cognition that allow us to open certain doors that our brain had closed, in most cases as a self-defense mechanism.

There are many recipes for the preparation of ayahuasca. Some preparations contain only stems of B. caapi, although it is not usual. The ingredients added during the process depend on the region in which it is prepared, the healer or “vegetalist” who prepares it, and the intention or effects you want to achieve.

The liana is usually crushed or pulverized and cooked together with the leaves, in a process that can become very elaborate until the desired amount and concentration are obtained.

Origin

The origin of the use of ayahuasca, as well as its antiquity, are unknown. Different authors have proposed various theories about the origins of ayahuasca, and popular culture, after the expansion of ayahuasca, has emphasized the millenary origins of the use of the concoction by the native Amazonian peoples.

Some authors have proposed the antiquity of ayahuasca use up to 5,000 years. Others date the beginnings between 500 BC and 500 AD. Other theories point to much more recent origins.

The first accounts in which the word ayahuasca can be found come from two Jesuit missionaries who, in 1737 and 1740, respectively, traveled through the Napo River area. Their stories mention the use of ayahuasca for healing and divinatory purposes. There is an earlier account by another Jesuit from the late seventeenth century, in which he speaks about a “diabolical concoction,” although without explicitly mentioning ayahuasca.

The first modern and scientific report of the use of ayahuasca is from 1851, in which Richard Spruce documents the use of this drink in Brazil. And in 1857, Manuel Villavicencio wrote the first known account of his subjective experience with ayahuasca.

Indigenous peoples who have used ayahuasca in a traditional way or who use it today include the: guahibo, shipibo-conibo, shuar, colorado, ingano, siona, kofan, witoto, tukano, desana, yakuna, ashaninka, kaxinawa, among others.

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