People are using it as a holistic and unconventional way to improve their mental health and physical well-being.
Every generation has a drug of choice. In the 60’s and 70’s it was hallucinogens and marijuana, in the 80’s crack cocaine and in the 90’s, heroin and acid. But what is the drug of our current generation? According to Ariel Levy at the “New Yorker,” it’s ayahuasca — a plant-based psychedelic that users speak about in hushed, reverential tones.
Despite its recent surge in popularity, ayahuasca is hardly a new drug — in fact, the leaves and vines that make up the mixture—which is consumed in tea form—have been around for centuries, used chiefly by tribes of indigenous South Americans during spiritual ceremonies. So how did ayahuasca go from the rain forest to right next door? And why is everyone from Susan Sarandon to Sting suddenly singing its praises?
In recent years, the rise of electronic music and outdoor festivals created a surge in narcotic use—specifically synthetic drugs like Molly, which lowers your inhibitions and activates the pleasure centers in your brain. Between 2012 and 2013, Molly use increased by 34.4% — just as Miley Cyrus was endorsing its use in songs like “We Can’t Stop.”
But unlike Molly, ayahuasca is not a party drug. It’s a hallucinogen like LSD or mushrooms. To construct ayahuasca, shamans create a mixture of leaves, (called Psychotria Viridis) and vines, known as Banisteriopsis Caapi. The leaves contain DMT, which mimics the neurotransmitter serotonin and the vines inhibit your digestion, thus allowing you to hallucinate.
The reason for ayahuasca’s growing popularity is surprisingly unique to our generation. As we learn more about the adverse affects of our diets (All these years they lied to us about sugar!), people are beginning to search for more holistic and unconventional ways to improve their mental health and physical well-being. For repeat users, taking ayahuasca is not just about getting high — it’s about accessing past trauma, learning to be present and becoming one with nature. It’s a trip unlike any other, full of epiphanies, personal revelations and often, bouts of vomiting and diarrhea.
Currently, there’s not enough research to predict how the drug will affect users long term, however, one study from the 90s indicates that ayahuasca may be the key to unlocking some interesting scientific discoveries. In the study, scientists compared 15 Brazilian ayahuasca users with a control group and discovered that habitual users had elevated levels of serotonin transporters. Low levels of serotonin transporters are usually associated with diseases like depression and alcoholism, leaving researchers to wonder if regular ayahuasca usage could actively reverse these shortfalls.
So where do you go to do ayahuasca? Well, that depends on your disposable income. For the low cost of $750, you can participate in a weeklong, all-inclusive retreat in Peru (travel not included), which includes four ayahuasca ceremonies. If you’re one of the many celebrity enthusiasts, you can fly in your own shaman to conduct a ceremony at your personal residence. And if you’re a regular Joe, you can cough up anywhere between $150-$300 to take part in a one-off nighttime ceremony — researchers estimate that major metropolitan areas like Manhattan house up to 100 ayahuasca ceremonies or “circles” a night. Not too shabby for a drug that users claim to be the equivalent of “ten years of therapy.”