What is Ayahuasca?

Ayahuasca (pronounced ai-uh-wa-skuh) is the commonly used name to describe a sacred Amazonian tea with psychoactive properties. The intended use of this hallucinogenic brew is for it to be taken at the start of age-old ayahuasca ceremonies designed to increase a person’s feeling of connection with life and the universe.

The effects can be felt from as little as 20 minutes to an hour after consuming it. Effects can last for up to 6 hours – but this will depend on the individual, how they’ve prepared for their ceremony, as well as how strong the brew is. Typical effects of ayahuasca include:

  • Vivid and intense visions
  • Amplified feelings/emotions 
  • An expanded capacity of consciousness
  • Physical detoxification which can include nausea and sickness
  • And, an altered sense of time and space


Ayahuasca Vines growing at Spirit Vine retreats in brazil

Where does ayahuasca come from?

The origins of ayahuasca for ceremonial consumption first spread amongst the indigenous tribes of the Amazon basin thousands of years ago.

People in Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, and Ecuador have used ayahuasca in tribal rituals, and religious and healing ceremonies, as a natural treatment for various physical and mental issues.

Traditionally, this spiritual medicine has been administered by shamans who host healing ‘retreats’ that claimed to be able to cure mental and physical illness whilst communicating with the spiritual world.

How is it made?

ayahuasca tea being brewed in a pot with chakruna leaves - Spirit Vine Retreats blog, what is ayahuasca? This visionary brew has a chemical nature of active ingredients that makes it unique! Whilst the exact mix of  plants used in ayahuasca tea can vary from region to region, it always includes the ayahuasca vine (otherwise known as Banisteriopsis caapi). The ayahuasca vine inhibits the MAO, with the leaves of another plant that contains DMT (dimethyltryptamine). The most commonly used are Chakruna leaves (Psychotria viridis).

An ayahuasca brew should be prepared by an experienced shaman or facilitator (sometimes called an ayahuasquero). These are the only people who know how to brew the natural drink safely and with the right proportions. The brew is usually made in batches, and taken by a group of participants in a protected and guided environment – likely one chosen for its natural beauty and a place that is home to the plants which are brewed.

There is much scientific information available about these plants and their effects on the human body and mind.

spirit vine blog - what is ayahuasca? - picture of ayahuasca vine at the retreate

What does the word Ayahuasca mean?

The word Ayahuasca originates from the Quechua language – spoken by indigenous people living in the Peruvian Andes. In Quechua ‘aya’ refers to spirit or soul, and ‘wasca’ is rope (or vine) – when translated together, the word Ayahuasca means “Vine of the Spirit” or “Vine of the Dead”.

In other parts of South America, ayahuasca is also known as Uni, Iowaska, Yagé, Caapi, Daime, Hoasca, Vegetal and Natema.

What are the medicinal properties of Ayahuasca?

Shamans claim that ayahuasca is a healing medicine and perform “ayahuasca healing” rituals. They say that “mother ayahuasca” or “la medicina” can be used for different purposes such as personal transformation, spiritual initiations, communication with the spiritual realms, dance and music rituals, for hunting (to locate prey), religious rituals and magical practices.

Ayahuasca moderately increases the heart rate and blood pressure and effects include great elation, amplification of emotions and/or illumination. Its purgative properties can cause vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, crying and other forms of release as it cleanses the body. The spiritual awakening and rebirth experienced by many has been described as gaining access to a higher dimension.

Visions tend to be intuitive and somatic – often there are no visions at all but simply auditory or insightful journeys. The vine carries the content of the message, the teaching, and the insight, whilst the leaf illuminates the content.

The benefits

So what are the potential benefits of taking ayahuasca? Depending on the intention of the person, the setting, the culture, the energy and intention of the facilitator, people may:

  • Receive spiritual teachings and insights
  • Receive spontaneous spiritual healing
  • Increase efficiency and concentration
  • Expand consciousness
  • Identify the totality of life
  • Find the cause of depression
  • Clear traumas and blockages to overcome PTSD

At Spirit Vine we host ceremonies focussed on using ayahuasca for spiritual development and to find the causes of blockages, from a range of different modalities.

Is ayahuasca legal in Brazil?

Spirit Vine Ayahuasca Retreats blog - What is ayahuasca? - Banisteriopsis caapi vine growing at the retreat

Legally, yage or ayahuasca in Brazil can be used specifically for religious and spiritual purposes. Usually, the ceremony is supervised and mediated by an initiated spiritual leader (“shaman”) who understands intimately the spiritual dimensions of ayahuasca.

Note: The term “shaman” is often used to describe the spiritual mediator of ayahuasca ritual and these people would usually act as an intermediary between the human and the inter-dimensional spiritual realms. These days however, the term shamanism has been diluted to include ley practitioners, charlatans and dabblers who may or may not be initiated. Although being initiated does not guarantee the shaman has a real connection with the spiritual realm or is an ethical healer.

It has also become well known amongst the more contemporary western populations and its use has been adapted into more modern cultural forms. This has led to a noticeable growth of so-called “ayahuasca resorts”. Find out about our facilitators here.

Where can I safely take Ayahuasca?

Today, Ayahuasca has grown in popularity and there are now several resorts or retreats around the world where you can take the tea. These retreats vary in quality and should be thoroughly researched before you book.

If you’re looking for meaningful healing to take place you should consider several factors, such as which has qualified staff/facilitators. Find out more about how to have an optimal ayahuasca experience here.

Our ceremonies

The Spirit Vine Retreat Center provides a safe space for those who choose to participate in the ayahuasca ceremonies during their retreats.

what is ayahuasca blog article - picture of silvia polivoy at the retreat

Silvia Polivoy facilitates all the ceremonies here and it is our belief that the real teacher is the spirit of the plant. The ceremonies are held in our purpose-built ceremony room and participants form a sacred circle that is maintained for the duration of ceremony.

Most of our guests report that they experience a profound spiritual reality and this often includes communion with the spirit that is also known as ayahuasca. This spiritual entity displays wisdom and intelligence that teaches and guides people into having deep, spiritual insights about the nature of reality, the universe and our existence within the material world.

During an ayahuasca ceremony, participants can experience a wide variety of effects that inspire physical, mental, emotional and spiritual revelations.

Will ayahuasca make me purge?

b. caapi ayahuasca vine - spirit vine blog about what is ayahuasca?Because people usually carry deep emotional pain, unconscious blockages or strong ego identification into their journey which creates heavy “baggage”, the physical and mental purifications facilitate the transmutation into a less dense state. A cleansing or purifying effect can manifest as nausea, which can lead to purging or vomiting. The sensation of nausea that some people experience is usually linked to blockages or resistance, and once the body has purged, the mind and emotional blocks may clear, and deeper spiritual realities can then be revealed.

The spirit of ayahuasca or yage has a very strong presence and seems to open a doorway into an unfathomable and infinite reality that the human “thinking” mind is unable to easily comprehend. Visions and feelings amongst a sea of interspecies and inter-dimensional beings is commonly reported. Also, a ‘communion’ that is seemingly guided by the intent of the person, the intelligence of ayahuasca and the help of our spiritual guides can take place.

Participants often report the presence of spiritual beings, spiritual healers that perform “surgeries” removing blockages. Problems or blockages are often amplified so that the root cause of behaviour patterns are easier to unveil. As a result of all this, extra strength is gained due to the reconnection to our inner power or with the source, and a desire for a more authentic way of life that is more in accordance with a person’s true essence may come to the surface.

Upcoming Retreats

  • Aug  14 — Aug 22
  • Sep  17 — Sep 25
  • Nov  5 — Nov 15
  • Dec  13 — Dec 21
  • Jan  10 — Jan 20

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