Why is Ayahuasca so Popular Now?

As so many shifts are occurring on the planet and people look for ways to adapt their lives, more and more have been finding ayahuasca to be an invaluable tool in their transformation. We answered some questions about this mysterious brew and why it’s been getting so much attention.

ayahuasca reader

Drawing by Kathleen Harrison. In the Ayahuasca Reader.

What is Ayahuasca?

Ayahuasca is a sacred drink used for millennia by numerous indigenous groups primarily in the Upper Amazon and Orinoco basins for divination, healing, and other cosmogonic/shamanic purposes.

-from the Ayahuasca Reader

It’s known by many names throughout South America and is also known as yagé or yajé. The name ayahuasca translates to “vine of the soul” in Quechuan.

What is it made of?

Ayahuasca is a psychoactive brew or tea most commonly derived from Banisteriopsis caapi, a vine containing monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and the leaves of Psychotria viridis or other plant containing N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and often several other admixture plants.

-from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)

Why do people use it?

There are many reasons why more people are choosing to drink ayahuasca including:

  • spiritual and religious reasons
  • shamanic journeying
  • personal growth
  • medicinal and therapeutic purposes

What kinds of medicinal and therapeutic properties does ayahuasca have?

It’s been gaining attention around the world for its ability to heal a wide range of diseases and conditions. Thousands of people report emotional, mental and physical healing from a wide range of conditions. To contribute to the abundance of anecdotal evidence, there have been more clinical studies scientifically investigating ayahuasca’s healing properties, including recent studies showing the effectiveness of a single use in treating recurrent depression, significant improvement among participants in therapy for treatment of addiction, and possible antitumor effects.

Untitled, gouache on paper, © Marlene Lopes Mateus, (Cashinahua, Brazil). Collection of Elsje Maria Lagrou. In the Ayahuasca Reader.

What are the religious or spiritual reasons for drinking ayahuasca?

People report an expanded sense of connection with all of life through visions that reveal the nature of reality. Oftentimes during ceremonies, healing songs or icaros are sung to guide participants through their journey.

In indigenous groups in Amazonia, shamans drink ayahuasca for many reasons that have spiritual significance, including to travel to other realms, gather information, finding and treating illnesses, and to communicate with other beings. For more detailed information on these rituals, see Ayahuasca Reader and Vine of The Soul: Medicine Men, Their Plants and Rituals in the Colombian Amazonia.

There are also several recognized churches that use ayahuasca as an entheogenic sacrament, including Santo Daime, Barquinha and União do Vegetal (UDV).

“Ayahuasca has a very insistent message. It’s one of those universals that almost everyone who drinks the brew sooner or later reports. It’s about the sacred, magical, enchanted, interconnected, infinitely precious nature of life on earth, and the interdependence of material and spiritual realms.” -Graham Hancock

Allen Ginsberg, speaking at the University of Pennsylvania in 1967. Photograph © by Roberth Hahn. In the Ayahuasca Reader

Don Ignacio, Shipibo shaman, Ucayali River. Photograph © Angelika Gebhart-Sayer. In the Ayahuasca Reader.

Who’s using it?

Indigenous groups in the Amazon have been using ayahuasca for thousands of years, with written records of ayahuasca ceremonies emerging in the early diaries of Spanish colonial priests.

In addition to the populations who have traditionally used ayahuasca, there has been a surge of interest among people all over the world. Many people including scientists, doctors, artists, musicians, writers, journalists, those who wish to be healed from disease and those who want to seek to go deeper within themselves.

Is it legal?

Ayahuasca is legal in many countries in South America. The United States Supreme Court has unanimously ruled in favor of the legal religious use of ayahuasca by the União do Vegetal, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has affirmed the Santo Daime Church’s freedom to use ayahuasca for religious purposes. However, ayahuasca’s principally active ingredient—DMT—remains a Schedule I controlled substance.

-from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)

Why is ayahuasca so popular now?

At this critical moment in human history, we are seeing a remarkable increase in the use of Ayahuasca. This voice of this profound Amazonian plant teacher has been getting louder. It calls us to find balance with the rhythms of the planet. As we see the effects of consumeristic excess waging war on the planet, the message of ayahuasca calls us to raise our Earth consciousness by examining our lives and coming into a state of harmony.

“. . . the ubiquitous simultaneous therapeutic, religious, spiritual and medicinal roles of these plants have implications for understanding the nature of human consciousness and the spiritual.” -Michael Winkleman

How can I learn more?

Join us for a SYNERGETIC SYMPOSIUM & SALON on Earth Consciousness & Lore of the Amazon

Conversations on Ayahuasca, Ethnomedicine, and the Biospheric Imperative with


WEDNESDAY, APRIL 6 4:00 – 11:00 PM

Talks • Dinner • Visionary Art • Poetry • Music • Dancing

Synergia Ranch Santa Fe, New Mexico


You can also find a wealth of comprehensive writings and images in Ayahuasca Reader, more ethnobotanical information in Vine of The Soul: Medicine Men, Their Plants and Rituals in the Colombian Amazonia, and a discussion of ayahuasca and Buddhist practice in Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics.

Vine of the Soul and Embrace of the Serpent

Vine of the Soul and Embrace of the Serpent

Embrace of the Serpent (El Abrazo de la Serpiente) is a newly released film based in part on the experiences of ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes (author of Synergetic Press’ Vine of the Soul) in Colombian Amazonia. The film, directed by 34-year-old Ciro Guerra, was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in the 88th Academy Awards and is the first film from Colombia to ever be nominated. Guerra poured through the early diaries of the first foreign scientists to live and work with the native people of the Amazon, was drawn in by the writings of Richard Evans Schultes and Theodor Koch-Grünberg, and based the film on their accounts.

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Richard Evans Schultes

Dr. Richard Evans Schultes

Embrace of the Serpent tells the story of an Amazonian shaman named Karamakate who is the last surviving member of his tribe. Karamakate travels with ethnologist Theodor Koch-Grünberg in search of a sacred plant at the beginning of the twentieth century and then again goes on the same search decades later with ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes. Schultes, who is known as the father of modern ethnobotany, came to the Amazon to research the plants used by the indigenous population. The comprehensive writings, notes, and photographs left by Schultes provide an intimate look into the Amazonian world.

vineofthesoulcoverThe way Schultes documented his experiences with plant medicines was encyclopedic. Early interest in the rainforest and plant medicines influenced his academic career from the beginning. While studying at Harvard, Schultes wrote his senior undergraduate thesis on ritual use of the peyote cactus among the Kiowa. His research led him to uncover the identity of mystical mushroom species in Mexico for his doctoral thesis. He was the first person to study ayahuasca academically, and his work in the rainforest brought global attention to the destruction taking place in the Amazon.

In Schultes’ classic book Vine of the Soul: Medicine Men, Their Plants and Rituals in the Colombian Amazonia, he details the world of Amazonian sacred, healing plants. This mystical photographic essay is accompanied by detailed descriptions of the Amazon Indians’ use of medicinal and other sacred plant substances, and their active chemical ingredients.

One of the Amazonian images captured in Vine of the Soul

An image of Schultes in the Amazon captured in Vine of the Soul


“Although exploitation of medicinal plants has become a political issue in much of the world during the last decade at a time when there are many serious questions regarding the exploitation of native peoples, it is refreshing to find the essays written with such an obvious respect for the payés, their belief systems, and their extensive knowledge of plants. Schultes conducted his field research in an open and straightforward fashion, taking a direct approach to the communities he worked with, and demonstrating his respect for their customs and beliefs.”

–Indigenous Nations Journal, Vol 6, No. 1, Spring 2008

“Quite simply a masterpiece… Vine of the Soul deserves to be read by everyone interested in rainforests, indigenous peoples, shamanism, hallucinogens, ethnomedicine and conservation.”

Mark Plotkin, President, Amazon Conservation Team 

As the Academy Award nomination of Embrace of the Serpent shows, interest in the healing plants of the Amazon is at an all-time high throughout the world. The information originally obtained and organized by Schultes himself remains one of the most valuable resources we can access. Through books such as Vine of the Soul we’re able to explore and uncover the rainforest world where healing with plants is the norm, and ritual and magic play essential roles in everyday life.

An image from Embrace of the Serpent with Schultes in the background

An image from Embrace of the Serpent with Schultes’ character in the background

To dive deeper into the world of Amazonian sacred plant medicines, explore a copy of Vine of the Soul: Medicine Men, Their Plants and Rituals in the Colombian Amazonia by Richard Evans Schultes.











What is the ‘nature’ of technology?

While some people think that nature and technology are in fundamental opposition, and others rest in the assumption that all that is must be natural simply for having come into being, Synergetic Press author Christian Schwägerl explores the implications of “bioadaptation” as a symbiotic interweaving of technology and biospsheric systems:

Seen from the perspective of a future bio-technosphere, today’s wasteful machines appear to be rudimentary organisms with outdated cycles in urgent need of improvement. Fuel-guzzling Porsches or SUVs, coal-fired power plants and persistent plastic seem to be old-fashioned leftovers from the Holocene, about as impressive as horse carriages and typewriters. Cars of the future would either decompose into material that boosts the environment or give way to other, networked kinds of transport. The guiding principle in this process might be called bioadaptation: using nature as a source to “breed” machines.

In this chapter excerpt from Schwägerl’s “The Anthropocene: The Human Era and How it Shapes Our Planet,” the author takes us on a visionary journey into inspiring and possible future grounded in a real-world dialectical synthesis of technology and nature. Read the Chapter excerpt ‘Technature’ on Realitysandwich.com here.

Next Generation Ecologists – Hayley Todesco

Next Generation Ecologists – Hayley Todesco

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At the age of ten, the young Canadian Hayley Todesco watched the documentary film An Inconvenient Truth and immediately realized what a significant impact humans have upon the Earth. “I never imagined the possibility that humans could significantly affect the climate,” says Todesco, a realization that led her to commit to studying science in order to make her own positive impact on the climate.

So as a student, Todesco was inspired to address environmental issues through her science fair projects and, in her most recent experiment, went far beyond the paper maché volcano. In fact, she developed a system to filter toxic tailings created when mining for bitumen in tar sands, allowing these toxic acids to decompose fourteen times faster than they would otherwise.


‘Slow’ sand filters (SSFs) are a water treatment process invented in 1804.

Tar sands mining involves a series of complex processes to recover oil from a mixture of clay, sand and water. This mining disturbs the land, requires large quantities of water, has an impact on the quality of air and water for local humans and wildlife, and even has far-reaching biospheric effects through the greenhouse gas emissions produced in the process. By 2025 the total volume of toxic tailings that have accumulated from tar sands mining is expected to equal one billion cubic meters.

While scientists and engineers continue to develop and implement cleaner forms of energy, we must continue to do our best to reduce the ill-effects of existing methods. It’s encouraging to see the innovations being brought forward by a new generation of planetary thinkers like Hayley Todesco. Her filtration method can lower the levels of toxicity that occur in ponds after tar sands mining much more quickly than current practices, which is how she won the 17-18 category in the 2014 Google Science Fair. Hayley Todesco is currently studying microbiology at the University of Alberta.

Watch the linked video above to see a brief overview of her project, and click here to read more about it.

Feature image courtesy of Smithsonianmag.com:

For more information on tar sands, click here.


Could ‘Bio-Futurism’ lead to a long & prosperous road ahead?

Could ‘Bio-Futurism’ lead to a long & prosperous road ahead?

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A hot topic for layperson and PhD alike, nobody will deny that the term Anthropocene is trending. One the one side, there are those who believe that the idea that humans are in fact the driving force behind a new geological epoch is a benefic and life-affirming path forward; while on the other, those who see only the continuation of a  ‘should be discarded’ notion of anthropocentrism inherited from Christian doctrine (the latter tend see the use of the term ‘anthropocene’ as a clever political/environmental tool at best). Christian Schwägerl- a biologist, correspondent for Der Spiegel, and Synergetic Press author- stands firmly on the pro-anthropocene side of the debate. And in this video, he briefly summarizes the case for adopting the term scientifically as well as embracing a new ‘bio-futurism’ that can embolden a prosperous future.

After explaining how humans have altered 75% of Earth’s land surface, created dead spots in the oceans from the over use of nitrogen fertilizers, warmed the atmosphere through industrial emissions, and now appropriate 90% of mammalian biomass (as opposed to the 1% during the Neolithic revolution), Schwagerl suggests that the long-term thinking that would result from adopting the anthropocene idea as a geological epoch gives us the power to shape our future consciously and for the better. We can never go ‘back to the Holocene,’ a tempting nostalgia prophesied by the European Romantics during the onset of Industrialization, but we can take the reigns by becoming conscious stewards of the biosphere and allowing the anthropocene idea to imbue our everyday decisions with responsibility for our significant ecological role as humans. As Schwägerl explains, “Our lifestyles, our daily consumerism, decisions, what we do or don’t do… shapes the future.”

Schwägerl then explores the notion of ‘bio-futurism,’ a life-affirming way of looking ahead that could allow our civilization to grow with the richness of nature, rather than at its cost. He explains that instead of seeing the activity of cells as being like ‘a factory,’ he suggests that factories and machines are really more like very primitive cells. Once we can grapple with this fundamental paradigm-shift, we can act less like barbarians and more like ‘planetary gardeners’ that prepare a fruitful soil for future open developments.

This is a notion that Schwägerl develops more deeply in Chapter 8 of the Synergetic Press title, “The Anthropocene: The Human Era and How it Shapes Our Planet.” He explains:

“If products were built so that they could be turned back into raw materials for the next generation they would be easier to repair and upgrade than they are today. These products could be made from plant-based materials optimized by biotechnology. Or they could be synthetic and feature organic characteristics created through biomimicry. Innovative recycling plants could be fed with entire scrap heaps from the past to be processed into new raw materials through urban mining. Plastic recycling would become a source of raw material, making it superfluous to drill new oil platforms in the deep sea or in the Arctic. New chemical substances would absorb toxic substances and render them harmless. The bioadaptive imagination of scientists is only just gathering momentum:

  • Compostable cars; synthetic materials that turn into nutrients when they dissolve
  • Machines made of organic material that could easily be recycled
  • Electrodes that work with endogenous substances
  • Colorants following the role model of butterflies
  • Substitute plastic made of insect protein
  • Biodegradable electronics
  • Robots that feed off plastic waste
  • Nanomagnetic designer particles that extract phosphorus and other critically important elements from wastewater
  • Buildings inspired by deep-sea sponges
  • Power plants that imitate photosynthesis
  • Bacteria that produce fuel and construction materials
  • Signal transmission in silk threads

The transformation could go even deeper: genetic algorithms in the future could enable much more complex calculation processes than digital ones; biological nanomaterials could significantly reduce the necessity to use metal and finally, DNA—the very stuff of which life is made—could prove to be superior in information storage, making DNA computers a reality.”

Schwägerl’s inspired vision is only the tip of the iceberg of what’s possible, a persuasive means of getting the reader or listener to see the world differently. For the German biologist, journalist and author, the anthropocene idea is the very spark needed to set off this new wave of bio-futurism and abolish the outmoded notion of humans as ‘invaders’ to nature, thereby returning us to our ecological (from the Greek oikos- meaning ‘house’) place at home on Earth.

Here’s a link to the book.

Urban “Growth”

Urban “Growth”

The tree population in New York City has jumped from 500,000 to 650,000, and is set to increase to 1 million in 2015 from about 500,000 trees in the 1990s. In addition to beautifying the city, the trees will provide the natural services of filtering pollution, cooling hot summer streets, and reducing rates of asthma. This is thanks in part to a nonprofit founded by actor/singer Bette Midler called Million Trees NYC. You can read about the other health benefits provided by our dendritic friends in Tony Juniper’s book, What Has Nature Ever Done For Us?
You can read more about it here.

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