In the current (Sept 12) issue of The New Yorker. Ariel Levy writes about the drug-fueled South American shamanistic ritual ayahuasca (or yagé,) and how its plants and practices are being imported to “hip” American areas such as Brooklyn and Silicon Valley. As TPR has explained before:
Pharmacologically, ayahuasca is quite interesting. It is commonly made by macerating and boiling together parts of the plants Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis. Neither of these plants, taken alone, has psychedelic properties. P. viridis does contain DMT, a psychedelic tryptamine that acts — as does LSD and mescaline — at the 5-HT2A receptor. However, because of first-pass metabolism, this compound is broken down by the enzyme monoamine oxidase before it ever reaches the systemic circulation. As it happens, B. caapi contains several beta-carbolines — harmine and harmaline — that act as monoamine oxidase inhibitors. These MAOIs prevent the breakdown of DMT.
Levy’s article, cleverly titled “The Drug of Choice for the Age of Kale,” traces the history of Americans’ fascination with ayahuasca back to the Dennis and Terence McKenna, who sought out ayahuasca in 1971 during a trip to Colombia and Peru. She actually could have gone back further, at least to William Burroughs who wrote The Yage Letters in the 1950s and 60s.
The actual ayahuasca “trip” sounds horrendous, and often involves a good deal of projectile vomiting. One friend told Levy that ayahuasca “takes you to the swampland of your soul.” Author Tim Ferriss calls one of his first “trips” “the most painful experience I’ve ever had by a factor of a thousand . . . I felt like I was being torn apart and killed a thousand times a second for two hours . . . I thought I had completely fried my motherboard.”
Finally, Levy goes to Williamsburg in Brooklyn to take part in an ayahuasca ceremony. I’ll leave you to discover how the ceremony played out when you read the article, but will just say that the author ends up covered in emesis. As to whether the experience was in the end positive or negative, the results are ambiguous.
To my mind, this is the most interesting tox writing in the popular press so far this year. A must-read.