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Ayahuasca Retreats: Gallery

What is Aya

Madre Verde, Ruta de Los Cenotes

The word “Ayahuasca” refers to a medicinal brew with the main ingredient being the aya vine (banisteriopsis caapi). The vine is cooked, usually in combination with at least one other admixture plant, to produce a brown liquid that is consumed in healing ceremonies led by Amazon healers, called ayahuasqueros. The effects of the brew vary greatly depending on which admixture plants are used in its preparation, how the curandero runs the healing ceremony, and a number of more complex and mysterious aspects.

The admixture plants most often used are the leaves of chacruna (Psychotria viridis) and yagé; also known as chaliponga, chagraponga, and huambisa (Diplopterys cabrerana). Aya is known and used throughout Perú, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, and western Brazil. The use of sacred Aya is rapidly gaining awareness and acceptance throughout the world thanks to retreat programs and organized religious movements such as Santo Daime and the União do Vegetal (UDV), who won a supreme court decision for the right of members to use the sacred medicine in ceremonies in the United States.

Aya has been used in the Peruvian Amazon for millenia, long before the Spanish came to Peru, before the Incan Empire was formed, before history. The oldest known object related to the use of Sacred Aya is a ceremonial cup which dates to a culture that ended in the year 50 A.D. Carved out of stone with engraved ornamentation, it was discovered in Ecuador and currently rests at the Ethnological Museum of the Central University (Quito, Ecuador). In the Peruvian Amazon, its use dates back much further.

Chemically speaking, the medicine usually contains both beta-carboline and tryptamine alkaloids. However, some indigenous Amazonian cultures, like the Yahua, prepare their ceremonial brew using only the Aya vine. The Aya vine contains the beta-carbolines (harmine, harmaline, and tetrahydroharmine). Harmine and harmaline are visionary at high levels, but at a modest dosage typically produce mainly tranquility and nausea. Tetrahydroharmine is present in significant levels in Sacred Aya, which may be responsible for some of its more profound effects.


Even though all Aya vines are botanically classified as Banisteriopsis caapi, the curanderos classify them further, in reference to their effects. An example is cielo Aya, which means sky or heaven Mother Aya, implying that its effect is of bringing one to celestial realms. 


Harmala alkaloids have the unique effect of temporarily reducing levels of monoamine oxidase in the body. Monoamine oxidase is an enzyme that normally breaks down tryptamine alkaloids, among others. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) thus make tryptamines orally active. Therefore, the Aya plays an essential role in the brew, opening the door for a host of powerful alkaloids to reach the brain before eventually being broken down by other means.


The principal tryptamine found in Mother Aya is DiMethyltryptamine, or DMT. This naturally-occurring biochemical substance is believed to be secreted by the human brain in the pineal gland, especially when dreaming. Rick Strassman, author of ‘DMT Spirit Molecule’ theorized that 49 days into the development of the human embryo, the pineal gland produces a much larger amount of DiMethyltryptamine than normal. The only other time this occurs naturally is at the moment of our death. Therefore, Strassman concluded that the production of DMT is a chemical expression of a spiritual event, namely the entering and exiting of the spirit into and from the physical body. DiMethyltryptamine can be found in countless plant and animal species throughout the world.


While some scientists might describe the Aya experience as merely an oral DMT experience activated by a beta carboline MAO inhibitor, this description is not accurate. The dynamics within the Aya experience are far more complex, due at least in part to the Aya vine itself which is often said to lend ‘wisdom’ to the experience. This idea is supported by nearly every culture that uses Aya in the Amazon Rainforest. The truth is that Mother Aya "Abuela" forms part of a complex healing phenomenon which is multifaceted and mysterious and which defies reductive, chemical or scientific oversimplifications. Aya is not just a ‘drug’ or ‘medicine’ that acts on a passive recipient; it is a relationship involving many factors, including the intention of the drinker, and the role of the curandero, who uses his/her experience and relationship with the spirit of Mother Aya (as well as other plants) to increase, decrease, and guide the depth of the healing.

Ayahuasca Retreats: Intro

Aya The Spirit Vine

An In Depth Explanation

Scientific Name: banisteriopsis caapi

Common Names in the Amazon: ayahuasca; yagé; bejuco; caapi; nucnu huasca; shimbaya huasca; nishi; oni; népe; xono; datém; kamarampi; pindé; natema; iona; mii; shillinto; nepi.

Over 90 different indigenous tribes in the Amazon Rainforest have developed healing traditions based on the use of aya. This number becomes even more impressive when one considers the fact that many of these tribes live thousands of miles apart and would appear to have never had contact with each other. Within the philosophy of each tribe, one point remains consistent, which is that they originally learned about Mother Aya and the science of plant medicine from the plants themselves.

Ayahuasca Retreats: Intro
Mother Ayahuasca & Chacruna

Effects of Abuelita

Knowledge Is Power

For millenia, a science of healing has been evolving in the Amazon, passed on orally from generation to generation, and through the plants themselves. The sacred medicine is primarily used to heal, and patients often feel the following effects:

Ayahuasca Retreats: Welcome
Mother Ayahuasca

Healing the Body

Nearly everyone describes a physical cleansing or purification process, often involving vomiting or purging. Another name for the brew is ‘la purga’ because of its powerful purgative effects. It is not necessary to throw up, however, and the curandero rarely throws up when leading a ceremony.

Ayahuasca Retreats: About My Project

Healing the Mind

It is not uncommon to experience a regression back to the situation or source of a problem or trauma. To relive the experience is to gain new understanding and insights enabling resolution or closure. Dream-like scenes where personal messages from spirits are received cause ceremony participants to re-evaluate their life course with a deeper understanding of why they are here, and what it is they need to do to fulfill their purpose.

Ayahuasca Retreats: About My Project
MadreVerde Tree

Healing the Soul

Most people who experience Mother Aya report some sort of spiritual experience. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to describe the spiritual effects due to the lack of spirit in our language. Western culture is simply ignorant of the science of spirit that is still practiced today in the Amazon, but it is common for people to feel something that could be described as spiritual.

Ayahuasca Retreats: About My Project

Shamans Advice

*Credits to: Psychedelic Times Staff  Before attending an ayahuasca ceremony, most shamans advise you adhere to a strict diet to physically, mentally, and spiritually prepare yourself for the journey. 

How to Prepare for an Aya Ceremony

MadreVerde Jungle

10 Reasons Why People Should Take Aya

MadreVerde Templo

To Drink, or Not To Drink Aya: That is The Question

Ayahuasca Retreats: Other Projects
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