All posts by Christina Callicott

Christina Callicott is a PhD student at the University of Florida, studying cultural anthropology and tropical conservation and development. blog photoblog

Pandora’s Brew: The New Ayahuasca Part 7

Conclusion: It’s all fun and games…

As I mentioned in the first post of my series, anthropologists and ethnobiologists have played an outsized role in studying and popularizing ayahuasca and Amazonian shamanism, and more recently, attending to its internationalization. This history affords anthropologists a stake in discussions of drug policy issues pertaining to the subjects; one might even suggest it requires their participation as a matter of ethical concern. One topic of interest among scholars and activists right now is whether and how to regulate ayahuasca practices within a framework of increasing legalization and legitimation in the global north. Some scientists and activists seem to believe that legality alone will bring increased transparency and safety by eliminating the need for practitioners and participants to navigate in what is effectively a criminal underground. However, the assumption of legality among the practitioners and participants of the new ayahuasca churches, particularly Ayahuasca Healings, sheds light on numerous other problems that legalization alone will not solve—in fact, may exacerbate. These include the misappropriation of indigenous culture, the hyper-commodification of spirituality, and a rapid increase in demand for the vine, which is already being overharvested in some areas. Continue reading

Pandora’s Brew: The New Ayahuasca Part 6

Oklevueha Native American Church

In addition to the widespread appropriation of Native North American culture that characterizes neo-shamanic discourse, the current spate of ayahuasca churches in the U.S. adds insult to injury by claiming that their practices are legal because they are official branches of the Native American Church, specifically the Oklevueha Native American Church (ONAC), led by James Mooney. At least four churches and one retreat center have been established under the ONAC aegis focusing specifically on ayahuasca (though they may offer other services and products as well including herbal elixirs, cuddle parties and the ceremonial use of Life Frequencies Essentials and Chakra Tools computer software). These churches falsely claim to be offering legal ayahuasca ceremonies in the United States. Membership in these churches is available to the public for a fee, and in keeping with the common framework of Amazonian shamanic tourism, they charge a second (usually much higher) fee for ceremonial services.

Death in Kentucky

Continue reading

Pandora’s Brew: The New Ayahuasca Part 5

“The New Paradigm”

Yesterday marked exactly a year since Ayahuasca Healings submitted to the DEA their petition for exemption from the Controlled Substances Act. The cover letter, dated April 4, 2016, sets the tone for some of the backpedaling that will follow:

At the outset, petitioners wish to admit that they were previously mistaken about the current state of the law regarding Ayahuasca…This misconception has since been corrected, and Petitioners offer their sincere apologies for any prior conduct which the DEA believes might have run afoul of its regulatory agenda…[AHNAC 2016:1]

The petition process has been developed by the DEA for groups wishing to claim exemption from the Controlled Substances Act in order to practice their religion, under the standards set by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First Amendment to the Constitution. Much of AH’s petition seeks to describe Ayahuasca Healings as a religion, and to their credit, the group’s creativity shines through. However, there are some inconsistencies, or to be more generous, selective eclecticisms, that an anthropologist might pick up on, even if the DEA doesn’t.

Continue reading

Pandora’s Brew: The New Ayahuasca Part 4

Ayahuasca Healings

Last week (March 18, 2017), I received an email that read, in toto:

Just like I promised:
Get the free eBook here (right click, “Save Link As…”)
I wrote this back in 2010, and the secrets contained within this eBook, have allowed me to create and live the most beautiful, fulfilling life I could have ever imagined.
It is actually a “channeled” book, are you familiar with what channeling is?
Back in 2010, I met The Teachers who showed me how to create my ideal life experience, no matter where I was at.
(The Teachers are the true authors of this eBook)
Following Their words, led me down a path more magical, more beautiful, more filled with joy, love and freedom, than anything I could have ever dreamt up.
Because they taught me, how to truly follow my heart. There’s no secret, that following your heart, is
the key to creating the life of your dreams.
The question is:
How?
You know you want a life of freedom, but how do you get there?
The mind can be so strong in it’s fears and doubts.
And we can be so controlled by other people’s expectations of us…
So the question is, above all of that, how can you still follow your heart?
This is the key to your most fulfilling life, ever.
And this eBook gives you the answers, and shows you, how you can move forward, to create the life that your heart and soul, so deeply yearn for.
It’s time!
So enjoy this eBook, and I’ll talk to you soon! [To be continued..]
With infinite gratitude, so happy to share this,
Trinity de Guzman & The Ayahuasca Healings Family

About once or twice a week I get a missive like this from Trinity, the messianic young founder of Ayahuasca Healings Native American Church. Since I initiated my membership in the Ayahuasca Healings community (by reluctantly giving them my e-mail address), I have received at least 48 of these love bombs, with subject lines ranging from “Welcome Beautiful Soul” to “Day 6 – How To Choose The Right Shaman” to “…I’m going to be a father!! Yay!!” Continue reading

Pandora’s Brew: The New Ayahuasca Part 3

Part 3: Legality (or lack thereof)

(In the last post, I promised to start this one with some explanation of what goes into ayahuasca that makes it the concern of the US Drug Enforcement Agency, and why some people in the U.S. can drink it legally while others can’t. Here goes.)

Ayahuasca is most commonly defined in the literature both lay and academic as a brew made from the combination of two plants: a vine, ayahuasca (Banistseriopsis caapi); and a leaf, usually chacruna (Psychotria viridis) but sometimes chaliponga, chagroponga or yáji (Diplopterys cabrerana). Although this definition obscures the myriad historical and contemporary iterations of brews that use the ayahuasca vine as a base, the ayahuasca-chacruna dyad is the basis for the spread of ayahuasca usage in the Amazon and around the world.

The leaves that go into the ayahuasca brew contain a substance, dimethyltryptamine or DMT, that has a number of interesting characteristics. It is produced in the healthy human body and brain, and recent research (here, here, and here) suggests that it modulates the immune system and may provide other biologically protective functions as well. DMT is also produced in numerous other plant and animal species. When extracted, purified, and smoked (or injected, as it was in a series of clinical experiments that jump-started the current wave of psychedelic research), DMT produces prodigious if short-lived hallucinations. When ingested orally, however, it does nothing at all. That’s because an enzyme in the human digestive system, monoamine oxidase or MAO, breaks down the DMT before it can get into the bloodstream and through the blood-brain barrier.

On the other hand, ayahuasca the vine (and subsequently the brew) contains substances that inhibit the monoamine oxidase (we call them mono-amine oxidase inhibitors, or MAOIs), thus rendering the DMT orally active and, therefore, hallucinogenic.

The legal problem arises over the fact that DMT is a Schedule 1 substance, a classification reserved for drugs that the US government defines as having no legitimate medical use and a high potential for abuse. Possession of Schedule 1 substances is illegal. Therefore, possession of ayahuasca is, ostensibly, illegal as well.

Continue reading

Pandora’s Brew: The New Ayahuasca Part 2

Part 2: The New Ayahuasca Churches

Yesterday I sat in on a webinar sponsored by ICEERS (the International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research and Service) and organized by anthropologist Bia Labate. Entitled “Myths and Realities about the Legality of Ayahuasca in the USA,” the webinar featured three experts on the subject. The first was Jeffrey Bronfman, a leader of the União do Vegetal church in the US whose shipment of ayahuasca (the UDV calls it hoasca) was seized in 1999, leading to a protracted court battle and, eventually, a supreme court decision in favor of the church’s right to use the tea as their sacrament. The second was Rob Heffernan, member of the Santo Daime church (which also uses ayahuasca as a sacrament) and chair of its legal committee. The third was J. Hamilton Hudson, a recent graduate of the Tulane law school who has been following legal developments surrounding ayahuasca-using groups who are affiliated with neither of the aforementioned churches.

The webinar—and the series of which it is a part—are a response to the apparent confusion regarding the legal status of ayahuasca in the United States. This confusion, and some of the factors contributing to it, came to light over the past year and a half with the rise and fall of a group called Ayahuasca Healings, the self-proclaimed “first public legal ayahuasca church in the United States.” Also known as Ayahuasca USA and Ayahuasca Healings Native American Church (AHNAC), AH is one of a number of groups who use ayahuasca in a neo-shamanic setting and, more importantly, who claim that they have the legal right to do so. Unfortunately for AH, they don’t, and a friendly letter from the DEA (U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency) was enough to finally convince them of that fact—at least for now.

Continue reading

Pandora’s Brew: The New Ayahuasca

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Christina Callicott.

I’m guessing that by now most of my readers will have heard of this stuff called “ayahuasca.” Everyone from Stephen Colbert to the New Yorker is talking about it, some in terms more cringe-inducing than others. A quick primer for those who don’t know: Ayahuasca is a psychoactive (read: psychedelic) brew developed by the peoples of the Amazon for ritual purposes ranging from ethnomedicine to divination. It’s just one in a pantheon of sacred plant and multi-plant concoctions used by Amazonian shamans, but it’s one that has sparked the fascination of peoples everywhere, from the Amazon itself to the distant corners of the urban and industrialized nations. Ayahuasca, along with other “entheogens” such as psilocybin mushrooms and LSD, is a centerpiece of the new Psychedelic Renaissance, an artistic and scientific movement which has, as one of its primary aims, the legitimization of these currently illegal substances by researching and promoting their efficacy as treatments for intractable ailments, usually psychological, including depression, end-of-life anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Continue reading