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For a person like me whose biggest addiction is a strong espresso, I was perturbed, to say the least, when my then fifty-five-year-old mother announced she was joining União do Vegetal (Vegetable Union), a Brazilian religion where members take part of a psychedelic, or hallucinogenic substance ceremony, claiming to cure mental (depression) and physical (drug addictions) illness. I don’t even think my considerably liberal, flexible and open-minded upbringing had prepared me for the alarming news. As soon as I hung up the phone on mum, I placed an emergency conference call with my sisters. Did we need an intervention to save mom from this psychoactive drug?

It turns out, the Amazon rainforest native substance, called ayahuasca, has been used by indigenous tribes in religious and healing rituals since as early as the 16th century. Today, ayahuasca is present and legally authorised in 10 different countries, including the US, Canada, Peru, Portugal, Spain, the UK, Switzerland, Italy, Holland and Australia*. In Brazil, the Christianity and Shamanistic-based movement has spread to over 200 units, and 18.500 members are reported to take the brewed medicine regularly. In fact, a local government organisation called ANVISA (National Agency of Sanitation Control) perform periodic quality and hygiene control in centres where the substance is being produced.

The psychoactive medicine is the result of maceration and cooking the Amazonian plants of ayahuasca vine (banisteriopsis cap) and a shrub called chacrona (psychotria viridis). When under the drug influence, which can have a lasting effect for 4-6 hours, disciples listen to mantras and doctrines by shamans, or session leaders. Devotees claim the substance helps overcome fears, makes one encounter spiritual revelations, reach higher spiritual dimensions, as well as having deep insight into life, leading to profound, positive changes. Some negative side effects from ingesting the dark coloured earthy potion includes dizziness, sweating, shivering and vomiting. Considered by the shamans an essential part of the experience, the body’s natural expel of the substance means the release of negative energy and emotions built up over the course of one’s life.

The possibility of a bad trip is inherent in ayahuasca intake, but according to some research done so far, the medicine is considered harmless, and no illnesses or side affects have been registered. In fact, it has been noticed to tight values, reduce family tension, and bringing a community feel for those who accept the movement as a way of life. In Brazil, children often accompany their parents to the cult to take part in the social activity t it involves, such as community meals and celebrations.

Only now that I’m in my forties, I start to comprehend my mother’s inclination toward finding answers though spirituality, as I find myself adhering to a more meaningful life path. In fact, since joining UDV, my mother’s 35-year cigarette addiction has completely vanished (she has not had a smoke for over 15 years). I admit, I have not personally tried ayahuasca, as I’m still skeptical about it, but in the meantime, I I’ll keep devoted to daily yoga practice as my way of reaching inner peace and fulfilment.

* Ayahuasca is not a recreational drug, and its production and distribution is strictly used for religious and sacred rituals.

PS: By no means I condone the use of ayahuasca. The article above provides an overview of the natural but not necessarily safe psychoactive substance.

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