“In a hut, in a forest, in the mountains of Colombia, I am puking into a bucket. I close my eyes and every time my body convulses I see ripples in a lattice of multi-coloured hexagons that flows out to the edges of the universe.” Vaughan Bell’s description seems to be typical of the ayahuasca experience – at once unpleasant, frightening and enlightening.
Ayahuasca – meaning ‘spirit vine’ in Native South American Quechua languages – is a foul-tasting hallucinogenic brew that has been used for centuries by rain forest shamans as a religious sacrament. The infusion facilitates mystical visions and revelations, and is said to have healing properties. To date, there have been very few studies of how it affects brain function. Now, though, a team of Brazilian researchers reports one of the very first functional neuroimaging studies of the drug’s effects.