A powerful hallucinogenic vine, long revered by Amazon Indians as a tool for peering deep into the psyche, is drawing interest from urban Peruvians and enticing foreign visitors to Peru.
Known as the “vine of souls” in the Quechua language of the ancient Inca empire, ayahuasca contains dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a chemical resembling the structure of psilocybin in psychedelic mushrooms.
Banned in the United States but legal in Peru, ayahuasca increasingly draws foreigners and has grown into a million dollar business. It is also seeping into Peru’s medical mainstream as a handful of psychologists and doctors tout its therapeutic benefits.
“Ayahuasca means exploration. It works to better see where we are, where we are coming from and where we are going,” said psychologist Javier Zavala, a self-styled curandero or healer, as he opened an ayahuasca session one recent Saturday night.
“I will give you only a small cup,” he told some 20 European, North American and Peruvian vision seekers, including an advertising executive, a film editor, and an engineer who had gathered near the ruins of a pre-Inca civilization on the southern outskirts of Lima.