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Ayahuasca: Psychedelic enlightenment?

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It's hard to pronounce and probably even harder to wrap your mind around unless you were a child of the free-flowing LSD flower child era. Ayahuasca is a centuries old Amazonian shamanistic drug used as a window into the soul. The sacrament, they claim, can cure any illness from depression to cancer. It is a Quechua word meaning "vine of the soul," and is shorthand for a mixture of Amazonian plants that shamans have boiled down for centuries to use for healing purposes.

The main chemical in the concoction, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), accounts for ayahuasca's illegality in the United States; DMT, though chemically distant from LSD, has hallucinogenic properties. But the plant ingredients allow DMT to circulate freely in the body that produce the unique journey.

Lately, young yogi types and not even close to crunchy hippies are studying under Shamans for years from places like Peru to bring these ayahuasca ceremonies Stateside. Usually set in a enclosed "safe" environment after leaving the jungle home, the shaman will lead a group of people through psychedelic journeys that may start as hell and end as heaven. Spirit animal guides, which Shamans usually attach to each person in their lifetime, are seen, interacted with and sometimes have conversations with the intoxicated person. After five or six hours which can feel like a lifetime of tedious instrospection, students may vomit from the potent, thick mixture best described as prune juice and molasses. This is the negative energy and/or evil spirits leaving your soul.

Since no one has time anymore to meditate for hours a day, this is becoming the new enlightenment era and party scene. Long gone are the days of tarot card readings and Oujia board nights. For some, the prescription is a large, full cup and others, tiny shots. Shamans claim it can take one sitting or 10 - it depends on the person and their "demons." But at least no one has to travel to Peru to experience them anymore.

To learn more, read about a personal experience and see a ritual take place, visit National Geographic's website.

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