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Basic scholar readings on ayahuasca

It is a relevant query of kreepmusic that prompted me to post a list of some of the readings I consider basic to think ayahuasca. This is a selection from our (Partner and I) own modest collection of documents. Stock and choice are personal and I assume the indicative rather than comprehensive nature of this list.

In order not to restrict too much the panel of good quality informative readings, I did prefer to put the following commented bibliography under the broader heading adjective “scholar” rather than “scientific”. For example Wizard of the Upper Amazon and its sequel Rio Tigre and Beyond, the first person autobiography of the famous mestizo ayahuasquero Manuel Córdova-Rios, narrated by Bruce Lamb, have not been written and published like academic/scientific works. Yet, two anthropologists specialists of ayahuasca, who have met Don Manuel (including LE Luna), and I, consider this story as a valuable piece of ethnographical work, worth to be included in scholar and scientific bibliographies (the early critics of Amahuaca specialist Robert Carneiro, relayed by Jonathan Ott, are largely irrelevant).

I have three golden rules with the documentation I’m using:

– When dealing with academic authors, I prefer primary literature, i.e. peer-reviewed papers, to other sources. This rule is not always applicable, depending notably on discipline and historical period. I look then for references, and systematically check some of them in order to evaluate the reliability of the author vis-à-vis his/her sources.

– With biomedical research, I prefer papers to abstracts. On ayahuasca and related close topics I have a zero tolerance for abstracts. Only whole article-based references are included in the list.

– I read all thrice.

A last preliminary note on the organization of the list: for practical reasons I’ve split it in two parts. The first is about documents in English only that normally are easy to obtain and, often but not always, easier to read than the other. Those in the second part are in varied languages, generally less easy to obtain, and, often but not always, more difficult to get to grips with. I haven’t checked the availability of all and there may be some misdirection. In addition, as I preferred to post as soon as possible, entries are lacking and some comments are a bit short. I shall complete it in the future.

PART 1: easily available (can be find, or bought at reasonable prices, on the Internet or in bookstores):


ATRAN Scott (2002) In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion. New York, USA: Oxford University Press.
A densely and widely referenced thought-provoking book on the recent approach labeled “cognitive anthropology of religion”. Proposes some cognitive universals of religions and replaces them in an evolutionary perspective: we humans have spent most of our history as illiterate hunter-gatherers. Something must have survived in our neurocognitive apparatus. Religions are based on it. Food for thought.

DOBKIN DE RIOS Marlene (1984) Visionary Vine: Hallucinogenic Healing in the Peruvian Amazon, 2nd publ. Prospect Heights, USA: Waveland Press. (First publ.: 1972).
DOBKIN DE RIOS Marlene (1992) Amazon Healer: The Life and Times of an Urban Shaman. Bridport, EU: Prism Press.
Classic anthropological approach of Peruvian mestizo ayahuasqueros. The second book is more personal and living.

FURST Peter T. (Ed.) (1972) Flesh of the Gods: The Ritual Use of Hallucinogens. New York, USA: Praeger.
With the Harner (see below), a basic (republished) you-must-have-it. Be it just for the contribution of Reichel-Dolmatoff.

HARNER Michael J. (Ed.) (1973) Hallucinogens and Shamanism. New York, USA: Oxford University Press.
Who hasn’t it? Contains notably the famous joint papers of Michael Harner (still then considered an academic anthropologist) and Chilean psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo on “common themes” in visions reported either by Indians after ayahuasca drinking or Westernized city-dwellers after pure beta-carbolines administration (Naranjo was apparently convinced ayahuasca could be reduced to harmaline, much like today some seem convinced it can be reduced to DMT. An outdated, irrelevant, dogmatic, and scientifically counterproductive attitude).

CÓRDOVA-RIOS Manuel & LAMB F. Bruce (1971) Wizard of the Upper Amazon. New York, USA: Atheneum.
LAMB F. Bruce (1985) Rio Tigre and Beyond: The Amazon Jungle Medicine of Manuel Córdova. Berkeley, USA: North Atlantic Books.
Already presented. It is the famous story of Córdova-Rios’ abduction during his adolescence by Indians he named “Amahuaca”, but also sometimes “Huni Kui” (a more interesting indication as it is the name Cashinahua give to themselves), that has attracted much attention (it inspired John Boorman for his film The Emerald Forest) and criticism (Carneiro and Ott). The sequel is sufficient as it contains a well-done digest of the first book.

LUNA Luis Eduardo & AMARINGO Pablo ([1991]1999) Ayahuasca Visions: The Religious Iconography of a Peruvian Shaman. Berkeley, USA: North Atlantic Books.
LUNA Luis Eduardo & WHITE Stephen F. (Eds.) (2000) Ayahuasca Reader: Encounters with the Amazon’s Sacred Vine. Santa Fe, USA: Synergetic Press.
Two musts made at the initiative of Luis Eduardo. The anthology Ayahuasca Reader notably contains Spruce’s seminal account “on some remarkable narcotics of the Amazon valley and Orinocco”. I recommend both.

MATTESON LANGDON E. Jean. & BAER Gerhard (Eds.) (1992) Portals of Power: Shamanism in South America. Albuquerque, USA: University of New Mexico Press.
A lot of good anthropological stuff on ayahuasca shamanism in this collective volume.

Many good quality informations about Ecuadorian Napo Runa ayahuasca tradition posted on the Ayahuasca Forum by this learned pillar of the very same board. Just browse with the search engine… and pray it will work.

SHOEMAKER Alan (updated 2001) Grace and Madness. Online ed.:
A living personal account and an interesting introduction to Peruvian ayahuasca mestizo shamanism in Iquitos area from the neither naïve nor skeptical point of view of a man whose life has been changed by his encounter with ayahuasca and its shamanic rituals. A very good illustration of the difficulties and promises of ayahuasca-mediated interculturalism. Self-published on the Internet and generously put in free-access. Only lack references and a bibliography. With this text Alan became the main non-academic portal to Peruvian ayahuasca shamanism for many English-speaking people.

TAUSSIG Michael (1987) Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and Healing. Chicago, USA: University of Chicago Press.
Recently a noted French anthropologist warned me against Taussig’s reliability. This doesn’t affect the large recourse to quoting one finds in this very original and brilliantly written book. On the horrors of the rubber boom in Amazonian Colombia, and first person descriptions of ayahuasca sessions, Taussig is excellent.

WILBERT Johannes (1987) Tobacco and Shamanism in South America. New Haven, USA: Yale University Press.
On tobacco but mentions joint uses with ayahuasca. A model of scholarship and multi-interdisciplinary work. To retain: all possible ways to prepare tobacco and introduce it in the body (parenteral route excepted of course) have been explored by Amerindians.


SHANON Benny (2002) The Antipodes of the Mind: Charting the Phenomenology of the Ayahuasca Experience. New York, USA: Oxford University Press.
Clearly there’s a before and an after Benny’s breaker in the history of ayahuasca tea appraisal by Western science. An unprecedented collection of reports of ayahuasca visions and a magisterial essay in their classification. A rich bibliography, an exposition of arduous psychological and philosophical topics or debates in a clear style, many truly interesting ideas and propositions (e.g. ayahuasca visions are different from dreams, the ritual drinking of ayahuasca tea may be compared to the practice of music). One major weakness: the excessively narrow disciplinary scope and scientific/epistemological approach in which Benny confined himself (radical phenomenological cognitive psychology). Renders unnecessarily problematic the interpretation of his own most significant data.


LIN Geraline C., GLENNON Richard A. (Eds.) (1994) Hallucinogens: An Update. NIDA Research Monographs, 146, available online for free at:
I sought after this monograph during ten years. As it was in no French academic library I even convinced some years ago the Paris academic library of pharmacy to acquire it. They didn’t succeed. And now it’s online for free… Nothing particular about ayahuasca but the state of the art in preclinical neuropharmacological research on “hallucinogens” (in 1992) by some of the best specialists. In addition some interesting reflections here and there.

SPINELLA Marcello (2001) The Psychopharmacology of Herbal Medicine: Plant Drugs That Alter Mind, Brain, and Behavior. Cambridge, USA: MIT Press.
Moderately accurate on ayahuasca but deals with many other plants and contains a good basic introduction to psychopharmacology.

Botany, Phytochemistry:

OTT Jonathan (1996) Pharmacotheon: Entheogenic Drugs, their Plant Sources and History, second ed. densified. Kennewick, USA: Natural Products Co.
Is it necessary to present this unique, excellent reference book? I’m unsure the Pharmacotheon still is easy to find in English at a reasonable price. But it’s certainly the case of its more recent Spanish version.


SHULGIN Alexander & SHULGIN Ann (1997) TIHKAL: The Continuation. Berkeley, USA: Transform Press.
The chemistry of tryptamines and beta-carbolines depicted in an inspired and living gourmet style. An entertaining introduction to basic biochemistry. The anthropology-like part about ayahuasca and its terminology evidences Sasha’s limitations out of chemistry.

PART 2: not so easily available (either expensive, notably the “pay per paper” on academic publishers websites, or necessitates access to academic libraries)


AIGLE Denise, BRAC DE LA PERRIÈRE Bénédicte & CHAUMEIL Jean-Pierre (Eds.) (2000) La politique des esprits: chamanismes et religions universalistes. Nanterre, EU: Société d’ethnologie.
The very interesting rewritten proceedings of the fourth international conference of the International Society for Shamanic Research, dedicated to interactions between shamanic societies or subcultures and universalistic religions. Amazonian indigenous shamanism displays incredible openness and adaptability. The maintaining of ayahuasca practices seems a positive facilitatory factor.

ARÉVALO VALERA Guillermo (1986) El ayahuasca y el curandero Shipibo-Conibo del Ucayali (Perú). América Indígena, 46: 147-161.
Guillermo Arévalo-Kestembetsa is the son and grandson of reputed Shipibo shamans (his father is no other than Benito Arévalo, one can see in the MAPS-archived little film Sespe did provide a link to in the “NPR show on Ayahuasca” thread [“Media” section of this board]). He undoubtedly has become the most famous living indigenous ayahuasca expert and shaman in the world. With this paper, published in a reputed Spanish-speaking journal of anthropology, and a book on Shipibo traditional medicine with plants, also written in Spanish, Guillermo showed how gifted he is. Courted by many anthropologists for his extended knowledge, he’s actively promoting traditional medicine and ayahuasca shamanism (he was the initiator of an apparently unprecedented original event: Shipibo shamans did teach ayahuasca use to their neighbours Amahuaca who had abandoned and forgotten it since decades). He acquired in 2004 a surplus of celebrity in playing almost his own role in Jan Kounen’s film Blueberry. Threats for his life in Pucallpa lead him to recently move to Iquitos where he did open his new center a few weeks ago. Guillermo is also known for his massages of feet during ayahuasca sessions, and for a very special tea, extremely strong, he sometimes prepares (without Solanaceae).

ATKINSON Jane Monnig (1992) Shamanisms today. Annual Review of Anthropology, 21: 307-330.
A well-done review on shamanism. The author also dealt with the still growing phenomenon of neoshamanism. Hence the plural in the title.

CHAUMEIL Jean-Pierre (1988) Le Huambisa défenseur. La figure de l’Indien dans le chamanisme populaire (région d’Iquitos, Pérou). Recherches Amérindiennes au Québec, 18: 115-126.
CHAUMEIL Jean-Pierre (2000) Voir, savoir, pouvoir. Le chamanisme chez les Yagua de l’Amazonie péruvienne, 2nd ed. Genève, Switzerland: Georg.
Difficult to make a choice in the production of this first rank anthropologist. I’ve selected the second edition of his classic study (his thesis) on Yagua shamanism because it’s easier to get it, has an updated bibliography, and contains a highly interesting addendum. The paper is an illuminating study of the dense, complex, and reciprocal relationships between forest indigenous shamans and (sub)urban mestizo ayahuasqueros in the Iquitos area. Of utmost interest is the statement that each kind of practitioners credits the other with special power. At least for this area, a corollary of this essential study is that the idea of a pristine, isolated, and purely indigenous ayahuasca “traditional setting” is a Western myth (see comment of Rivier & Lindgren 1972).

FRIEDBERG Claudine (1965) Des Banisteriopsis utilisés comme drogue en Amérique du Sud. Essai d’étude critique. Journal d’Agriculture Tropicale et de Botanique Appliquée, 12: 403-437, 550-594, 729-780.
A BIG article that is a remarkable review of the anthropological and ethnobotanical literature on ayahuasca uses published before 1965. The breakdown of the infos according to relevant ethnogeographical areas from North to South is very well done and useful.

FRÓES Vera (1988) Santo Daime Cultura Amazônica. História do Povo Juramidam, 2nd ed. Manaus, Brazil: SUFRAMA.
Initially a thesis and probably one of the best histories of the Santo Daime movement. Better than the MacRae. Contains an account of the drinking of daime by the author during pregnancy and delivery. Like almost all Brazilian anthropologists who have written on Santo Daime, Vera Fróes is a fardada, i.e. a graduated member of this multicephalous sect. A noted and respected one.

HENMAN Anthony Richard (1986) Uso del ayahuasca en un contexto autoritario. El caso de la União do Vegetal en Brasil. América Indígena, 46: 219-234 (available online for free here [pdf document]).
By a noted anthropologist famous for his study of coca tradition, one of the very few field studies on UdV easily available in academic libraries out of Brazil. The title, “use of ayahuasca in an authoritarian context”, has confused some people who have cited this paper while manifestly having limited their reading of it to its title: it referred not to the UDV but to the military regime ruling Brazil at the time of Henman’s study.

KEIFENHEIM Barbara (1999) Zur Bedeutung Drogen-induzierter Wahrnehmungs-veränderungen bei den Kashinawa-Indianern Ost-Perus. Anthropos, 94: 501-514.
A remarkable, fine-grained study of Huni Kuin (Cashinahua) males’ collective ayahuasca practices. Huni Kuin do visualize the songs, sung by specialized cantors, as colored paths to follow. It is absolutely clear from this study that these Indians do culturally discern and code two stages of the ayahuasca effects and experience; stages which reality has been challenged by Benny Shanon (2002). Keifenheim’s article highlights thus another limitation of Shanon’s approach (besides Benny’s apparent ignorance of Keifenheim’s work): its inability to apprehend the major influence of social-cultural phenomena. If all the persons who drink ayahuasca in a given community agreed there are two stages, and that everyone has to go through these stages in following the same sequence, as synchronous with the others as possible, in order for all to live a safe experience, then 1) there are two stages, and 2) a good reason for.

LABATE Beatriz Caiuby & ARAÚJO Wladimyr Sena (Eds.) (2004) O uso ritual da ayahuasca, 2nd ed. Campinas, Brazil: Mercado de Letras.
A classic-becoming collective book containing translations in Portuguese of published and unpublished texts of non-Brazilian authors (Carsten Balzer, Barbara Keifenheim [the previous ref.], Jean Langdon, Luis Luna, Jacques Mabit, Jonathan Ott, Benny Shanon), and original or adapted contributions of Brazilian researchers on Indian and, for the most part, neoreligious ritual ayahuasca uses: Santo Daime (with fine distinctions between currents, e.g. Alto Santo, Cefluris), Barquinha, and UdVs (on the latter, a rare, remarkably lucid and un-apologetic contribution of Afrânio Patrocínio de Andrade. A welcomed contrast with the one made by current members). Of utmost interest in this second edition is a paper, based on field work, by Bia Labate and Gustavo Pacheco on the sources of Santo Daime liturgy, costumes, and paraphernalia in traditions of Afro-Brazilian communities in the State of Maranhão (Nordeste region), where Raimondo Irineu Serra, the founder, lived until the age of 20. One also finds an adaptation of some Hoasca Project papers, realized by members of the medical branch of one UdV, who participated to it (the least interesting part I think, as most of this material had already being published in easily available sources. Some previously unpublished numerical data though, notably on cardiovascular parameters).

LUNA Luis Eduardo (1986) Vegetalismo: Shamanism among the Mestizo Population of the Peruvian Amazon. Stockholm, EU: Almqvist & Wiksell International, Stockholm Studies in Comparative Religion.
THE most complete work to date on Peruvian mestizo folk shamanic healers called vegetalista, those specialized in ayahuasca being named ayahuasqueros. Surpasses in many aspects the work of Dobkin De Rios, who did initially react in an unfriendly manner to this excellent piece of work (Taussig [1987] and other, including Doctorcito, have noted the close resemblance between shamanic and academic conflicts and rivalries). Probably one of the first published texts mentioning Pablo Amaringo and reproducing one of his paintings. Since then Luna became the active center of gravity of an incredible array of events about ayahuasca (including research) in the world.

MACRAE Edward ([1992] 1998) Guiado por la Luna: Shamanismo y uso ritual de la ayahuasca en el culto de Santo Daime. Quito, Ecuador: Abya-Yala. (Orig.: 1992. Guiado pela lua: Xamanismo e uso ritual da ayahuasca no culto do Santo Daime. São Paulo, Brazil: Editora Brasiliense).
I’ve read both versions but found more convenient to have it in Spanish. A standard reference book on Santo Daime. The stress on shamanism is a bit far-fetched and has been criticized. MacRae also is a fardado.

NARANJO Plutarco (1969) Etnobotanica de la ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis sps). Religion y medicina. Ciencia y Naturaleza, 10: 3-92.
I did choose this big paper rather than other better known and more often cited later publications of the Ecuadorian scholar Plutarco Naranjo because this one contains the photograph of an ancient decorated beaker made of stone resembling those used nowadays by Indians to serve ayahuasca tea. Found in an area peopled today by Shuar Indians, it may be 2000 years old according to Naranjo. In a later paper (1986), he is the one who proposed to consider that ayahuasca uses have more than 4000 years.

REICHEL-DOLMATOFF Gerardo (1975) The Shaman and the Jaguar: A Study of Narcotic Drugs Among the Indians of Colombia. Philadelphia, USA: Temple University Press.
The best known classic study of ayahuasca practices and symbolism in Indian context, among Eastern Tukano groups of Colombia, by one of the most famous Americanist anthropologists of the 20th century. The jaguar complex, the two stages of ayahuasca effects, the synchronized collective dancing, and many other things that have durably marked the field of ayahuasca research.

Ethnobotany, phytochemistry:

BRACK EGG Antonio (1999) Diccionario enciclopedico de plantas utiles del Peru. Cuzco, Peru: Centro de Estudios Regionales Andinos “Bartolomé de Las Casas”.
An invaluable tool to know the botanical name, chemical content (if determined), and cultivation details (if existing) of the plants the ayahuasquero is prescribing you or gives you as preliminary purge.

McKENNA D.J., TOWERS G.H.N. & ABBOTT F. (1984) Monoamine oxidase inhibitors in South American hallucinogenic plants: tryptamine and beta-carboline constituents of ayahuasca. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 10: 195-223.
A very good study of the chemical content of mestizo standard teas and the plants they are made of. The first in vitro demonstration of the MAOI property of the tea and, BTW, the first empirical confirmation of the role of the caapi beta-carbolines in protecting DMT from deamination in the liver and intestine.

RIVIER L. & LINDGREN J.-E. (1972) “Ayahuasca”, the South American hallucinogenic drink: an ethnobotanical and chemical investigation. Economic Botany, 26: 101-129.
The best and still unsurpassed analytical biochemical study of caapi vines and teas; still the sole of this quality in Indian context. The only published modern study where different parts of the vine were analyzed.
It is a great pity that the Swiss Laurent Rivier recently wrote intellectually ugly texts on ayahuasca and is supporting some ignorant, reactionary, and prejudiced French toxicologists. On the basis, shared with Rivier, of an improbably simplistic opposition between an undefined, paternalistically idealized “indigenous traditional setting” (just talk with Guillermo Arévalo, or see Chaumeil 1988; Aigle et al. 2000), and “out-of-the-traditional-setting” practices, these toxicologists are attempting to criminalize ayahuasca rituals, at least in France, in waving their brand new scarecrow: “chemical submission” (see [in French]: Of course, these scary ignorant buffoons are just bluffing: their first hand experience of ayahuasca, its rituals and drinkers, is limited to incomplete chemical analysis of the content of bottles “filled with an orange-colored liquid” seized by the police in 1999 among French daimistas. They don’t have a single case description to cite, a single clinical vignette to quote about “chemical submission” with ayahuasca tea. Only vague or blatantly false allusions, evidently without the slightest reference, written in an indirect style (“cases have been reported…”). Vexed interests are certainly not foreign to this attitude: the mentioned toxicologists have private or public analytical facilities, get money from forensic toxicology business, have taken advantage of a right-wing government to promote their views and to besiege an official commission in charge of delivering advices about “drug scheduling”. The more they criminalize ayahuasca uses, the more money and prestige they can expect. Evidently short-sighted (people will become more discreet or go in neighbouring countries where the legal situation is less insane) and a two-edge sword: they have attracted Doctorcito’s attention, who’s henceforth tracking them.

C’mon Mr. Rivier, stop degrading your reputation with poor quality writings and don’t commit yourself further with these freaks. Or I regretfully will have to write about you and them elsewhere than on this forum. You already know how precise and generous I can be with quotes and references. With yours as well: no doubt the following quote will permit to members of this board to effortlessly appreciate your new objectivity.

In South America, the traditional use of ayahuasca has spread among mestizo members of the rural population and, more recently among the urban middle class with the expense of major changes in the observance of traditional taboos and rituals (MacRae, 1998). The issues of abuse liability or toxicity of ayahuasca are becoming increasingly important with the advent of syncretic religious groups such as Union de Vegetal and Santo Daime in Brazil which utilize the decoction as a ritual sacrament (Callaway et al., 1994).
Moreover, the suggested application of ayahuasca as a pharmacotherapy for cocaine addiction by groups such as the Takiwasi treatment clinic in Peru (Mabit, 1996), its increasing consumption in several European countries, the USA and Japan are indications of the radical changes which have occurred in the practice of ayahuasca ceremonies compared to the original ritualistic and shamanistic practices of South American Indians. The recent proliferation of web sites advocating ayahuasca use and proposing the selling of the drink itself (e.g.: ), the very detailed indications to select plant or chemical substitutes to make the so-called “Pharmahuasca” or Ayahuasca borealis (Ott, 1999) make such pressure even more intense.
Finally, in search of exotic and possibly original psychedelic experiences, Western visitors are flooding into the tropic forests, contacting shamans to buy the right to sit at an organized ayahuasca setting. This aspect associated with the raising interest for ethno-eco-tourism traveling in the Amazon basin these last 10 years have brought considerable pressure on the small villages inhabited by isolated ethnic groups of various Indian tribes. The clients of these adventure trips in the Amazon region are searching only for the entheogenic experience with little interests in meeting the natives. They want their hallucinogenic trip rapidly and are not at all interested in following the taboos that traditions might impose to them, nor worried by the impact their brutal arrival may cause on the fragile bio-ecosystem. As consequence, one can understand why the local shamans, adapting to the new demand, change the original settings of the ayahuasca ceremony their ancestors have taught them to follow and respect. Very soon, parts of the orally transmitted tradition will be lost forever.

The last paragraph is particularly edifying. It is at best badly informed sensationalizing journalism, betraying an unfathomable ignorance of decades of anthropological studies on ayahuasca. Interestingly Rivier is here on the same line of arguments previously put forth by… Jonathan Ott [1996] [rejoining of the extremes?]! Alan Shoemaker [see Part 1] and Luis Eduardo Luna have already pinpointed the weaknesses of this largely fantasized argumentation. What follows is just a digest and slight extension of these counterarguments). To visit remote, “isolated” Indian communities, one not only needs at least one official authorization in most countries, but transport costs are simply prohibitive for “tourists”. The Indians who opened their ayahuasca practices to Westerners have chosen to do it (yes Mr. Rivier, they are capable to decide by themselves: some refused to do so) and the adaptation of their rituals for these newcomers doesn’t mean one second they are abandoning their own tradition. Quite the reverse as this phenomenon valorizes ayahuasca practices and traditions to the eyes of their communities.

SCHULTES Richard Evans (1986) El desarrollo historico de la identificacion de las malpigiaceas empleadas como alucinogenos. América Indigena, 46: 9-47.
No need to present the regretted Dick Schultes; and to precise that a bibliography on ayahuasca without him is like a tree without a trunk. A not too ancient comprehensive and very detailed paper on the ethnobotany of ayahuasca. Has the particularity to be in Spanish. Another great ref., richly illustrated, is: SCHULTES Richard Evans, RAFFAUF Robert F. (1992) Vine of the Soul: Medicine Men, their Plants and Rituals in the Colombian Amazonia. Oracle, USA: Synergetic Press.


CALLAWAY J.C., McKENNA D.J., GROB C.S., BRITO G.S., RAYMON L.P., POLAND R.E., ANDRADE E.N., ANDRADE E.O., MASH D.C. (1999) Pharmacokinetics of Hoasca alkaloids in healthy humans. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 65: 243-256.
The first and unique study of standard ayahuasca tea pharmacokinetics among authentic ayahuasca drinkers. Harmine, tetrahydroharmine, DMT, and harmaline were all found in the blood (plasma).

DELIGANIS A.V., PIERCE P.A. & PEROUTKA S.J. (1991) Differential interactions of dimethyltryptamine (DMT) with 5-HT1A and 5-HT2 receptors. Biochemical Pharmacology, 41: 1739-1744.
On different occasions Stephen Peroutka showed a remarkable intuition and propensity for hypothesis proved sooner or later to be wrong (a useful but certainly uneasy role to have repeatedly). During some years he believed so-called hallucinogenic, psychotomimetic, psychedelic, entheogenic, or psychointegrator substances were antagonists at 5-HT2A receptors. That’s what this paper, based on an in vitro experiment, claims about DMT. Randy Smith et al. (1998) proved he was wrong, as usual [yes, that’s ferocious and unfair, but how much was this guy paid to err?] Normally the results on binding affinity and agonist efficacy of DMT at 5-HT1A receptors are correct: there was and still is no controversy on this point (the significant affinity of DMT at 5-HT1A receptors was, again, confirmed in Glennon et al. 2000).

FORSSTRÖM T., TUOMINEN J. & KÄRKKÄNEN J. (2001) Determination of potentially hallucinogenic N-dimethylated indoleamines in human urine by HPLC/ESI-MS-MS. Scandinavian Journal of Clinical & Laboratory Investigation, 61/7: 547-556. (Available online for free here [pdf document]).
To my knowledge the most recent detection of DMT, bufotenine (5-OH-DMT), and intermediate compound N-methyltryptamine (NMT) in a human body fluid. Urine samples of a total of 65 “patients” (23 “surgical”, 13 “internal medical”, and 29 “psychiatric”) were analyzed. DMT was detected only in 5 persons (~8%): 3 “surgical”, 2 “internal medical”, but no “psychiatric”. No 5-MeO-DMT detected in any sample. Only bufotenine was regularly found at significant levels, and significantly more in “psychiatric patients”. A short but clever and pondered discussion. About the determination of DMT or 5-MeO-DMT in urine: “probably not very informative, because, owing to their lipid solubility, they are excreted in urine in very small amounts and therefore are not expected to reflect the changes in the levels of these compounds in plasma or tissues.” (p. 554). Different but much more credible results and statements than in Pomilio et al. 1999. Demonstrates in passing that Lisa Melton [see “Lisa Melton’s paper” thread] didn’t do correctly her job and gave precedence to nationalism over science.

GLENNON R.A., DUKAT M., GRELLA B., HONG S.-S., CONSTANTINO L., TEITLER M., SMITH C., EGAN C., DAVIS K., MATTSON M.V. (2000) Binding of beta-carbolines and related agents at serotonin (5-HT2 and 5-HT1A), dopamine (D2) and benzodiazepine receptors. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 60/2: 121-132.
When NIDA’s pet Richard Glennon and his collaborators investigate basic neuropharmacological features of beta-carbs. Unexpected finding: a surprising lack of binding affinity of harmine and harmaline at benzodiazepine receptors (it’s a common assertion in the pharmacological literature that they are antagonists or inverse agonists at these receptors). Unsurprising: “modest” binding affinity and no efficacy (second messenger activation) of harmaline at 5-HT2A receptors. Oddly enough, harmine efficacy has not been evaluated even though it displayed an at least 10-fold better (i.e. lower) binding affinity than harmaline at 2A receptors in this study. But remember Claudio Naranjo’s studies (e.g. in Harner 1972): oral harmine was considered two times less potent than harmaline in producing a “hallucinatory experience”.

GUAN Y., LOUIS E.D., ZHENG W. (2001) Toxicokinetics of tremorogenic natural products, harmane and harmine, in male Sprague-Dawley rats. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A, 64: 645-660.
By the same Wei Zheng’s team, with the same analytical technique than in Zheng et al. (2000). To be taken with the same caution, two very intriguing results about harmine in what is to my knowledge the first pharmacokinetic study of orally administered harmine in rats: 1) rapid but low oral bioavailability of harmine (3% absolute oral bioavailability, to be contrasted with 19% for harmane), 2) great variations in blood concentration-time profiles after oral administration, in rats that have similar pedigrees, more controlled than for any racehorse. Fully confirms harmine vulnerability to first pass metabolism in the liver (Yu et al. 2003). But did evidence low -not null- oral bioavailability (I guess those concerned by this allusion will discover this reference in 2005).

LIN K.-M. & POLAND R.E. (1995) Ethnicity, culture, and psychopharmacology. In: BLOOM F.E. & KUPFER D.J. (Eds.) Psychopharmacology: The Fourth Generation of Progress. New York, USA: Raven Press, p. 1907-1917.
A basic interesting review of pharmacogenetic- and culture-based variations in the effects of psychotropic drugs. Mentions notably the different ethnic distributions of the genetic polymorphism of the liver drug-metabolizing enzyme CYP2D6. The topic of culture has disappeared in the disappointing last “generation” of what constitutes the bible of psychopharmacology researchers: DAVIS K.L., CHARNEY D., COYLE J.T. & NEMEROFF C. (Eds.) (2002) Neuropsychopharmacology: The Fifth Generation of Progress. Philadelphia, USA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

RIBA J., VALLE M., URBANO G., YRITIA M., MORTE A. & BARBANOJ M.J. (2003) Human pharmacology of Ayahuasca: subjective and cardiovascular effects, monoamine metabolite excretion, and pharmacokinetics. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 306/1: 73-83.
The only paper of the Barcelona team I will include here. Odd finding with their gel-capped lyophilizate: almost no harmine was detectable in the blood of the volunteers, only its metabolite harmol. Notably complicates the picture of what and how much enters the general circulation. A more relevant, externally valid, and culturally respectful third pharmacokinetic study with the tea is now needed to decide between Jace and Jordi. Unfortunately not in sight…

ROSENBERG D.E., ISBELL H., MINER E.J. & LOGAN C.R. (1964) The effects of N,N-dimethyltryptamine in human subjects tolerant to lysergic acid diethylamide. Psychopharmacologia, 5: 217-227.
When the CIA-MKULTRA-related and funded freak team of Dr Harris Isbell experimented with DMT on Americans, most of them of African descent, sentenced for illicit opiate use, in the infamous “Kentucky narcotic farm”. After a crazy regimen of daily LSD during 36 days (increased from 1.5 µg/kg once a day [injected intramuscularly at 6 a.m!!?] to 3 µg/kg twice daily), the six “volunteers” displayed only partial cross-tolerance to half the initial test dose of DMT, with no significant effect on pupillary dilation. After 13 days of 1.5 µg/kg daily LSD, evaluation with the initial DMT test dose (1 mg/kg i.m.) showed no cross-tolerance where a LSD test dose produced a “negligible response”. Ethically very very unsettling, and neuropharmacologically very very puzzling.

SAI-HALÁSZ A. (1963) The effects of MAO inhibition on the experimental psychosis induced by dimethyltryptamine. Psychopharmacologia, 4: 385-388.
In humans, four days of a therapeutic dose of a non-selective irreversible MAOI (iproniazid) did blunt the responses to a regular dose of pure DMT administered intramuscularly the seventh day. Intriguing.

SCHWARZ M.J., HOUGHTON P.J., ROSE S., JENNER P., LEES A.D. (2003) Activities of extract and constituents of Banisteriopsis caapi relevant to parkinsonism. Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, 75: 627-633.
Amazing recent in vitro assessment of MAOI (rat liver) and dopamine (DA) release (from rat striatal slices) activities of a B. caapi extract compared to known industrial MAOIs and pure harmine or harmaline. The caapi extract was shown to be the most selective toward MAO-A (with 15% maximal inhibition of MAO-B vs. 25% and 20% for clorgyline and harmine, respectively) and to surpass the MAO-A inhibition efficacy of pure harmine by at least two orders of magnitude, being efficient, in term of equivalent concentration, in the low picomolar range (where harmine is in the low nanomolar range). DA release was, again, effective with the extract at a dose where harmine and harmaline alone did not significantly increase it. A synergistic effect (not found by McKenna et al. 1984) or the presence of an unknown highly active compound is postulated by the authors. Highly interesting and to be replicated.

SMITH R.L., CANTON H., BARRETT R.J. & SANDERS-BUSH E. (1998) Agonist properties of N,N-dimethyltryptamine at serotonin 5-HT2A and 5-HT2C receptors. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 61: 323-330.
Clear demonstration of DMT agonism at 2A and 2C receptors with complementary tests (binding and efficacy at cloned receptors in cell culture; drug discrimination study on rats with an agonist-antagonist discrimination paradigm). Invalidates the conclusions of the previous study by Deliganis et al. (1991) where DMT was proposed to be an antagonist at 2A receptors!

YU A.-M., IDLE J.R., KRAUSZ K.W., KÜPFER A. & GONZALEZ F.J. (2003) Contribution of individual cytochrome P450 isozymes to the O-demethylation of the psychotropic beta-carboline alkaloids harmaline and harmine. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 305: 315-322. Available online (free) at: (link found by Dagger)
Ex-vivo evidence that, in addition to CYP1A2, the liver (and brain) polymorphic CYP2D6 (cf. Lin & Poland 1995) is the major cytochrome P450 isozyme metabolizing harmine and harmaline. The measured rate of biotransformation of harmine by CYP2D6 is without precedent. Tends to confirm that harmine may have low oral bioavailability.

ZHENG W., WANG S., BARNES L.F., GUAN Y. & LOUIS E.D. (2000) Determination of harmane and harmine in human blood using reversed-phase high-performance liquid chromatography and fluorescence detection. Analytical Biochemistry, 279: 125-129.
The first alleged detection of endo-harmine in human organism. EndoDMT (see Forsström et al. 2001) + endoharmine? Mmm, no wonder standard ayahuasca tea “speaks” to our organism… I’ve discussed this finding with Jace Callaway. He remains skeptical: according to him the analytical technique used doesn’t allow a precise identification. Maybe… but published in Analytical Biochemistry though… Better to be replicated by another team with another, less controversial, technique.

Medicine, psychiatry:

BERINGER K. & WILMANNS K. (1929) Zur Harmin-Banisterin-Frage. Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift, 55/50: 2081-2086.
A paper signed by Kurt Beringer, famous for his monograph on mescaline, that has the interest to take stock of two hot topics of the time: the possible identity of (telepathine)/yageine/banisterine with harmine [they do agree with] and the effectiveness of these/this alkaloid in the treatment of motor diseases of the Parkinson type. Beringer had started a pilot therapeutic trial with banisterine/harmine one year before and specified in this paper the doses and routes he found optimal: 20-50 mg subcutaneous, up to 120 mg orally in capsules, 20-40 mg in suppository. Results were considered very good and encouraging. Having accepted the identity of banisterine (a name given by Louis Lewin) with harmine, he also began to prescribe an extract of Peganum harmala to see if a combination of alkaloids was more efficient than harmine alone. A prescient and enlightened attitude, especially in view of the Schwarz et al. (2003) results. A pity he hadn’t caapi extract at his disposal…

GROB C.S., McKENNA D.J., CALLAWAY J.C., BRITO G.S., NEVES E.S., OBERLANDER G., SAIDE O.L., LABIGALINI E., TACLA C., MIRANDA C.T., STRASSMAN R.J. & BOONE K.B. (1996) Human psychopharmacology of Hoasca, a plant hallucinogen used in ritual context in Brazil. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 184/2: 86-94.
The most cited paper resulting from the Hoasca project. Sync did post a thorough critical review of this paper in this section. But never forget it was a pilot study privately funded: if they had waited public grants, they certainly would still wait today. From an ethnoscientific point of view, they translated into a form acceptable for Western societies a knowledge Amazonian Indians have since… centuries ? millennia ?

POMILIO A.B., VITALE A.A., CIPRIAN-OLLIVIER J., CETKOVICH-BAKMAS M., GÓMEZ R., VÁZQUEZ G. (1999) Ayahoasca: an experimental psychosis that mirrors the transmethylation hypothesis of schizophrenia. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 65: 29-51.
A bizarre paper from an Argentinean team I should have skipped if Lisa Melton, also Argentinean, hadn’t recently alluded to it in The New Scientist[posted in this section]. Its form is confusing: it hesitates between a review and a research paper, but is weak in both. Neither a good review (there are many basic references bizarrely missing, like three previously published papers of the Hoasca Project when they supposedly also dealt with UdV members, or Dobkin de Rios 1972; Harner 1972; Reichel-Dolmatoff 1975; Henman 1986; Luna 1986; Fróes 1988 or MacRae 1992; etc.) nor a correctly presented research. When I read it first rapidly I immediately felt something was wrong with the presentation of the research. A second careful reading revealed a major anomaly: there are learnedly discussed figures representing pharmacological and neuropsychological data gathered in 2 groups of “subjects” -one supposedly being composed of experienced UdV members, the other of first-timers [???]-, but nowhere, I insist, nowhere in the paper is the number of persons, least their basic characteristics, indicated. The location where the study supposedly took place also isn’t specified. I never saw this before in any of the thousands of primary literature papers I’ve read (including in the last published academic article written and signed by Timothy Leary [1963], which is an uproariously funny deadpan caricature of research papers): at least in the presentation of the research and its results, this paper is an authentic scientific swindle. Furthermore the authors display a confounding ignorance of the identity of their claimed field (“Hoasca teas were obtained from Brazil, ‘União do Vegetal’ (UDV) (‘Santo Daime’)” p. 36; a confusion repeated p. 47). Not forgetting a narrow-minded uncritical adherence to the model-psychosis/transmethylation paradigm (more detailed in a previous paper) based on a biased sample of the relevant literature. Frankly, this paper is too bizarre and I’ve decided not to include its results in my academic writings (notably the chemical analysis of standard teas which supposedly evidenced a compound never found in other studies, but lacks crucial details, like the reference compounds used). I still wonder why the Journal of Ethnopharmacology did publish such an unusable and partly off-topic article? After reception they waited two years before publishing it. Easy to understand why they did hesitate, but not why they finally did it without having asked and obtained profound revision.


ROUHIER Alexandre (1924) Le Yajé: plante télépathique. Paris Médical, 15: 341-346.
An exceptional French pharmacist, completely forgotten in his own country by his profession (despite years of multiple attempts I have been unable to find his dates of birth and death). He probably displayed too much overt interest in so-called “metapsychical research” (telepathy, remote vision) for a very conservative professional milieu. Even not translated, his outstanding published thesis on péyotl (1926) remained a world reference on the subject in anthropology until the first edition of La Barre’s Peyote Cult in 1938 (who cited him on numerous occasions). To my knowledge he was the first, before Heinrich Klüwer, to clearly describe and delineate what have subsequently been called “hallucinatory form constants”, and a progression through stages, from simple geometrical patterns to complex figurative scenes. On ayahuasca, in this and another paper, plus in a little book entitled Les plantes divinatoires (Divinatory Plants), he included generous translated quotes of important contributions of Colombian scholars of the early 20th century, notably Zerda Bayón, Fisher Cardeñas and Barrriga Villalba. One finds in this paper what probably is one of the first published photographs of a caapi stem cutting.

WINKELMAN Michael (1995) Psychointegrator plants: their roles in human culture, consciousness and health. Yearbook for Ethnomedicine and the Study of Consciousness, 5: 9-53.
This anthropologist, who proposes essentially the same, outdated, psychophysiological model of trance since decades, has created a new word for plants and/or substances also called psychotomimetic, hallucinogenic, psychedelic, or entheogenic in the scholar literature. Purely anecdotal if Luis Eduardo Luna had not become fond of this name. I find interesting to include the notion of integration in the name but I’m dissatisfied with the psycho- root. Not because of association with other psycho- words, but precisely because of “integration”: if the purpose is to convey this idea, then isn’t the minimum to integrate in the name the different relevant levels or scales, which the intermediary psycho- scale doesn’t and can’t fully achieve? Either one may juxtapose the scales in a word like biopsychosociointegrator, or may choose the highest level (or coarsest grain scale), which integrates all more elementary levels (or finer grain scales), with a name like ethnointegrator or culturointegrator. The latter names would better reflect the major influence of shared, cultural representations on the experience, as seen from a psychoscientific point of view. For instance I’m aware of more than one Westerner having had a truly psychodisintegrating experience with ayahuasca tea because of incapability to integrate the animistic representations conveyed in Amazonian indigenous or mestizo ritual settings. Cultural differences may generate transient or more persistent psychological disintegrations (a fact known by generations of émigrés, exiles… and anthropologists). Only inside a given culture, with time (training of specialists, large diffusion of shared specific myths) and many precautions (rituals), can a substance like standard ayahuasca tea become a psychointegrator for many people. In multi- or intercultural conditions, initially only a limited number of particularly emotionally stable and/or open-minded members of the “host” culture can derive psychological benefits. It is after reciprocal co-adaptation, which possibly leads to the emergence of a new, hybrid, cultural form, that a growing number of persons can, in turn, plainly integrate the experience. I’m inclined to think standard ayahuasca tea is a facilitator or a catalyst in this process. But, similar to many other intercultural phenomena, the time scale is graduated in generations…


  1. Joaquim Diniz says

    Bonjour M. Frederick Bois,

    Je m´appelle Joaquim Diniz, j´habitte à Natal – Rio Grande do Norte, au nord-est du Brésil. Je participe de la comunauté du Santo Daime Céu da Arquinha à Natal. Je serei à Paris au 23 juin, je vous demande si vous avez une communauté du Santo Daime à Paris et si vous allez réaliser la fête de São João car je suis interessé à participer. Si positive, je voulais savoir les conditions de participation. Je vous remercie fortement pour votre réponse car je dois organizer le plus vite mon agenda.
    Joaquim Diniz

  2. vaibhav humane says

    i’ve seen about it on nat geo… feeling to try it out,i lot more depends on spiritual guidence….!!!i belong to india, and if it is available here its a pleasure to fly for guidence….!!!

    hoping for my request to b granted….!!!

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