Why Support AYAHUASCA Conservation?
Supporting the conservation of ayahuasca goes so much deeper than simply replanting what we consume.
Traditional practices with ayahuasca are part of intricate knowledge systems which are in danger of being lost. With the loss of knowledge systems, comes the loss of entire cultures.
In Colombia, for example, Indigenous peoples have been declared at “risk of physical and cultural extermination” by the Constitutional Court.
Your donation through Grow Medicine is an important act of solidarity, supporting the survival of Amazonian Indigenous peoples and the protection of their territories and culture.
Grow Medicine is proud to support the Union of Indigenous Yagé Medics of the Columbian Amazon (UMIYAC) on a three-year project.
The aim of UMIYAC’s three-year project is to halt and revert the extermination process of certain Indigenous communities by creating a health center based on Amazonian Indigenous wisdom through the revitalization of ancestral medicine.
ayahuasca conservation is biocultural conservation
Although some may argue that ayahuasca does not face a conservation threat, we need to broaden our perspective and understand that supporting the conservation of ayahuasca goes so much deeper than simply replanting what we consume. This perpetuates an extractive mindset.
Similar to the other keystone medicines and the biocultures we feature, the issues and threats facing ayahuasca are extremely multifaceted and present unique, nuanced, and very complex challenges to address.
we invite you to CONSIDER:
Where your donation Goes
Grow Medicine is proud to feature the Union of Indigenous Yagé Medics of the Colombian Amazon (UMIYAC).
UMIYAC is a registered, Indigenous non-profit organization of spiritual authorities from the Siona, Cofán, Inga, Corebajú, and Kamentsá communities.
UMIYAC is dedicated to strengthening indigenous community peacebuilding and the reconstruction of lacerated social fabrics in war-torn rural Colombia. Its spiritual, social, educational, and medicinal work covers 3 Colombian States, 22 legalized indigenous territories and dozens of communities belonging to five ethnic nations: Siona, A’I Cofán, Kamentsá, Inga and Corebajú.
Through traditional yage /ayahuasca medicine, UMIYAC helps communities transcend the trauma and suffering of war and loss, through practices that are local, ancestral, and resilient. As an interethnic rural, indigenous organization, they work incessantly to protect the Amazon rainforest vis-a-vis extractive practices, narcotrafficking and unsustainable, short-term oriented economic models.
UMIYAC revitalizes cultural identity and helps children and adolescents reconnect with spirituality and Mother Earth. It strengthens ancestral, botanical knowledge, along with women’s interethnic and autonomous community networks. The revitalization and strengthening of local knowledge, social dynamics and interethnic networks are key self-help and resistance strategies for communities that have been historical victims of the Colombian armed conflict.
Your donation through Grow Medicine directly supports UMIYAC in funding these 3 projects
UMIYAC is restoring this crucial traditional practice, which is foundational to the survival of Amazonian Indigenous peoples. Indigenous elders and young helpers will travel together to conduct ceremonies for communities in need throughout the Colombian Amazon.
This joint project seeks to produce knowledge that strengthens ancestral medicinal practices and opens new healing fields with new knowledge about ceremonial healing so it can then be mobilized with common and mutually beneficial purposes.
The initiative is made up of four interconnected activities:
- Spiritual healing ceremonies in Indigenous communities for women victims of war.
- Healing of war traumas in non-Indigenous rural or urban settings.
- Advocacy and fundraising at national and international levels.
- Collaborative, multidisciplinary, co-theorizing, and co-production of knowledge through the UMIYAC-ICEERS collaboration.
1) Young community members will run a project that they designed to promote intergenerational knowledge sharing. The project consists of periodic short-term visits with elders in different territories. During these visits, Indigenous youth and elders from various territories and communities will gather to exchange medicinal, botanical, and spiritual teachings through rituals, forest walks and ceremonies. In its second year, this project will include the creation and care of medicinal youth gardens in the territories covered.
2) Rural educational institutions (elementary and high schools) are assigned one on-site traditional healer for the duration of the academic year. The “school’s healer” cares for teachers´ and students’ spiritual health, provides spiritual counseling, as well as teaching classes about local “cosmovisions” and traditions (worldviews). At present this project is ongoing in four rural boarding schools.
What is Ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca (pronounced ah-yah-WAH-ska), also known as yagé (pronounced ya-hé), is a plant-based ceremonial medicine that has been a central part of traditional Indigenous cultures in the Amazon basin for many generations.
The name ‘Ayahuasca’ is from the Quechua language: “huasca” meaning vine and “Aya” meaning soul or spirits. Ayahuasca is typically translated into “vine of the soul.” While this is the most commonly known name, there are in fact dozens of names for Ayahuasca throughout the Amazon and the Ayahuasca “brew” is as diverse as the groups who have relationships with it.
Ayahuasca is both the name of the vine – Banisteriopsis caapi, as well as the brew, which includes the vine as a primary ingredient. Ayahuasca brew is not a single plant, but rather a concoction of two or more plant materials.
The most common plant admixtures are leaves from the chacruna plant (Psychotria viridis) or chaliponga (Diplopterys cabrerana). However, depending on the tradition or its intended use, other plants may be added as well.
The popularized definition of ayahuasca as being only the ayahuasca vine plus chacruna leaves is a reductionistic way of relating to this medicine and doesn’t respect the highly sophisticated recipes and brewing methods among traditional communities.
Unsustainable Harvesting Practices
The ayahuasca vine is highly regenerative. However, improper harvesting techniques such as severing the vine too close to the ground or harvesting young vines inhibit the thriving of this sacred medicine.
Unlike some of the other Indigenous medicines, ayahuasca grows in many different places and is easily cultivated. That being said, ayahuasca also takes a long time to grow. From an ecological perspective, after initial planting, the vine takes at least five to ten years to grow big enough to be sustainably harvested, and the vine requires mature trees to offer structural support for it to climb and grow.
The first five years are typically a slow-growth stage because it takes time for the young vine to grow to a sufficient height to reach the canopy and be immersed in regular sunlight, at which point, vine growth tends to accelerate.
Usually, after about seven to ten years, the vine is ready for sustainable harvesting by cutting off sections of the branches and leaving the roots intact.
while ayahuasca is being over-harvested in some areas, the concerns of local groups are not focused on this as the central issue, but rather on the protection of their territories, the survival of their communities, access to healthcare, and ensuring cultural knowledge is passed down to the next generation.
The Far-Reaching Impact of Ayahuasca Tourism
In Western society, the mental health and addictions crises are growing. Research indicates that ayahuasca has the potential to treat various mental health conditions and there is hope that plant medicines, such as ayahuasca, can help ease suffering and heal the impacts of these epidemics.
As the Western world learns and explores the potential benefits of ayahuasca, more and more tourists journey to South and Central America to attend ayahuasca retreats for therapeutic, visionary, and spiritual purposes.
In response, in countries such as Peru, dozens of centers are now open to the public.
While some centers are starting to cultivate their own ayahuasca, many still rely on ayahuasca harvested from the jungle. In addition, the majority of these centers are owned by non-locals, meaning that the benefits from this tourism don’t always stay in the community.
Many tourists lack cultural knowledge and sensitivity, causing traditions to change and damaging local Amazonian cultures. Unconscious tourism may also have negative impacts on other species in the ecosystem, such as jaguars, kambo, and many other animals and plants.
Harvesting for local medicinal use is not a conservation problem. it is harvesting for commercial use for the international public that is putting increasing pressure on supply.
Due to the dramatic increase in global demand for ayahuasca over the last few decades, there is increasing pressure on ayahuasca grown in the wild. Excessive vine harvesting tends to take place around the areas where there are numerous ayahuasca retreat centers, primarily in the Loreto and Ucayali regions of Peru.
Overharvesting depletes the forests ayahuasca grows in and can negatively impact the people who live there and harvest the medicine for cultural and spiritual survival. In specific locations, overexploitation may lead to shortages for local communities.
As a result, local harvesters are forced to travel deeper and deeper into the jungle, making it less economically and physically viable. In other cases, as ayahuasca becomes more expensive, local cultivation initiatives require security and fencing to protect the vine from theft and illegal harvesting. Further, more and more ayahuasca is being harvested for export to meet Western demand.
Some groups are responding to increasing demand and sustainability challenges by prioritizing cultivation and ensuring that they are self-sufficient in their use.
Increased Demand Is Driving Up Prices for Local Indigenous People
Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon, has become a mecca for ayahuasca tourism bringing in money to boost local economies while causing the price of the vine to skyrocket for locals. Increased prices create economic shifts in Indigenous societies causing new hierarchies of power and wealth which can divide community members.
The promise of higher pay from tourists means that local communities who rely on ayahuasca as a way of life are priced out of the market. And rather than staying to support healing within their villages, traditional medicine holders are leaving their communities to offer healing in retreat centers in their home countries and abroad for higher pay.
Some Indigenous people have spoken out about the commercialization of ayahuasca and its use by foreigners, suggesting that it is a form of cultural appropriation to offer and charge for ceremonies.
On the other hand, many others within the Amazonian communities see commercialization as a way to provide for their communities’ needs by developing much-needed alliances with a global community.
Ayahuasca that is shipped overseas is increasingly being confiscated and destroyed
While ayahuasca is not considered illegal by the International Narcotics Control Board, many countries interpret this sacred brew as being a preparation of DMT, which is illegal. Some ayahuasca is therefore confiscated by authorities, who then destroy it.
Other than for the ayahuasca churches in a few countries, there are no easy ways to ship ayahuasca overseas. When ayahuasca is seized and destroyed, it puts even greater pressure on the sources of this medicine. This also means that even if Indigenous peoples wanted to export ayahuasca (and not all are in favor of the plants leaving the Amazon), there are no legal routes for it to happen.
In some cases, where ceremony facilitators in the West have difficulties obtaining ayahuasca, they are substituting other plants or substances. These “anahuasca” brews have uncertain safety profiles, and participants may not be aware that what they are consuming is not the traditional vine and chacruna brew.
All the sacred medicines we feature have one thing in common – deforestation and environmental degradation.
Over 1.5 million acres of the Amazonian rainforest are cut down each year and the biocultural conservation of ayahuasca is being threatened.
Recent trends have accelerated deforestation. Importantly, the forest is ayahuasca’s habitat – where the forest is destroyed, so is ayahuasca.
Additionally, most ayahuasca is cooked over a fire, increasing the damage by putting further pressure on deforestation.
All of these factors are pushing this rainforest ecosystem to the brink, threatening the cultural home of the Amazonian people:
- Fires in the Amazon
- Extractive industries, like oil, logging, coca, and mining
- Pollution from acid rainfall and eutrophication
- Suppression by invasive species
- Increasing levels of deforestation
- Biocultural alteration
- Over-harvesting of ayahuasca
The Amazon forest, often called the lungs of our planet, is at a tipping point. Indigenous communities are at the forefront of its protection…not just for themselves, but for all of humankind.
For over five centuries, Indigenous peoples of the Amazon have lived through colonization in its many forms. They are resilient and continue to work together to preserve their cultures and territories, and they are asking for our support.
Colonization, encroachment, diseases, and armed conflict have put incredible pressure on the health and wellbeing of Indigenous people for generations.
In spite of the hardships Indigenous Amazonian people have had to endure, they continue to defend their cultures and ancestral lands to protect their way of life, and the Amazon Rainforest. Many Indigenous people are losing their lives in the process.
For many, their connection to ayahuasca has fueled their healing and ability to tap into resilience.
In Colombia, Indigenous groups have been declared at “risk of physical and cultural extermination” by the Constitutional Court.
Strengthening ancestral medicinal-spiritual practices is critical for ensuring the survival of Amazonian indigenous peoples and the protection of their territories and cultureS.
benefit sharing &
support In Action
Grow Medicine provides the psychedelic community with an opportunity to step into right relationship with indigenous peoples of the Amazon.
If you drink ayahuasca in a ceremony and experience numerous benefits from this medicine, then best practice is to share in those benefits.
The benefits we receive are multifaceted and interconnected. Benefit-sharing with Indigenous cultures mirrors this understanding to support and benefit the entirety of the lives of the traditional knowledge holders of this medicine.
If you take a sacred medicine, you are immediately a part of a greater interconnected web. Whether you are aware of it or not, your choice to drink medicine is impacting other people outside of your immediate community. Benefit-sharing is a way to honor that impact and step towards right relationship to this larger web.
Let’s broaden our perspective to understand ayahuasca within the context of its symbiotic relationship between people, land, and culture. This is an opportunity to think much bigger about how we can support biocultural diversity and Indigenous sovereignty.
Let’s support these traditional knowledge holders in the ways that THEY are asking for.
This is solidarity-based support in action.
Other projects the imc Fund is supporting:
- ASOMASHK – Asociacion de Onanyabo – Médicos Ancestrales Shipibo-Konibo
- Organización Intercultural Oni Xobo
- A’i Cofan Community Project
- Yorenka Tasorentsi
- The Nixiwaká Institute
“Yagé spiritual medicine is the basis of our resistance against ecocide and genocide. It is the sacred plant of Amazonian peoples, that heals wounded territories and communities and teaches us how to live in harmony with Mother Earth."
“Miguel Evanjuanoy Chindoy of the Inga people and representative of UMIYAC”