Fw: Ancient Amazon Brew Comes to Colombia's Cities

preston peet ptpeet at nyc.rr.com
Thu Jan 2 13:21:56 EST 2003

>Yage is not addictive, users say, in fact quite the opposite. At least one
doctor has claimed that he has successfully cured addictions to cocaine
using the potion.<

----- Original Message -----
From: Sanho Tree
To: stree at igc.org
Sent: Thursday, January 02, 2003 1:05 PM
Subject: Ancient Amazon Brew Comes to Colombia's Cities

Here's a mainstream news story that wasn't inspired by a DEA coordinated
drug scare.  While one might have a few criticisms with the piece, it's
probably worth some supportive LTE's to newspapers that have the guts to
run it.

Ancient Amazon Brew Comes to Colombia's Cities

Reuters Thursday, January 2, 2003; 10:58 AM

By Jason Webb

BOGOTA, Colombia (Reuters) - They crouch in a daze as the shaman plays the
harmonica, forcing themselves to gulp down a murky liquid so bitter it
makes them sick.

It is a long, dizzy night in a smoky room wheezing with ritual music. But,
perhaps just a precious few times, with their eyelids clamped shut, the
brew takes effect and they see visions. Colors flow into shapes, swirl then
snap into focus.

Stick men may appear, or totemic animals such as the boa constrictor or
tiger, or Indian villages or submarine cities.

When morning comes, it's back to reality for the groups of people around
Colombia's capital Bogota who have been drinking yage, an Amazonic potion
which is attracting a following among urban intellectuals and artists. But,
as the shaman packs away his ritual fan and the nocturnal imbibers emerge
blinking into the traffic, they hope reality won't seem quite the same.

Yage makes you vomit repeatedly and gives you diarrhea. But users say they
feel physically cleansed, as well as mentally reinvigorated by a sense of
meaning attendant on the visions, a conviction of the existence of a world
beyond the material.

In the 1950s, the writer William Burroughs, a dedicated drug addict and
proto-drop-out, found out about the vile, bitter-tasting brew and came to
South America to look for it.

"All Medicine Men use it in their practice to foretell the future, locate
lost or stolen objects, name the perpetrator of a crime, to diagnose and
treat illness," he wrote in a letter to the British Journal of Addiction,
in which he recommended scientific research, speculating "perhaps even more
spectacular results could be obtained with synthetic variations."

But the history of yage far predates Western counter-culture. For
centuries, the potion, together with the gnarled jungle vine used to brew
it, have been central to the religions of dozens of South American Indian
ethnic groups.

American-born Jimmy Weiskopf, a slightly-built 60-year-old whose blue eyes
open wide in a somewhat harrowed, wrinkled face, quotes an Indian shaman,
or "taita," in his new book "Yage, the new purgatory."

"When I am drunk with yage," one of them explains, "I fly up to the Milky
Way and talk with the spirits and they tell me how to cure. Sometimes, in
these visions, they show me a particular plant and the next day I go to the
forest to find that plant and am able to cure the sick person."


Yage is a Colombian name. Peruvians use the Quechua word "ayahuasca,"
meaning "vine of the dead" or "vine of souls." The drink contains the
chemical dimethyltryptamine, or DMT -- a compound which is outlawed in the
United States and produces a similar class of effects to psychedelic drugs
such as LSD.

Perhaps with an eye to following the advice of William Burroughs, a
California-based businessman patented the yage vine in the 1980s, although
U.S. authorities took away the rights a decade later after complaints by
Amazon Indians.

U.S. law enforcers frown on yage, even if they have sometimes found it hard
to explain exactly why.

A federal judge recently ruled customs agents violated religious freedoms
when they confiscated ingredients from a Brazilian-inspired Church, known
as the "Union of the Vegetable," which used the brew in ceremonies in Santa
Fe, New Mexico. The judge also said there was no proof that it was harmful.

Its use is permitted in much of South America, and has a certain cache in
the arty circles of Bogota, where even the mayor, a former mathematics
professor, has tried it.

Of dubious legality or not in the United States, the Internet is full of
ayahuasca information for American dabblers in drugs.

Often describing their visions in terms more reminiscent of sci-fi movies
than religious experience, many trippers dwell on the horrible side effects
and one recounts how he tried, unsuccessfully, to drown out the flavor with

A typical excerpt: "A little after 1:30, R got up to puke. K puked a little
after that. Soon they were on their way to join me. We all arrived in
hyperspace around 1:45 or so."

Such louche accounts of narcotic tourism could hardly be further removed in
tone from Weiskopf's professions of respect for the vine, which he insists
is a sacred plant.


He has taken the stuff for more than a decade, since his teenage sons
returned from a holiday with their mother in the jungles of Putumayo in
southern Colombia and intrigued their father with a story of drinking yage
in an Indian village.

"It seemed to have changed them, it seemed to have made them more mature
and it seemed to have been a very interesting, illuminating experience for
them," Weiskopf told Reuters at a cafe near his Bogota home.

These days, his yage sessions generally take place with friends in the
capital city. The 38-year-old war which scours Colombia's countryside has
forced many Indians, including taitas, to seek refuge in urban centers in
the past few years, spreading the practice of taking their visionary drink.

In his book, so far published only in Spanish but eventually to be
available in English, Weiskopf likens the sense of their own insignificance
which is impressed on yage users to the humbling message of many religions.

Those who drink see their faults with great clarity and are therefore
enabled to heal emotional problems, he said, also ascribing great medicinal
properties to the brew because of its ferocious expulsion of toxins from
the body.

Yage is not addictive, users say, in fact quite the opposite. At least one
doctor has claimed that he has successfully cured addictions to cocaine
using the potion.

Weiskopf, who has only rarely drunk yage without the guidance of a taita,
dismisses suggestions the drink, with its messy excretory effects, could
become a recreational drug.

While its visions offer glimpses of the sublime, a world in which users
feel hidden spirits are revealed to them, a night of yage-drinking can
often warm up with diabolic apparitions and a terrifying conviction of
imminent death.

"I think there's a spirit in the bottle and you have to liberate that
spirit. Now I think if you don't have a ritual and you don't do it on a
special occasion with reverence and with seriousness probably you're going
to have a very flat experience," said Weiskopf.

© 2003 Reuters

Sanho Tree                       202/234-9382 ext. 266 (voice)
Fellow, Drug Policy Project      202/387-7915 (fax)
Institute for Policy Studies     202/494-8004 (mobile)
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