Guest post by Adrian Walker, “The Snake Whisperer”
During my time in Iquitos I’ve been intrigued by tales of faraway shamans who claim to have discovered the secret of eternal life by combining ayahuasca and other plant medicines. The most extraordinary being the gentleman who was supposed to be over 3000 years of age. Now claims of this nature simply end up in my garbage bin and I’m left with a sense of human gullibility as the teller of the tale obviously is a believer.
As a combination of scientist, folklorist and interested party in native medicine I’ve heard these stories across a few continents and never actually met anyone who has outscored a century or much more and frankly disregard such tales as nonsense.
All of this leads steadily to a bigger story; is ayahuasca all its handful of proponents claim it to be or merely a profitable exercise for those adherents who have cashed in on the western interest in mind altering substance use, one which began years before with marijuana and later LSD.
As a child of the sixties I grew up with these substances and cheerfully admit to trying both, the latter clinically. One frightened whereas the other was a bore so I no longer partake but nor do I state that I didn’t inhale. I don’t need to, I’m not in politics.
Now I’ve read that ayahuasca is a wonder drug, a sacred plant, a cure all of many disorders if correctly administered and many other allegations but my training insists on an evaluation and questions before I make any firm decisions. Firstly I’m aware of many people who work in the ethnobotanical industry, searching the rainforests of the world for new drugs, potential cures. Are they interested in ayahuasca? Not a jot! A South American colleague assures me that trials were dismissed quickly as the plant was found to be a strong purgative with some potential side effects, particularly affecting the mentally ill, and this rendered it as a complete waste of space for any international drug company to touch. She added that there were numerous other plants of more interest. Ayahuasca is occasionally referred to as the “mother of plants”, another myth as B.caapi is a very recent arrival on the Earth’s botanical list. It’s clear that the boiled vine must be mixed with DMT producers such as Psychotria to provide visions or trips as required by many users. Psychotria is a common plant in many parts of the tropics and all species can give a high – or kill you!
It’s obvious that ayahuasca has homeopathic attractions as when you cut a cross section of the vine, you’re left with a reasonable image of the human brain. Doubtless this is part of the mythology surrounding the plant. The roots of a carrot resemble the optic nerve and indeed carotin, an extract from the vegetable, can assist human sight if given in controlled doses. But it doesn’t cure blindness and never will! Similarly, ayahuasca may bear a resemblance to the human brain and does affect its function. But can it cure? Drug companies who could make trillions don’t think so.
As an Australian familiar with rainforest, I also will relate an experience with a native Australian healer with whom I spent countless hours in the deep jungles of the north of that vast continent, a place where the vegetation is remarkably close to the Amazon. He told me that there was only ONE plant that was more effective than “whitefeller medicine” and that one plant is now being synthesized in labs around the world as an antidote to golden staph, the infection that beat penicillin. Native Australians had 45,000 years to sort out their medicinal plants whereas Amazonian Indians are far more recent arrivals so to have discovered the secret to eternal life and the “mother of all plants” in botanical structures that are incredibly alike is a preposterous claim and one which the Incas themselves have never made. Ayahuasca traditionally was only ingested by the curandero him or herself. The brain changing qualities enabled the healer to see the problem and then to treat. That’s widely and well recorded. All of this leads me to one simple conclusion which is that ayahuasca may be a great purgative, may even within a hypnotic ceremonial situation be a great placebo, certainly makes a few people a good living, but the more outrageous claims regarding the vine may safely be dispatched to my western style rubbish bin.
Ayahuasca, Eternal Life – A Skeptics Viewpoint
Hi, this is Bill Grimes reporting from Iquitos Peru. Welcome back for more of the story. Adrian Walker and his family have moved out of our apartment. They are still considering their options to purchase or rent, or build a lodge. Adrian has been kind enough to write this series of articles for my Captain’s Blog and the Iquitos Times. We hope this is Chapter thirteen of his new book, The Road to Iquitos. Click the links below to read chapters 1 – 12. Thank you.