Ayahuasca is an herbal beverage made from plants native to the Amazon region, one of which contains the psychoactive chemical DMT (dimethyltriptamine). DMT belongs to the big family of hallucinogenic drugs that includes LSD and psilocybin.
Amazonian shamans have used Ayahuasca in traditional rituals that go back into the mists of time. Ayahuasca is legal in Peru where shamanism is a respected institution. It’s illegal pretty much everywhere else in the world, as is DMT itself in any form.
There’s a problem with blanket prohibition, however. If shamanism is a religious practice, shouldn’t the use of Ayahuasca be protected by laws that guarantee the freedom of religion? That’s the argument used by the plaintiffs in Church of the Holy Light of the Queen v. Mukasey, the 2009 trial that pitted the U.S. federal government against a small religious group based in Ashland, Oregon.
The Oregon church is a branch of Santo Daime, a new religious movement that started in Brazil in the 1930s. It’s an eclectic religion that combines elements of Roman Catholic Christianity, African tradition, and Amazonian shamanism. The Portuguese word Daime (“give me”) is the name of the sacrament used in church ceremonies—the herbal beverage known elsewhere as Ayahuasca.
The government claimed that its prohibition of Daime protected the health of church members and prevented it from being used for recreation outside the church. The judge disagreed. As of this writing, members of the Church of the Holy Light of the Queen in Ashland are free to consume their sacrament.