Sunday, March 23, 2014

Abundance of Ayahuasca and Admixture Plants

Someone has been writing me private notes saying they want to move to the Amazon to study ayahuasca. Their enthusiasm outreaches their experience, so I suggested spending a month or two in the jungle--they want to live away from people, alone in the jungle--before they sell everything they have and move there. I was being nice, because the jungle doesn't accept everyone. The bugs are difficult to deal with. The work, so easy for people who were born to it, is nearly impossible for Westerners to learn to do. Simple things like carrying water, making a dugout canoe, building a house when you don't know what kind of trees will stay strong and not rot in six months; weaving leaf-roof sections and all that jazz. Sure, if you go in with lots of money you can get it done--and people do, though most discover they didn't even know how to hire the right people and so everything falls apart the first time or two. Like a lot of things, experience counts. Imagination is wonderful when grounded in a bit of reality.
    So the most recent letter from this person thanked me for explaining that you can't just grow a garden in the jungle. Some jungle will grow plantains and yucca; the neighbors' land, just 500 feet away, might grow wonderful peppers and cilantro but won't grow a plantain at all. The next neighbor over might be able to grow corn and papaya but nothing else. Depends the nutrients in the soil and a host of other things and those might well depend on the high water season of rushing river depositing topsoil on your property.
   But the fellow also suggested that at least ayahuasca and chacruna--the two key ingredients for making the jungle medicine--grow in abundance, as did the admixture plants. I was forced to respond and here it is:
Dear X: Actually, no, ayahuasca and chacruna and the admixture plants do not grow in abundance everywhere. And they take a long time to grow and they have been way, way over harvested in the last several years. Used to be, a curandero on a river might have five mature vines; when he cut some from one, he or she always left the roots, sang to it, smoked mapacho to thank it, then planted one or two sections of what he or she had cut to insure that more would grow--even if that growth was going to take several years.
    These days, some camps are indiscriminately asking people like the members of my team to go get them 100 sacks of vine--and that might have been every vine including roots, of every ayahuasca plant on an entire river. So no, things are not good that way.
    Over the years I've planted hundreds; most have been stolen by people collecting for the big camps or internet sellers. They are the only ones looking for that volume.
    Remember that traditionally, only the curandero drank, not the people at the ceremony, so a few good vines could be used for years. Once you have 30 people drinking nightly at each of 100 camps, plus 10 times that many drinking in the US alone every night--well, you're cutting very deeply into the supply of something that takes years and special conditions to grow. And since typical admixture barks, lupuna negro and catawa, for instance, are trees coveted by lumber men, well, they are getting in short supply as well.
   It's not a disaster yet, but in five years if things continue as they are, it certainly could be. In 10 years, it will be. Where we used to routinely use vines that were 1 1/2 inches or two inches thick, many people are now using vines that are 1/2 inch thick. Those are too young to have learned very much. They need more seasoning to be great medicines. But the demand is there and people who dream of having an Ipod will cut every specimen down if they think they'll earn enough money to buy one. That's just the way it is, not just in the Amazon, but everywhere. In the Amazon, though, the balance tends to be a little more delicate and so needs more care and attention to keep it from becoming something awful.

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