“What makes ayahuasca fascinating is not the sheer pharmacological potential of this preparation, but the elaboration of it. It’s made really of two different sources: on the one hand, this woody liana which has in it a series of beta-carbolines, harmine, harmaline, mildly hallucinogenic — to take the vine alone is rather to have sort of blue hazy smoke drift across your consciousness — but it’s mixed with the leaves of a shrub in the coffee family called Psychotria viridis.

This plant had in it some very powerful tryptamines, very close to brain serotonin, dimethyltryptamine, 5-methoxydimethyltryptamine. If you’ve ever seen the Yanomami blowing that snuff up their noses, that substance they make from a different set of species also contains methoxydimethyltryptamine.

To have that powder blown up your nose is rather like being shot out of a rifle barrel lined with baroque paintings and landing on a sea of electricity. (Laughter) It doesn’t create the distortion of reality; it creates the dissolution of reality.

In fact, I used to argue with my professor, Richard Evan Shultes — who is a man who sparked the psychedelic era with his discovery of the magic mushrooms in Mexico in the 1930s — I used to argue that you couldn’t classify these tryptamines as hallucinogenic because by the time you’re under the effects there’s no one home anymore to experience a hallucination. (Laughter)”

-Wade Davis, Cultures At The Far Edge Of The World