America Is Getting Its First Legal Ayahuasca Church

Fed up with the daily office grind and just need to get away from it all?

You can go on the hunt for coffee beans in Ethiopia, get drunk in the temples of Japan, or, if you want something closer to home, you can visit a David Bowie-blasting bourbon distillery in Kentucky.

But if you really want to expand your mind, you can visit the last frontier of human consciousness in Elbe, Washington.

Peruvian spiritual retreat Ayahuasca Healings has recently been granted church status in the United States, which would make it the first legal and “public” ayahuasca church in America, according to founders, and the it has chosen a 160-acre chunk of land in Elbe as ground zero for spiritual healing.  

For those unfamiliar with ayahuasca tea, it’s a brewed Amazonian plant mixture which contains one of nature’s most potent hallucinogens. It can induce intense, life-changing visions, but also violent episodes of vomiting.

Indigenous cultures have been using ayahuasca for centuries as a way of cleansing the psyche of underlying spiritual problems. Increasingly, in the disorder-fixated West, ayahuasca is being used increasingly to deal with psychological issues like depression, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

We spoke to Trinity de Guzman, one of the founders of Ayahuasca Healings about the mystical properties of this tea and to find out where this new church fits in the framework of America’s complex drug and religion regulation.

Hi, Trinity. What is ayahuasca? 
Trinity de Guzman: Ayahuasca is a sacred plant medicine that indigenous tribes have been working with for thousands of years. And they’ve used it as a tool for healing spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally. But most importantly, it’s a tool to connect with the spirit realm.

Is ayahuasca legal? 
It’s an uncontrolled substance. But DMT, which can be extracted from the plants, is a controlled Schedule 1 drug by the DEA. Ayahuasca itself is not a scheduled drug, but it’s legal in a religious and spiritual setting. So, simply stated, ayahuasca is legal if your intentions are sincerely religious. And it’s legal under a church. You have to be a member of a church which has that legal protection.   

Why is brewing ayahuasca as a tea the preferred method of preparation? 
You need to brew it in order to extract the components from these two plants—chacruna (a shrub also known as Psychotria viridis) and ayahuasca (the Banisteriopsis caapi vine).

Why does this root brew induce vomiting? 
A lot of people have a very negative relationship with the idea of vomiting. Usually you vomit after food poisoning, or drinking too much, or getting sick. It’s usually a reaction to something bad, and it doesn’t feel good.

But with ayahuasca, that vomit is not just this liquid coming out of you. It’s more like this energetic baggage that we’ve been carrying around that we don’t even know about. And the experience of the purge is very liberating and freeing and a lot of people say that they feel 100 pounds lighter. It’s a way of clearing energetic chains of bondage that have kept us in certain patterns of thinking and being.

What is it in the brew that makes people hallucinate? 
The vine itself contains MAO inhibitors, and then there’s chacruna, which is the leaf, and that contains the molecule of DMT. Without the MAO inhibitors, the DMT would just be digested, and not absorbed by the body. But beyond the chemical composition of the tea is the spirit. That’s why DMT is so different, once you extract it from the plant, you get rid of the spirit as well.

So it’s a physical reflection of what’s happening in the spiritual realm? 
Yes, exactly. 

It does not taste good. It’s very bitter. It’s made from a vine, so it tastes like tree bark—it’s not very tasty. It’s a combination of eating dirt and bitter.

Can you explain this process to me? 
Sure. You brew it in a big pot over a fire for up to seven days. There’s a very extensive process and the constant heat allows those components in those plants to be extracted into the liquid. You need to be watching the fire and praying over the medicine all the time and always adding more water.

Does the tea taste good? 
It does not taste good. It’s very bitter. It’s made from a vine, so it tastes like tree bark—it’s not very tasty. It’s a combination of eating dirt and bitter. But it’s generally about two ounces, so you can ingest it really quickly.

It’s not a recreational drug. It’s not an enjoyable experience to go into the shadows of our consciousness and find our pains and wounds and traumas and unresolved traumas. She will always give you what you need. It will really challenge you.

What do you experience visually after drinking the brew? 
Visions begin to creep in and they vary depending on the way the medicine was brewer and the intention that was put into it. All of that affects the experience. But it’s very colourful, like a tie-dye shirt. It doesn’t last very long and it’s very abstract, but that’s the spirit entering. After that, the journey begins and you will connect with the spirit of Mother Ayahuasca.

Why did you choose Elbe, Washington to be the location for the American Ayahuasca Healings site?
We chose the Pacific Northwest because of the energy. It’s so rich and alive with Mother Nature.

How are ayahuasca churches different from more traditional North American churches?
Other churches talk about God, and the person, like a pastor, talking to the room is the connection to God. But in the Native American churches, this is about connecting with Godyourself and having a direct experience with the Creator.

How did Ayahuasca Healings become a church?
Basically, we were working with the New Haven Native American Church, which is a branch of the Oklevueha Native American Church and has the authority and the ability to use sacraments like ayahuasca by virtue of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, designed to protect and preserve the tradition and cultural practices of American Indians. As a result, pertaining to us, the government cannot interfere with our Native American ceremonies, sacraments, or our plant teachers like peyote and ayahuasca.

So where does the Ayahuasca Healings retreat in Washington fit into this legal framework? 
We’re the first public, legal ayahuasca church in America. We’re not the first legal ayahuasca church, but I say “public” because we are really using the internet to share this message, unlike other ayahuasca churches in America which have been more closed-off to the public. 

Is there a lot of demand for ayahuasca in the US? 
There are thousands of people who are looking for ayahuasca every day, and we are just helping them make a decision. But it doesn’t mean that anyone can come to the church at any time. People will be able to find out about us online. There will be an online registration process, unlike every other ayahuasca church.

I was curled into a fetal position, crying, shaking, and vomiting. And I knew that at that moment that I was here to share it with the world.

How has ayahuasca helped you personally? 
There is so much transformation that I got from this tea. But the main thing is purpose. It put me on a path where I can not even help but fulfill my purpose. It always gives you what you were meant to receive. I had a traumatic childhood and it affected me in a lot of different ways, especially in relationships, and this gave me clarity and broke some destructive thinking patterns that I had.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that this vision to bring the tea to a larger public came to you during an ayahuasca ceremony.
The very first time I had ayahuasca, it was one of the most difficult nights of my life. I was curled into a fetal position, crying, shaking, and vomiting. And I knew that at that moment that I was here to share it with the world, I didn’t know in what way, but I was like “America needs this.”  

Thanks for speaking with us.
Thank you, brother.