The Australian ayahuasca debate

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It's Friday night in a secluded spot in country New South Wales where a group of like-minded individuals have gathered for what they hope will be a mind altering evening.

They've come to see a man and to drink his tea.

Julian Palmer is an ayahuasca facilitator. For more thank a decade he has been hosting small ceremonies all over the country and making his homemade brew.

"These are plants that are on this earth for us to use," he says.

"We humans find value in this all over the world. Why should it be criminalised? Why should it be criminal?

"It shouldn't ... I call myself a chai peddler. You know being a facilitator of ayahuasca is very different to selling someone a pill, cause you're responsible for them and they expect a certain duty of care towards them so it's cute different.

Ayahuasca brews have been used by Amazonian shamans for hundreds if not thousands of years.

It's advocates say the powerful hallucigenic brew is also a powerful source of healing.

"No, for me I wouldn't call it a drug: it's a tool, you know?" says Kodi, who is an ayahuasca user.

"I believe that we're so caught up in the outside world that we're looking in the wrong places for the answers when we should be looking inside our own minds."

The ayahuasca brew is made by combining the South American vine and the leaves of other plants that contain the psychedelic compound dimethyltryptamine and DMT.

DMT is classified as a Schedule 9 substance - just like marijuana, LSD and ecstasy. In other words, it's illegal.

But it's also a naturally occurring substance that  is found in many forms of organic life, including ourselves.

And there just so happens to be very high quantities in some Australian species of Acacia.

Overseas, ayahuasca has been studied as a possible treatment for everything from diabetes to drug addiction.

In Peru, where ayahuasca is legal and widely available, a steady stream of returned US serviceman have been taking part in ceremonies to get relief from post traumatic stress.

"Psychedelics are really hot in research," says Dr David Caldicott, an emergency medicine specialist and a senior lecturer at the Australian National University in Canberra.

"The reason why they're hot is because we just haven't done any of the research we should be doing, because there's been a blanket ban on all of them, and they are providing us with the keys that can unlock the human mind.

"DMT should certainly not be in the same class as a drug like methamphetamine and heroine... "

"DMT should certainly not be in the same class as a drug like methamphetamine and heroine, it could be argued, quite vigorously that has potential through therapy to benefit and therefore doesn't belong in that class.

DMT's classification is currently being put to the test. Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration is reviewing submissions to legalise a small amount o DMT for religious ceremonies.

It's an approach that the Brazilian Christian Spiritual Religion - the Uniao do Vegetal or 'the union of plants' - has used to have DMT legalised for ceremonies in six US states.

One element the TGA will have to consider is ayahuasca's dark side: there have been a number of deaths and disappearances blamed on the substance.   

Just last year in Peru a British man was stabbed to death by a Canadian tourist. Authorities ruled he acted in self defence when his friend attacked him after taking ayahuasca.

The TGA says its advisory committee on medicines scheduling will meet next month to discuss the fate of DMT's legal status.

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