As of this moment, there is not yet a federal ruling on ayahuasca. The sacred vine used in the brew is not illegal; people sell them on eBay with the disclaimer “for research purposes only.” The problem is the leaves and their sacred DMT, a serotonergic psychedelic that qualifies as a Schedule I controlled substance under Chapter 13 of the Controlled Substance Act. When used with the vine, the leaves produce effects of intense introspection and emotional modification, accompanied by the production of vivid visual imagery and encounters with divine beings, for which I could get twenty years in prison.
Ayahuasca’s legal status remains a complicated matter because while the tea is certainly a drug—described by no less an expert than [William S.] Burroughs as the strongest drug he had ever taken—it is also a religious sacrament, and the U.S. government occasionally seems to respect freedom of religion more than other civil liberties. Upon news that Santo Daime folks in Oregon have won legal protection for their use of ayahuasca, the Mecca church remains hopeful but cautious.
If I were in Peru, it would be less complicated, since the government there has officially recognized ayahuasca as traditional medicine, cultural heritage, and spiritual practice. A relationship to particular drugs can determine your relationship to the state. Doesn’t even have to be a drug, really; some plant life cannot help but speak truth to power. Because Muslims had introduced oranges to Spain, the Christian Reconquista called for a destruction of orange trees. to properly take back Spain for Jesus, it was necessary to purge the land of infidel fruit.
[An excerpt from the new book Tripping with Allah: Islam, Drugs and Writing by Michael Muhammad Knight (Counterpoint Press, 2013)
– Read the entire article at AlterNet.