Helle Kaasik

Helle Kaasik

Helle Kaasik is a researcher with PhD in theoretical physics and MA in psychology from University of Tartu, Estonia. She is a member of Santo Daime and studies ayahuasca for her doctoral thesis in religious studies. Her presentation is based on data collected during her fieldwork in ayahuasca communities in Europe and Brazil.

“Chemical composition of traditional, analogue and counterfeit ayahuasca”

The study aimed to clarify to what extent the composition of the psychoactive brew offered at ceremonies as ayahuasca agrees with Amazonian traditions and with information given to participants who drink it.
Forty samples of ceremonial drinks and data about their preparation, use and effects were collected from ayahuasca-using communities in Europe and Brazil. Concentrations of DMT, tetrahydroharmine, harmine and harmaline were determined by UHPLC-MS/MS. Qualitative analyses for non-traditional additives were performed by UHPLC-MS.
Concentrations of bioactive substances in the samples varied strongly. Chemical compositions of the samples collected from Brazil and from Santo Daime communities were consistent with that of traditional ayahuasca. Some analogues of ayahuasca (Peganum harmala, Mimosa hostilis) were used in neoshamanic ceremonies in Europe with partial informed consent of the participants. From ayahuasca ceremonies held in Europe we found two related samples of counterfeit ayahuasca containing moclobemide (a pharmaceutical MAOI antidepressant), psilocin, high concentrations of DMT and very low concentrations of alkaloids of Banisteriopsis caapi. Participants who drank these brews were not adequately informed about the constituents.
We recommend: 1) user caution and education, 2) development of self-regulation (e.g. ethical codes) for ayahuasca facilitators and 3) development of evidence-based legal regulation using community expertise.