Secrets of the Amazonian Witch Doctors

During the 1500s, a group of European missionaries traveled to South America hoping to convert the locals to Christianity. To their horror, they discovered that Amazonian witch doctors actively used a strange potion…a potion which they considered “the work of the devil.” But modern analysis indicates that this mixture, known as Ayahuasca, is far from evil. Could this secret of the ancient witch doctors improve millions of lives today?

Ayahuasca: A Secret of the Amazonian Witch Doctors?

Last month, we explored Kalata-Kalata, a strange medicinal tea prepared by African witch doctors that could eventually help researchers save millions of lives. We also got a visit from the very interesting Sean McLachlan who interviewed an African healer earlier this year (and who, incidentally, has a new Civil War horror novel coming out shortly). Our latest foray into the world of witch doctors comes via a new documentary from Nick Polizzi entitled The Sacred Science.

In his film, Polizzi observes “eight people from all different walks of life, with varying physical and psychological ailments, as they embark on a one-month healing journey into the heart of the Amazon jungle.” One of the treatments highlighted by the documentary is Ayahuasca, “a hallucinogenic drink used in the Amazon region to cure everything from depression to cancer.”

What is Ayahuasca?

Although many recipes exist, the best known version of Ayahuasca is made by boiling two separate plants. This creates a mixture containing a powerful hallucinogenic known as DMT (which is a Schedule I drug in the United States) along with a secondary substance which acts to orally activate the DMT.

Ayahuasca has several notable effects on the human body. It speeds up the heart rate and blood pressure. It creates psychedelic effects. Most importantly, Ayahuasca kills worms and tropical parasites while also inducing vomiting and diarrhea that allows the human body to expel other parasites.

Ayahuasca is viewed with great interest from many people, due in part to its seemingly magical healing abilities. According to a newly-produced miniseries entitled, The Witch Doctor Will See You Now, “it seemed to have a powerful curative effect on the chronic pain and asthma sufferers who drank it for the show.”In addition, a 1993 scientific investigation indicated that “the medicine was not harmful, and that people who took it were actually healthier than people in the control group.”

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The legal status of Ayahuasca remains questionable in many places throughout the world due to its dependence on DMT. However, efforts are underway to legalize it, both for religious purposes as well as for medicinal ones.

It seems to me that Ayahuasca and DMT deserve a closer look from modern science. But the medicinal properties are not the only things that need examination. The origin of the mixture itself remains shrouded in mystery. The two plants used in its creation are located hundreds of miles away from each other and are surrounded by over 80,000 plant species known to exist in the Amazon. Separately, these plants have no effect. But when combined, they create a powerful synergistic potion. So, who discovered Ayahuasca?

And how in the world did they unravel its mysterious secrets?

Secrets of the Witch Doctors?

African witch doctors have long used a certain tea to help pregnant women induce labor and delivery. The ingredients of that concoction are now being exhaustively studied by scientists. Could the secrets of the witch doctors save millions of lives?

Kalata-Kalata & Secrets of the Witch Doctors?

During the 1960s, a Norwegian doctor named Lorents Gran visited the Democratic Republic of Congo. While assisting with a Red Cross relief mission, he noticed that witch doctors used a medicinal tea named kalata-kalata. Made from the plant Oldenlandia affnis, it was used to help pregnant women speed up child delivery. He analyzed the tea and discovered that the active ingredient was a peptide, which reduced pain and caused the uterus to contract. This peptide has since been named kalata B1. It would take another twenty years before this peptide was “characterized as a macrocyclic peptide.”

Since then, the study of these macrocyclic peptides, now called cyclotides, has grown substantially. Recently, Dr. David Craik from the University of Queensland in Australia was interviewed on the subject for the American Chemical Society’s video series called Prized Science: How the Science Behind ACS Awards Impacts Your Life. In the video, entitled, New Drugs – From a Cup of Tea, Dr. Craik showed how his research could turn these cyclotides “into new drugs for treating health problems, such as antibiotic-resistant bacteria and even AIDS, which affect millions of people worldwide.”

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Most peptides, which are really just small chunks of protein, cannot be taken orally since they are too weak to hold up to the digestion process. However, cyclotides have a powerful internal structure that allows them to withstand digestion. This is why the witch doctors were able to subject the kalata-kalata tea yo boiling while maintaining its healing powers.

Excitingly, the cyclotides show tons of medicinal promise. Someday soon, millions of people may find themselves taking life-saving drugs derived from cyclotides. And they’ll owe it all to modern science…as well as the mysterious and wonderful ingenuity of generations of African witch doctors.