Before we can properly introduce Banisteriopsis caapi as a microdosing substance, we like to zoom out a bit and start off by introducing the Amazon’s most important teacher plant and its role in indigenous and modern cultures.
Banisteriopsis caapi is a vine primarily known as an ingredient in ayahuasca. B. caapi is also known as ayahuasca, caapi or yagé (yage). Ayahuasca is the visionary brew known for its role in shamanic and religious ceremonies, and it’s therapeutic potential. It has a long history of entheogenic (connecting to spirit) use and the status of a “plant teacher” among the Indigenous peoples of the Amazon rainforest.
Ayahuasca is capable of inducing altered states of consciousness, usually lasting between 4 and 8 hours after ingestion. With the effects ranging from mildly enhanced intuitive capacities to extremely visionary, ayahuasca is used as a medicine typically in a ceremonial session and under the guidance of a shaman (curandero/a, taita, vegetalista) or experienced facilitator.
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Botany of Banisteriopsis Caapi Vine
Botanically speaking, it’s a South American liana of the family Malpighiaceae. The vine can grow up to 30 meters (ca. 98 feet) in length, twining on other plants for support. According to The CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names by Umberto Quattrocchi, the naming of the genus Banisteriopsis was dedicated to John Banister, a 17th-century English clergyman and naturalist. An earlier name for the genus was Banisteria and the plant is sometimes referred to as Banisteria caapi.
History of Banisteriopsis Caapi Vine
The main ingredient of this jungle tea is a vine, Banisteriopsis caapi, which like the tea itself is also called ayahuasca (which means ‘vine of the soul’ or ‘vine with a soul’). The secondary ingredient is either chacruna (Psychotria viridis) or chagropanga (Diplopterys cabrerana), plants that contain a relatively high amount of the psychedelic substance DMT.
Nobody knows for sure how long this drink has been used. The first recorded Western contact with ayahuasca was in 1851 by Richard Spruce, a famous ethnobotanist from England. In 2010, archeological findings have demonstrated that indigenous peoples of the Amazon have been using ayahuasca for at least 1000 years.
Many believe it’s use dates back much further, even millennia, but there is no clear evidence to back up this claim. Neither do we know how far the practice of microdosing B. caapi dates back in history. All we know is that the indigenous use concerns different quantities for different purposes.
Indigenous use of ayahuasca
There are many cultures in Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, and Venezuela that know a traditional indigenous to use ayahuasca or yage and all have their own classifications, with some tribes recognizing and using upward of 20 different strains. These are all botanically identical to B. caapi.
Those who train as a shaman would spend months, even years isolated in the jungle. During that time, they uphold a dieta: a strict diet of bland and limited foods and fast with ayahuasca to receive its messages and learn its powers. It’s said that, after a full two years of dieting with the vine, even only smelling the brew or touching the plant is enough for a curandero/a to connect to this plant’s spirit.
Supposedly, this kind of spiritual connection, enables a shaman to “ask” the plant what it does and how to use it. This is how the indigenous people explain their astounding knowledge of the jungle plants that surround them. And this is probably true: with an estimated 80,000 Amazonian plant species thus far cataloged (and millions more unidentified), it’s highly unlikely that trial and error would suffice to navigate this vast botanical pharmacy and discover effective ways to treat those who fall ill.
Religious use of ayahuasca
There are a number of recognized Brazilian ayahuasca religions, such as Santo Daime, Uniao do Vegetal, Cristã Luz Universal and also mystical traditions such as Umbanda, that have spread from South America to North America, Europe, and Asia. The belief systems of these religions bring together Christian, Spiritist, African and Indigenous traditions with inﬂuences from contemporary urban spiritualities.
There is no standard ritual performed by all the Brazilian ayahuasca religions, but there are some commonalities across the groups: rituals are usually held every two weeks and often commence in the evening; church members wear clothing reﬂective of the historical and cultural contexts in which the different groups were founded; after initial prayers are said, the religious leaders give each congregant a small glass of ayahuasca in a ritualized manner that evokes the distribution of wine in other Christian settings; ﬁnally, the rituals are designed to slightly outlast the psychoactive effects of the ayahuasca (about 4 h).
These effects can include the sensation of an intimate proximity to God or other spiritual beings; a general intensiﬁcation of emotions, particularly those of a positive valence (e.g., tranquility and reverence); a tendency toward introspection; sensations of enhanced lucidity and comprehension; and sensations of enhanced perceptual acuity accompanied by an increased vividness of closed-eye visualizations. Somatic effects can include sensations of bodily heaviness or lightness, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (it is important to note that, for the practitioners of these religions, vomiting is associated with bodily and spiritual cleansing).
Pharmacology of Banisteriopsis Caapi Vine
B. caapi contains the following harmala alkaloids:
- Harmine, 0.31–8.43%
- Harmaline, 0.03–0.83%
- Tetrahydroharmine, 0.05–2.94%
These alkaloids of the beta-carboline class act as monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOIs). The MAOIs allow the primary psychoactive compound, DMT, which is introduced from the other common ingredient in ayahuasca Psychotria viridis, to be orally active. The stems contain 0.11–0.83% beta-carbolines, with harmine and tetrahydroharmine as the major components. Alkaloids are present in all parts of the plant.
B. Caapi Vine’s Therapeutic Value: What Does Science say?
Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) were the first type of antidepressant developed. They’re effective, but they’ve generally been replaced by antidepressants that are safer and cause fewer side effects.
Use of MAOIs typically requires diet restrictions and avoiding certain other medications because MAOIs can cause dangerously high blood pressure when taken with certain foods or medications. In psychiatry, it is known that in certain cases, they relieve depression when other treatments have failed.
Qualitative data analysis, across the globe, reveals that study participants who drank ayahuasca were convinced that ayahuasca had enhanced their well-being in general. Scientists continue to conclude that the effects of ayahuasca should not be reduced to a pharmacological model. The substance should be conceptualized as a psychological catalyst that unfolds within different fields of sociocultural ideas.
To read more on the antidepressant effects of ayahuasca, the literature review by Brian T. Anderson might be a good starting point: Ayahuasca as Antidepressant? Psychedelics and Styles of Reasoning in Psychiatry.
Especially over the past two decades, many other studies on high doses of ayahuasca have taken place across the globe — generally finding positive results on participants’ wellbeing, ability to cope with illness and grief, et cetera. Click here for an overview.
One discovery by the late ayahuasca researcher Dr. Jordi Riba has received media attention: ayahuasca stimulates the growth of new neurons; neurogenesis. This finding offers a foundational ground for many potential uses in treating depression, mental illness, addictions and ageing-related brain illnesses.
Is Banisteriopsis Caapi Vine legal?
For clarification: ayahuasca contains DMT, which is banned worldwide. Looking at the legal status of B. caapi, which does not contain DMT, we observe the following situation:
- In the United States, and most other countries in the world, B. caapi is not a controlled species.
- In Australia, the harmala alkaloids are scheduled substances, including harmine and harmaline; however, the living vine, or other source plants are not scheduled in most states. In all states, the dried herb may or may not be considered a scheduled substance, dependent on court rulings.
- In Canada, harmala is listed under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act as a schedule III substance. The vine and the ayahuasca brew are legal ambiguities, since nowhere in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act is it stated that natural material containing a scheduled substance is illegal, a position supported by the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board.
- There is unclarity about the regulation of B. caapi and ayahuasca in France and Scandinavian countries.
B. Caapi vine paste or extract is available from local healers, plant medicine shops and online shops.
Effects of Microdosing B. Caapi Vine Extract
Anecdotal experiences of microdosing B. caapi have not yet been analyzed and reviewed, so there’s not much statistical data. The team at Microhuasca is currently analyzing data from their group program, where a large majority of participants revealed improvements in the following areas:
This offers an indicator of which effects can specifically be expected when microdosing with Caapi vine in combination with these four elements: 1) intention setting 2) journaling 3) weekly group sessions and 4) weekly support of a therapist and a peer.
However, science knows fairly well how B. caapi works. It helps the brain to release dopamine and acts as a serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Thus, in the hippocampus and other parts of the brain, neurogenesis arises and new nerve cells and neurological connections emerge. This makes B. caapi a natural antidepressant, contributes to a feeling of well-being and reduces anxiety and tension.
Furthermore, experiences show that B. caapi has healing and purifying properties, with a positive effect on the digestive tract and the eradication of parasites.
Shamans and curanderos/as believe that B. caapi does the same thing on an energetical and spiritual level: it can be thoroughly purifying, healing, rebalancing. It can also suppress hunger, stimulate and act as a hunting aid by improving the sight. It enables them in their role to provide guidance in the community and increases empathy towards all living beings and natures. In their regard it is one of the most sacred, protective and nourishing teacher plants.
Why microdose with B. Caapi separately (versus both ayahuasca ingredients)?
Before we dive into the details of how to microdose with B. Caapi vine and what the effects are, let’s first answer a commonly asked question. Why not microdose with ayahuasca? The effect of the powerful entheogenic brew ayahuasca is based on two ingredients. These are a DMT-containing plant such as chacruna (DMT is the actual psychedelic with affinity for the 5HT-2A receptor), and B. caapi, a plant that is a MAOI (Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitor). So, DMT is the psychedelic compound, now you may wonder what the MAOI is for. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Normally, the DMT would not be orally active, meaning it would not produce psychedelic effects when taken orally. This is because our bodies contain enzymes that break down DMT, preventing it from producing any significant effect in the brain. In ayahuasca, the MAOI stops the MAO enzymes from breaking down DMT, so that an effective amount of DMT can reach the brain after oral intake.
The MAOI Banisteriopsis caapi also has a psychoactive effect on its own. It’s not psychedelic, but antidepressant.
If you don’t take a MAOI, and still want a psychedelic effect from DMT, you can obtain this by injecting or vaporizing the pure substance. This way, DMT reaches the brain quickly, thus not giving the MAO enzymes a chance to break it down. When injected or vaporized, DMT works only for about 10 to 15 minutes, after which MAO breaks down the DMT.
This is, in a nutshell, why the ayahuasca brew contains a MAOI. However, if you were to microdose a MAOI and DMT, the (small quantity of) MAOI would still be enough to break down the small quantity of DMT. In other words: you’ll need a larger dose of DMT in order to produce any effect—we would not be talking microdosing, but for instance small-medium dosing. People who tried taking a full dose of MAOI and a microdose of DMT found that the psychoactive effect of the MAOI is much greater than the effect of DMT. We would probably have to label this practice as dosing MAOI, rather than microdosing ayahuasca.
Medicine man and author Alan Shoemaker speaks about the many aspects of ayahuasca based on his 25 years of experience with these plants.
How to microdose with B. Caapi vine extract
If you are based in Europe, head to our partners at Microdose.nl who offer Alan Shoemaker’s Pure B. Caapi Vine Extract. In principle, you can microdose B. caapi vine in the same way as other substances:
- Start by taking 5 drops on a day when you don’t have much to do
- By the end of the day: look back at your day and evaluate. Did you have “a really good day”? Were you more aware of what you feel, or more in tune with yourself and the world around you? Chances are your dose is correct. If not, take a little more on your next dosing day.
- A MAO inhibitor that is effective for a short duration of time, approximately up to 24 hours, but most people report an afterglow on the day after.
- Therefore, you can apply the Fadiman protocol, the Microdosing Institute protocol or dose intuitively.
- Keep a journal and take notes on how you feel. Do it on the microdosing day, as well as on non-microdosing days. That will make it easier to gain insights and translate these insights into (small) concrete actions that will improve your daily life.
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An important warning
B. caapi vine contains MAO-inhibiting compounds. This means that it can lead to dangerously high blood pressure if you take it in higher dosages in combination with certain foods or medicines (see below). Data and guidelines that are available based on the high doses and apply to a much lesser extent to microdosing. However, we always recommend to read more about it, as there’s still too little research on possible risks of microdosing.
MAO inhibiting plants/extracts include, among others:
- Banisteriopsis caapi
- Syrian rue (Peganum harmala)
Microdosing B. caapi extract is not recommended when you use antidepressants and/or other medicines. Wait at least 3 weeks after using Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) before starting with any MAO inhibitor. These include:
- Antidepressants such as paroxetine (Seroxat), citalopram (Cipramil), fluvoxamine (Fevarin) and sertraline (Zoloft)
- A waiting period of 6 weeks applies after tapering from fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Herbal extract of kanna (Sceletium tortuosum)
Below you will find a list of substances that should NOT be taken 12 hours before and 12 hours after taking a high dose of MAO inhibitor. Again, this applies less to microdosing, nevertheless, we would like to draw your attention to this information.
Very dangerous in a high dose:
- Sleeping pills
- Migraine medications
- Allergy medications
- Cold remedies
- Amphetamine (speed)
- MDMA (XTC)
- Mescaline cacti (peyote and San Pedro)
- Ephedra/ephedrine (e.g., products such as Ephedra Super caps, Super stacker, Ultra Boost)
Products which can cause headaches and/or nausea:
- Dairy products (milk, yogurt, (sour) cream)
- All cheeses (with the exception of: cottage cheese, cream cheese)
- Dry and fermented sausages (bologna, salami, pepperoni, corned beef, and liver)
- Non-fresh meat, fish and eggs
- Sour herring and dried salt fish
- Meat extracts
- Yeast extracts/brewed yeast (Marmite)
- Fruits (bananas, avocados, figs, raisins, red plums, pineapple, raspberries)
- Nuts (peanuts)
- Fava beans and pods (lima, fava beans, lentils, snow peas, and soybeans)
- Soy sauce
- LSA (morning glory and baby hawaiian woodrose seeds)
- MDA related herbs (nutmeg, calamus)
- Caffeine (coffee, tea, cola, guarana, energy drinks)
- St John’s wort
- Nasal sprays (Vicks Sinex, Prevalin, or Otrivin)
- other MAO inhibitors
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Microhuasca program and support Groups
If you’d like to try microdosing with Caapi vine under the guidance of experienced facilitators, the Peru-founded Microhuasca program might be just for you. Two transpersonal psychologists and a shaman guide you during 6 weeks and help with dose calibration, intention setting, transforming observations into insights, and retrieve your personal actionable items that ensure you are creating lasting change. During this program you have 1:1 support from a peer and from your mentor to discuss anything that comes up during your process.
Two relevant Facebook groups
There is a very valuable Facebook group that specifically focuses on microdosing with the B. caapi vine: Ayahuasca Microdosing Pure Vine only. Please join if you feel like connecting with other people in this group of interest, exchanging experiences and asking questions.
Our Microdosing community also has a private Facebook group with more than 5000 microdosers and a high level of engagement, which will also be of value during your microdosing journey. You’re most welcome to join!