Ayahuasca: alkaloids, plants & analogs
Section 2 :
The Beginnings of some Modern Confusion
Richard Spruce first found "caapi" cultivated and used by Tukanoan Indians of the Rio Uaupés and its affluents in 1851-1852 and, then again, in 1854, by the Guahibo of the upper Orinoco in Colombia and Venezuela.
In 1857 he found it employed by the Záparo in the north eastern Peruvian Andes as "ayahuasca".
Spruce was the first to report the use of Banisteriopsis species but this was not published until 1874. His notes were not published until 1908; after his death.
Spruce described its effects as "A narcosis characterized by frighteningly realistic colored visual hallucinations and a feeling of extreme and reckless bravery." He reported it to be used for prophetic and divining purposes.
The first published account was in 1858, when Villavicencio reported the use of "ayahuasca" for sorcery, witchcraft, prophesy and divination, among the Záparos, Angateros, Mazanes and other tribes of the upper Río Napo in Amazonian Ecuador.
The years that followed saw an increase in interest that was characterized by confusion, misidentifications and published assignments of botanical identities by people who often had never seen the plants.
Among the most persistent points of confusion has been an unidentified admixture plant called Caapi-piníma (Painted caapi). Spruce described its young shoots as shining green with blood-red veins and noted its leaves were stained and veined with red. Only a small amount of its ROOT was said to be used.
His suspicion this might represent a Haemadictyon (Prestonia amazonica) has caused considerable confusion due to later readers; beginning with Reinberg who apparently considered it a positive identification.
Spruce had never actually even seen said Haemadictyon, he simply mentioned that a plant he found was similar to a description he had read.
Despite the plant never being collected by Spruce, the part used said to be the root, later workers in the area being unable to find it in use and the Haemadictylon (Prestonia) only having been collected some 1500 miles from where the plant mentioned by Spruce was reportedly used, it has been presented both as the identity of yajé, of which the stem was said to be used, and also as its DMT containing admixture, said to be a leaf. Both of these identifications are highly likely to be incorrect.
It is most commonly attributed with representing a Psychotria but Spruce described it as a vining plant (Most Psychotrias would never be perceived of as vining).
It has also been given the common name of yajé which has been presented as suggesting that Diplopterys cabrerana was the material purportedly used in preparing a "Prestonia amazonica" brew later analyzed by Hochstein & Paradies and determined to contain DMT.
Ott 1993 points out that despite the reasonable assumptions of it being a Psychotria or Diplopterys, the distinct possibility exists that it may have been an altogether different admixture plant. [Root use of neither has been reported nor is either green with veins and/or stains of red.]
Several reports further obscured the identification of this admixture: Clinquart 1926 & Michiels and Clinquart 1926 & Albarracín 1925 all reporting the isolation of the b-carbolines yagéina and yajénina from material identified as Prestonia amazonica. [Also Barriga Villalba 1925a and 1925b.]
Schultes proposed that caapi-piníma may represent a Tetrapteris spp. due to the different color of the resulting brew. [It has a yellowish hue rather than coffee-brown and is said to be active with no admixture plants. (It was sampled by Dr. Schultes in 1948 and reported to be quite active.)
Today we still appear to be no closer to unraveling the identity of Caapi-piníma. [Addressing the confusion surrounding the admixture(s) known as curupa (leaf) or coro (root) may help See also cognates (k, q, u) in the Anadenanthera snuff words and ayahuasca admixture common name list.]
- Adapted from Bristol 1966a, page 114 and Ott 1994, page 16, and
Schultes 1978, pages 322-328.