US Psychedelic Congregations Going Beyond The Norm

People are increasingly turning to ayahuasca to cure a variety of health conditions when traditional drugs and therapies have failed. Their issues include anorexia, depression, substance abuse problems, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Illegal, But Protected From Prosecution

Hundreds of churches have turned to ayahuasca in response to rising demand.

Advocates claim they are guarded against prosecutors by a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. In this instance, a New Mexico chapter of a Brazilian ayahuasca church was granted permission to take the drug as a sacrament, despite the fact the drug’s active component remains prohibited under U.S. federal law.

A subsequent judgment by a lower court decided that Oregon branches of a separate ayahuasca religion were permitted to use it.

The expansion of the pro-psychedelics movement has raised fears of a government crackdown.

In addition to the seizure of ayahuasca shipments, other churches ceased operations out of fear of punishment. There are also worries that these unregulated rituals represent a risk to certain participants and the advantages of ayahuasca have not been well-researched.

In one ceremony held on a Friday evening in October at Hummingbird church, participants sat in silence as they awaited the arrival of Taita Pedro Davila, the Colombian priest and traditional healer who oversaw the rite.

A variety of individuals, including war veterans, business leaders, thrill-seekers, ex-members of a polygamous cult, and a man who won a fortune on a game show, attended the $900 weekend. Many were both anxious and excited to begin the first of three rites.

The brew combines a shrub from the Amazon jungle containing N-Dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, as well as a vine carrying alkaloids that prevent the drug from dissolving in the body.

Those who use ayahuasca describe seeing patterns and colors and experiencing intense, often scary, hours-long trips. Some claim that in this dreamy condition, they encounter deceased relatives, friends, and spirits.


Ayahuasca has a long history of ceremonial use by Amazonian indigenous cultures. Throughout some South American nations where ayahuasca is legal, churches have formed in the past century.

In the 1980s, the group gained a foothold in the United States. In recent years, celebrities like NFL player Aaron Rodgers, as well as film star Will Smith, have expressed interest in attending ceremonies.

Some pay hundreds of dollars to attend ayahuasca retreats with five-star accommodations in the Amazon.

However, in the United States, the movement remains primarily clandestine, with ceremonies performed in supporters’ homes, Airbnb rentals, and distant locations to escape law enforcement inspection.

Hummingbird, like many of them, cannot be mistaken for a regular Western church.

Participants are guided through the event largely by Davila’s prayers, chants, and songs, as there is no written text. Davila adheres to his grandfather’s customs.

Courtney Close, the creator of Hummingbird, who attributes ayahuasca with assisting her in overcoming cocaine addiction and postnatal depression, says the status as a church helps demonstrate that participants are “doing this for religious reasons.”

Close emphasized, however, that classifying it as a religion relies on the experiences of individual individuals.

“We just attempt to provide a spiritual experience devoid of dogma and allow individuals to encounter God on their own,” she explained.

Flor Gonzales is confident that ayahuasca is responsible for her husband’s recovery. “I simply feel like we have a future,” she remarked.