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Ayahuasca: alkaloids, plants & analogs
assembled by Keeper of the Trout
Section 2 :
A few of the published analytical accounts

Ott 1994 summarized Rivier & Lindgren 1972 as reporting:
  • 0.05-0.83% total alkaloids in dried stems;
  • 0.14-0.37% in the branches;
  • 0.25-1.90% in the leaves;
  • 0.61-1.95% in the roots and
  • 0.91% in a lone sample of seeds.
  • In all but two cases harmine was the major alkaloid.
  • In two cases d-leptaflorine (tetrahydroharmine) was the major alkaloid, exceeding harmine content by a few percent. One of these was a sample of root and the other a sample of stem.
  • In all of these cases, harmaline was a minor alkaloid comprising traces to 17% of the total alkaloid.

McKenna et al. 1984a reported harmine to be the major alkaloid in all but one case which had harmaline as the largest component. They reported:
  • harmine in dried cultivated stem at levels ranging from 0.057-0.64% [0.39% average of 6 samples];
  • harmaline at levels of 0.05 to 0.38% [averaging 0.19%] (but said to be absent from some other samples) and
  • tetrahydroharmine at levels of 0.025 to 0.33% [averaging 0.15%]
  • In only one of the cultivars they examined (one of the two weak ones) did the harmaline content exceed the harmine content.
  • In only one case did the tetrahydroharmine content exceed the harmine content (the other of the two weak cultivars).
  • These two weak ones were less than a quarter the strength of the other four cultivars.

They reported that a dose of ayahuasca brew from Pulcallpa would contain (in a typical 60 ml aliquot):
  • 280 mg of harmine,
  • 96 mg of d-leptaflorine (THH),
  • 25 mg of harmaline and
  • 36 mg of DMT

McKenna et al. 1984a reported alkaloid levels ranging from 0.29% to 0.67% total alkaloids in brewed ayahuasca with:
  • harmine comprising 27 to 50% of the contained alkaloids,
  • d-leptaflorine being present as 30 to 38% of the total alkaloids and
  • harmaline representing 9 to 20% of the alkaloids present.
  • The remaining percentage of alkaloids present was as DMT or other lesser components.

Ott 1994 commented that, on average, these would represent a dosage of 135 mg each of harmine and tetrahydroharmine, 60 mg of harmaline and 28 mg of DMT assuming a 100 ml aliquot was ingested.

Ott also mentions an analysis of a dose of prepared Santo Daime ayahuasca was found by Liwszyc et al. 1992 to contain 74.5 mg of harmine, 69.5 mg of d-leptaflorine (tetrahydroharmine) and 26.5 mg of DMT. Harmaline was present in trace amounts.

In summarizing the analysis of ayahuasca, Ott lists total alkaloid contents of 0.11% to 0.83% (in dried stem 0.05 to 1.36%).

Rivier & Lindgren 1972 reported higher alkaloid levels in leaves than stems in the few cases they analyzed material from both parts. [Please remember that many people use only the bark and not the entire stem]

Roots tested stronger than stems in all cases and stronger than leaves in most cases. Harmine was reported as the major alkaloid in all cases representing between 62-96% of the total alkaloid content.

In Alfonso Chango's Yachaj Sami Yachachina, the translated insert states that 10" of a 3" in diameter stem or 30 inches of 1 inch stem or 60 inches of ½ inch stem represents a single dose.

Some of the reported chemistry for B. caapi or similar material

All reported percentages are by dry wt.

(Other alkaloids, if present, are not included in this list.)
LocaleCountryPeopleName Collector or #
PartTotal alkaloidharmineharmalinetetrahydroharmine
Banisteriopsis caapi:
Upper Purus RiverPeruCulina"tsipi makuni"
Branches (freeze-dried)0.190.15trace0.01
Roots (freeze-dried)0.920.370.140.4
Upper Purus River, PeruCulina"tsipu wetseni"
Branches/Leaves (freeze-dried)0.350.240.010.04
Upper Purus River, PeruSharanhua"shuri fisopa"
Upper Purus River, PeruSharanhua"shuri oshinipa"
near Iquitos, PeruMestizos"piturijacu"
EcuadorEcuadorPinkley #445
Banisteriopsis caapi cultivars
Tarapoto, PerucultivatedPlowman & Martin #1805
Stems0.830.510.03 0.2
Tarapoto,Peru"cielo-ayahuasca"DMCK #110
Huallaga, PeruPilluana-R."pucahuasca"DMCK #124
PeruPeruPto. AlmendraDMCK #125
Iquitos,Peru"cielo-ayahuasca"DMCK #126
Tarapoto, Peru"rumi-ayahuasca"DMCK #128
Tarapoto, Peru"cielo-ayahuasca"Plowman #6041
Banisteriopsis spp:
PeruPeruPiro"kamalampi"G. Baer
PeruPeruMatsigengaG. Baer
Banisteriopsis sp (probably):
Acre Territory, Brazil G.T.Prance #7498
Upper Purus River,PeruSharanahua"shuri oshinipa"
Upper Purus River,PeruSharanahua"shuri fisopa"
Upper Purus River,PeruSharanahua"shuri oshopa"
Upper Purus River,PeruMarinahua"tukondi"
Ucayali River,PeruMestizos"ayahuasca"
Leaves (freeze-dried)1.901.62trace0.1
Iquitos,PeruMestizos"cielo-ayahuasca" or "ayahuasca-blanca"
    Table above drawn from Rivier & Lindgren 1972 and McKenna et al. 1984a

Pomilio et al. 1999 analyzed B. caapi stem:
  • 0.18% total alkaloid;
  • 97% of which was harmine,
  • 1% of which was THH.
Some samples contained only harmine or else trace amounts of THH.
(Harmaline, harmol or methoxytryptamines not detectable in any sample.)

Hochstein & Paradies 1957 reported:
  • 0.3% harmine,
  • 0.0015% harmaline and
  • 0.003% tetrahydroharmine
from dried B. caapi stems originating in Peru.

When analyzing prepared ayahuasca brew they reported 0.33% total alkaloids in the solution (3.3 grams per liter) and a harmine content of 0.1% (1 gram per liter).

Tetrahydroharmine and harmaline ratios in the prepared brew were said to be higher than in the dried material they analyzed but no values were included.

Material lacked any vouchers.

Interestingly, material propagated from McKenna's Cielo cultivar is claimed by some users to produce better visuals and have less somatic effects than other commercially available materials.

It also produces a very sweet tasting brew when care is taken not to boil it and burn or carmelize the contained sugars.

Hashimoto & Kawanishi 1975 reported isolating the following minor bases from mixed leaves and stems of B. caapi (they did not evaluate the known major bases):
  • harmine-N-oxide (0.0005%)
  • harmic acid methyl ester (0.0002%)
  • harmalinic acid (0.005%)

Hashimoto & Kawanishi 1976 additionally isolated:
  • harmic amide (0.007%)
  • acetyl-norharmine (0.0001%)
  • ketotetrahydronorharmine (0.0005%)

Kawanishi et al. 1982 reported two additional trace alkaloids (both pyrrolidines):
  • shihunine (0.0001%)
  • S-(+) dihydroshuhunine (0.00003%)

Banisteriopsis caapi is known to paralyze many parasites which, coupled with its enhancement of intestinal motility, may well support its long time use to get rid of worms and other parasites. It is also known to be anti-protozoal, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, antitrypanosomal and an anti-cancer agent. (The plant  Peganum harmala which contains similar alkaloids has been shown highly active against the malaria parasite but I cannot locate any evaluation of B. caapi.)

Even prolonged use of ayahuasca has been determined to have no adverse effects on health. Beneficial reports are commonplace and myriad.

The only unusual change from chronic use is a temporary increase in platelet serotonin receptor site density; an effect previously known only from the aging process itself.
    See McKenna & Grob's and/or Grob and coworker's evaluations of long-time ayahuasca user's biochemistry and physiology compared by an excellent control group (non-ayahuasca using peers and relatives).

In all cases that ayahuasca use has actually been studied to determine its potential of harm; it has not only received a clean bill of health but an actual endorsement by those who scrutinized it.
    See Ott 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996