On the basis of this and other evidence, Brabec de Mori argues that ayahuasca actually diffused through the Amazon in the last 300 years. He isn’t the first to make the argument—the anthropologist Peter Gow proposed something similar in 1994—but he, more than anyone else, has found the anthropological data to support it.Brabec de Mori’s findings represent just one of many cracks in our stories about psychedelics. As psychedelic use has become increasingly mainstream in the U.S. and beyond, so has the long-held narrative about its ancient application as a shamanic therapy around the world. But this story is much more sweeping that reliable evidence permits. In fact, much of what underlies it is a seductive mixture of flimsy archaeological evidence, outdated anthropological approaches, and economically convenient ideology.
“It’s a romantic image that Indigenous people have been using everything they do for thousands of years.”
This misconception seems to stem partly from biased interpretations of anthropological data. When I asked Grob for sources describing the psychotherapeutic use of psychedelics, he pointed me to Marlene Dobkin de Rios, who conducted research on ayahuasca use among Peruvian mestizos in the 1960s and 70s—groups that have been subjected to Christian missionaries for the last four centuries. There are obvious limitations with making inferences about “typical” psychedelic shamanism using religious and medicinal practices so profoundly shaped by European colonialism. As Dobkin de Rios herself has written, throughout the Peruvian Amazon, “influences of Roman Catholic proselytization, mixed with medieval metaphysical beliefs, and influenced by evangelical Protestantism, are widespread.”
“Of course, there’s no single narrative, and yet it has been convenient as a way of selling psychoactivity.”