Banisteriopsis caapi

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This entry focuses on the caapi vine itself; for information on entheogenic use, see Ayahuasca.
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Ayahuasca de las Mujeres
Ayahuasca de las Mujeres
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Class: Magnoliopsida
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Order: Malpighiales
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Family: Malpighiaceae
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Genus: Banisteriopsis
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Species: B. caapi
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Binomial name
Banisteriopsis caapi
(Spruce ex Griseb.) C.V.Morton
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Type Species

Banisteriopsis caapi, also known as Ayahuasca, Caapi or Yage, is a South American jungle vine of the family Malpighiaceae. It is used to prepare Ayahuasca, a decoction that has a long history of entheogenic uses as a medicine and "plant teacher" among the indigenous peoples of the Amazon Rainforest. It contains the beta-carboline harmala alkaloids and MAOIs harmine, harmaline, and tetrahydroharmine. Most caapi is cultivated by the shamans who use it.

According to The CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names by Umberto Quattrocchi, the naming of B. caapi was actually dedicated to John Banister, a seventeenth-century English clergyman and scientist. An earlier name for the genus Banisteriopsis was Banisteria, and the plant is sometimes referred to as Banisteria caapi in everyday usage.

The name Ayahuasca means "vine of the soul", and the shamans of the indigenous Western Amazonian tribes use the plant in religious and healing ceremonies. In addition to its hallucinogenic properties, caapi is used for its healing properties as a purgative, effectively cleansing the body of parasites and helping the digestive tract.


Types of vine

Although there is no apparent difference in species, the caapi vine is categorized by those who use it into several different types, each of which have different potencies, effects, and uses. Different categorizations may be used in different areas, and this list is not meant to be exhaustive or universally applicable.


Urarina shaman, 1988

In Peru and other places of the Upper Amazon, the different types of Caapi are referred to as different "colors" by the shamans.

  • Cielo (sky) or yellow caapi

Probably the most commonly used variety, at least among the mestizo curenderos of contemporary Amazonia. It is considered relatively gentle and is the typical vine used for initiation. Often has seven sections when viewed in cross-section.

  • Black caapi

There seem to be two varieties of black caapi, which may or may not be the same plant. They are often associated with witchcraft or brujeria, and should only be used by those who are very experienced with the medicine. Often has five sections when viewed in cross-section.

  • Thunder or trueno caapi

Brings on a particularly intense purge as well as other physical effects which are often very overwhelming.

  • Indian caapi

Perhaps the only variety of caapi that is not cultivated, but rather harvested from old-growth, unflooded, white sand rainforest. Use was believed to be more prevalent before contact with the west.

  • White caapi

Used most often in magic, both in brujeria and combating brujeria.

  • Red caapi

Considered very strong and used most often for healing; often, the curandero will take red caapi while their patient is given the yellow variety.

  • Rattle caapi or Ayahuasca cascabel.

Often considered the most potent variety of caapi; ayahuasca cascabel has been seen and experienced very little by westerners, if at all.


In the Napo province of Ecuador, the vine is divided into three types. It is said that all are used for the same purposes, though the visions of each differ.

  • Ayahuasca de las Mujeres, Women's Ayahuasca

So named as it has bumps or protrusions, "like a woman". The effect is more rapid. Gives visions of flowers.

  • Ayahuasca de los Hombres, Men's Ayahuasca

Straighter than the women's Ayahuasca; gives visions of Boas.

  • Ayahuasca para Ver Fantasmas, Ayahuasca for seeing spirits

Has "designs" on the bark; gives visions of spirits.

Legal issues


In the United States, caapi is uncontrolled; in addition, it does not contain any scheduled substances. A recent court case involving the DMT-containing ayahuasca tea brewed with it, Gonzales v. UDV, was found in favor of the União do Vegetal, a Brazilian religious sect utilizing the tea in their ceremonies and having around 130 members in the United States.

In Australia, harmala is a controlled substance, but the vine is not.

In Canada, harmala is a schedule III substance, but the vine is not. (Note that Canadian scheduling laws are very different from their United States counterparts).

Caapi, as well as a range of harmala alkaloids, were recently scheduled in France, following a court victory by the Santo Daime religious sect allowing use of the tea due to it not being a chemical extraction and the fact that the plants used were not scheduled. Religious exceptions to Narcotic laws are not allowed under French law, effectively making any use or possession of the tea illegal.

For more legal information, see Ayahuasca.

Patent issues

The caapi vine itself has been the subject of a dispute between U.S. entrepreneur Loren Miller and the Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA). In 1986 Miller obtained a US patent on a variety of B. caapi. COICA successfully argued that the patent was invalid because Miller's variety was neither new nor distinct, and the patent was overturned in 1999; however, in 2001 the US Patent Office has since reinstated the patent because, at the time it was granted, the law did not allow a third party such as COICA standing to object. B. caapi is now being cultivated commercially in Hawaii.

See also

External links

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