My Journey Down the Rope of Death, The Village Voice, 1998

I first became interested in ayahuasca when several friends of mine told me they had, at some point in their past, “life changing” experiences on the drug. One woman, a journalist from South America, said when she tried ayahuasca as a teenager, the drug seemed to give her license to radically alter her life-to abandon the conventional path she had been on in order to become a writer. “When I vomited, it was as if I was vomiting up my entire past identity,” she said. Another friend said that his experiences on ayahuasca gave him the certainty that a spiritual dimension existed outside of everyday reality. I was also warned that you could have violent, negative experiences on the drug-wrestling with devils, or fighting with the ghosts of dead relatives. Hoping to overcome my typical New York City nihilism, I decided to give it a try-even the attack of a devil, I thought, would be preferable to complete disbelief.

My introduction to the drug was relatively mild. Drinking it down, I found it had a slightly sweet, murky taste that was not particularly disgusting, and certainly not as gag-inducing and horrible as I had feared. My “journey” began with a startling, emerald-green vision of plants, roots, and vines ascending upward, which gave way to colored patterns that looked bit mapped, like screen savers or other cyberspace designs. I had heard from many people that they had felt the “alien intelligence” of the drug examining them, and I would say that was true for me as well. It seemed at times as though the ayahuasca was passing through my biological and cellular processes, giving them a checkup and a once-over. When it had finished this process, I threw up just a little bit, but the vomiting was a primal sensation, and practically a pleasant one. It was almost as though a computer scan had been run over me, and the vomiting was like a beep that signals the end of a computer program’s function. For a while, I found myself modeling my own thought processes, watching as patterns of neurons fired out, acquiring a sufficient density of interaction before a thought surfaced into my consciousness. Near the end, I saw a disturbing picture of animals devouring the organs of a dead body. The drug trance ended in a relaxed state close to sleep.

I felt somewhat distracted by the New Age context provided by the guides. I would have preferred music I related to-anything from Radiohead to Bach-rather than a superficial overlay from a tribal culture so distant from my own. The groans and movements of the other participants also bothered me, and I never felt I got as deep into the “journey” as I would have liked. One of the guides advised me to try a stronger dose next time. Rather than life-changing, the entire experience was expensive, tantalizing, and perplexing. But I was glad the diapers had been an unnecessary precaution. -D.P.