The American Ayahuasca Church is a charismatic group in the United States. It’s officially known as Ayahuasca Healing Retreats, and it’s affiliated with the Oklevueha Native American Church (ONAC) (Labate, 2016). It promotes the use of Ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic liquid, as a sacrament (“Ayahuasca Church Services – Ayahuasca Ceremonies in America,” 2017). Consumption of this drug has raised legal questions, prompting the pursuit of judicial interpretation. The legality and use of Ayahuasca by the Church is constitutional in law and covered, although it is contentious since Ayahuasca is still considered a substance. This essay delves into the legal reasons behind the rulings regarding the church, how the drug is used in Hollywood and the effect of celebrities using it on the rate of use in the USA.
The reasoning behind the legality of the church and the use of Ayahuasca is premised in the constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). In the First Amendment, it is written that: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” (Scaros, 2011). The first clause is the ‘establishment Clause’ while the second one is the ‘free exercise clause.’ The meaning is that the government can neither offer privileges to any religion nor interfere with religious practice. The RFRA mandates that ‘free exercise’ be given priority over privileges in case a determination of equal merit has to be reached. The Supreme Court decision in the matter of ‘Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficiente União do Vegetal,’ in which Gonzales won the use of Ayahuasca, (Labate, 2016). As a result, this drug is allowed to circulate in a controlled manner by members of this and similar churches despite it being an entheogen that contains substances banned by the Drug Enforcement Authority (DEA) under American law, (Labate, 2016). The application of the law is in itself controversial as it allows legality and illegality.
Ayahuasca is actively consumed by actors in Hollywood by and glorified by directors through film. Producers, fashion designers, actors, entertainment lawyers among others, in groups are joined by a Shaman (guide) in exclusive invite only Ayahuasca ceremonies. Witness accounts say puking, visions and hallucinations are some of the side effects of the drug. Famous actors perform as ‘users’ of the drug such. This includes Jennifer Aniston and Naomi Watts in the 2012 movie ‘Wanderlust’, and Ben Stiller in the 2014 movie ‘While We’re Young.’ In ‘Weeds’ Mary-Louise Parker’s drug dealer calls Ayahuasca, ‘…a rocket ship.’ Actor Leonardo DiCaprio is rumored to have contributed to charities with connections to Ayahuasca while Chelsea Handler once promised to ingest the plant on a live show, (Ginsberg, 2015). This shows the value attached to this substance by the famous.
In my view, the use of Ayahuasca by celebrities is a sure catalyst for the increased use of the substance. The reality is that such stars have millions of followers of all ages in the United States who consider them their heroes. The youth especially might be swayed by the scenes portrayed in movies or the gossip from Hollywood and start consuming the substance to be ‘cool.’ The ambiguity of the law in clarifying whether Ayahuasca is legal or illegal means that suppliers will be more than ready to supply the drink and recruit members to their retreats. The implication, therefore, is that the rate of drug usage in the USA is likely to increase so long as celebrities continue to endorse it.
In conclusion, Ayahuasca is a controversial drug that is not approved by the DEA but acceptable under religious law and the constitution. There is therefore, a need to address this issue comprehensively to either qualify or disqualify reasons advanced by churches that advocate for its use.
Ayahuasca Church Services – Ayahuasca Ceremonies in America. (2017). Ayahuasca Healings. Retrieved 1 November 2017, from https://ayahuascahealings.com/ayahuasca-retreats-usa/
Ginsberg, M. (2015). Ayahuasca, Hollywood’s Hip, Heavy Hallucinogen: “It’s Hardly What You Call Partying”. The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 1 November 2017, from http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/ayahuasca-hollywoods-hip-heavy-hallucinogen-825957
Labate, B. (2016). The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the DEA Exemption Process, and Ayahuasca Healings. Bia Labate. Retrieved 1 November 2017, from http://www.bialabate.net/news/the-religious-freedom-restoration-act-the-dea-exemption-process-and-ayahuasca-healings
Scaros, C. (2011). Understanding the Constitution (p. 79). Massachusetts: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.