Where Is Ayahuasca Legal In 2024: A Growing List

Where Is Ayahuasca Legal In 2024: A Growing List

The sacred Amazonian brew ayahuasca has spread far beyond the borders of the rainforest, where it has been used by indigenous tribes for centuries. Now, ayahuasca ceremonies – for better and for worse – can be found virtually all across the globe.

And with laws changing rapidly, especially in the U.S., it’s legally safer than ever to participate in an ayahuasca ceremony.

Floods of people are flocking to ayahuasca for help with healing mental and physical health problems, self-discovery, spiritual connection, and consciousness exploration. But if you’re planning to drink the brew and would prefer to not have to worry about the cops knocking on the door while you’re mid-purge, it’s a good idea to look into the legality of ayahuasca in different countries.

Keep reading to find out where ayahuasca is legal and how you can find a legal, reliable place to have an ayahuasca experiences.

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Why Is Ayahuasca Illegal in Many Countries?

Many countries prohibit the sale, possession, transportation, and cultivation of ayahuasca because the psychedelic brew contains the compound DMT.

Ayahuasca involves the combination of two plants. One is a DMT-containing plant, either Psychotria viridis, known as chacruna, or Diplopterys cabrerana, known as chagropanga or chaliponga. The other is Banisteriopsis caapi, the ayahuasca or yagé vine, which contains monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). 

The MAOIs make the DMT orally active. It is the DMT contained in the chacruna or chagropanga leaf that makes the brew illegal in many countries.

In the early 1970s, many countries all over the world made DMT illegal. In many countries, DMT sits in the legal category of drugs that includes many addictive and harmful substances, including cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. For example, in 1970, then-president Richard Nixon introduced the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), making DMT a Schedule 1 controlled substance.

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“In 1971, following the passing of the Controlled Drugs Substances Act, the United Nations passed the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, requiring member states to control enumerated substances, including DMT,” explains Ruth Chun, lawyer at Chun Law Professional Corporation and director of the psychedelics company Entheon Biomedical Corp. (CSE:ENBI). “By classifying substances as Schedule 1 drugs, the Convention categorized certain drugs as having a serious risk to public health and no recognized therapeutic value”.

DMT and ayahuasca still sit in this legal category today in the U.S. This means federal law views both DMT and ayahuasca as having a high potential for abuse and no recognized medical value.The sale, possession, transportation, and cultivation of DMT carry the highest legal penalties. But interestingly, the plant Psychotria viridis, which contains DMT, is legal in most countries (except France). It is once the plant is consumed in an attempt to alter consciousness that it becomes illegal.

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Ayahuasca Legality In The U.S. And Canada

The Santo Daime and União do Vegetal (UDV) are ayahuasca churches that were both founded in Brazil. They are syncretic religions that combine Christianity and other beliefs with the sacramental use of ayahuasca. Santo Daime and UDV also have branches in the U.S.

In 1999, U.S. customs officials seized a shipment of ayahuasca and raided a UDV member’s office. Following the incident, the UDV fought court battles in order to stop the U.S. government from interfering with its religious use of ayahuasca (known as Hoasca in the UDV).

After long legal battles, the Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that UDV members in the U.S. could legally use ayahuasca as a religious sacrament. Native American Church (NAC) members have fought similar battles in the U.S., arguing that their religious use of peyote should be exempt from federal law. These battles have also been successful.

RELATED: How to Prepare for an Ayahuasca Ceremony

“In the Gonzales v. UDV case, the court did not squarely consider whether the sacramental use of Ayahuasca is legally protected,” said Chun. “But the court considered and ruled that the federal government’s ‘compelling interest’ in drug laws enforcement did not use the least restrictive means to impose a burden on one’s religious freedoms, in this case, to use hallucinogenic teas in sacramental ceremonies. While the common law does not ‘legalize’ sacramental use of Ayahuasca, further evolution in policy and careful crafting of new bills could lead to legislative change”.

Anyone using ayahuasca outside the UDV and Santo Daime are the risk of the federal government saying they’re doing something illegal.

Santo Daime and UDV Branches Exist All Over the World.

In some countries, Santo Daime and UDV members can legally use ayahuasca for religious purposes. These countries include Brazil, the U.S., and Canada (specifically, Montreal and Toronto).

A lot of psychedelic churches are popping up all over the world. They may be difficult to find. Taking ayahuasca with a religion will likely only appeal to you if you subscribe to the religious beliefs of these churches. Ayahuasca may be central to Santo Daime and UDV, but these religions center on a specific belief system as well. Santo Daime, for example, is fundamentally Christian. Both churches also profess a belief in God.

In general, it will be harder for you to join an ayahuasca church than attend an ayahuasca retreat. You may need to show that you are committed to the religion in question.

RELATED: Here’s Why Hapé Tobacco is Shunned by Westerners, But Loved By Shamans

A Sea Change Around Ayahuasca Legality in America

Over the past four years, activists across the United States have pushed forward laws that decriminalize or legalize lots of different psychedelics. The laws are slightly different in each place, but ayahuasca has been deprioritized, decriminalized or legalized in: 

This means you (likely) won’t face prosecution if you possess or use the psychedelic brew, but only in these cities and states. And each place has its own rules about the exchange of money. In most of these places, ayahuasca can’t be sold. You cannot pay a facilitator or shaman to hold a ceremony for you. One exception is Colorado, where you can hold ayahuasca ceremonies in which money can change hands, but only if the ayahuasca is used in the context of a “religious, culturally traditional, or spiritual ceremony” or “counseling, spiritual guidance, beneficial community-based use and healing.”

In practice, most of these places listed above are not prosecuting ayahuasca ceremonies, even if money is involved in some way. 

Where is Ayahuasca Legal in Canada?

According to Chun: “In Canada, the Controlled Drug and Substances Act (the “Act”), categorizes psychedelic drugs as ‘controlled substances’ and DMT is found in Schedule 3 of the Act.  Section 56 of the Act allows the Minister of Health to grant an exemption to use controlled substances where it is found necessary for medical or scientific purposes or is generally in the public interest.”

In a stunning move, the government has been granting exemptions to some ayahuasca churches–at least six churches so far.

Well, one country in Central America where ayahuasca is fully legal is Costa Rica.

In South America, since indigenous tribes have been using ayahuasca for hundreds of years, you may be wondering: where is ayahuasca legal in South America?

The answer is that it depends on the country, although in countries where ayahuasca plays an important role in indigenous cultures, the brew is legal. Ayahuasca has been fully legal in Brazil since 1992, while in Peru and Ecuador, ayahuasca is legal as traditional medicine.

Meanwhile, in Colombia, there is no legislation regulating ayahuasca, although ayahuasca retreats are popular in the country and receive no interference from the law.

RELATED: Modernized vs. Traditional Ayahuasca Ceremonies: Which is Right For You?

In most European countries, ayahuasca is illegal since it contains DMT. However, ayahuasca use is legal in some countries in Europe.

Ayahuasca is fully legal in Italy. In both Portugal and Spain possession of ayahuasca is decriminalized, but it is illegal to import, sell, or cultivate the brew, and doing so may result in arrest and prosecution.

Is Ayahuasca Right For You?

Drinking ayahuasca is a powerful and deeply spiritual experience. It should only be done with proper guides who have spent the necessary years training to be able to serve the medicine. This involves learning from an indigenous culture that uses the medicine as part of its tradition and receiving the blessing of an elder.

While ayahuasca can be very challenging, many shamans and guides will emphasize how the hardest experiences often end up being the most valuable. Ayahuasca is not for everyone, especially those with severe psychiatric diagnoses and those taking psychiatric medications, among others. But for those who do not have any contraindications, it can be an immensely powerful tool to heal and instigate change in one’s life. Qualified ayahuasca facilitators will often advise that if you feel “the call” or a kind of inner pull towards the medicine – that is to be listened to, even if you have fear surrounding the experience.

When it comes to legal ways to experience ayahuasca, there are essentially two options. The first is to participate in a legal retreat that features one or more ayahuasca ceremonies. The second is to join a religion in which ayahuasca is a legal sacrament. Let’s examine these options in turn.

The safest and easiest way to experience ayahuasca is to attend a legally sanctioned retreat. As you will have seen previously in this discussion, there are several countries where ayahuasca is legal. In these countries, shamans and facilitators lead ayahuasca ceremonies all year round.

There are many ways in which you can experience ayahuasca on a retreat. You can opt for a retreat that involves only ayahuasca as the psychedelic medicine. Also, within these kinds of ayahuasca retreats, you can find retreats that differ in how many ayahuasca ceremonies there are. The number can range from a single ceremony to 10 or more.

You may also want to consider whether you’d prefer a more traditional or modernized retreat. Check out this article to dive more into the differences between each.

Many retreats feature ayahuasca ceremonies alongside ceremonies involving other traditional psychedelics. For example, many psychedelic retreats feature multiple ayahuasca ceremonies along with a San Pedro ceremony. (San Pedro is a psychedelic cactus, its psychoactive compound being mescaline.)

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Combining Ayahuasca with Other Psychedelics

Whether you want to take only ayahuasca or use ayahuasca and a different psychedelic another day will depend largely on your personal preferences. Be mindful, however, that it is generally not recommended to combine many different psychedelics in a short space of time. You’d be hard pushed to find a legitimate, indigenous healer who would serve ayahuasca alongside psilocybin mushrooms and Bufo, for example.

Many retreats involving ayahuasca ceremonies feature other treatments and activities as well, such as a kambo cleanse (a purge using the poison of a particular frog), a cacao ceremony, a tobacco ceremony, meditation, yoga, massage, and so on. Again, whether these other features are right for you will depend on your individual interests and desires.

It is possible to take ayahuasca in a ceremony in a country where the psychedelic brew is illegal. Many of these retreats are popular, in fact, and happen underground throughout North America, Europe, and Asia.

But for your own peace of mind, you may want to stick with a legal retreat. After all, there have been various cases where law enforcement has raided illegal ayahuasca retreat.

RELATED: Kambo Medicine: Benefits, Risks and Controversy

When is Ayahuasca Wrong for You?

Ayahuasca may not be right for you if you don’t want to take the psychedelic in a group setting, which would happen in the case of ayahuasca retreats and ayahuasca churches. If you would prefer to have a legal psychedelic experience in the presence of one or more therapists, then ketamine therapy may be more appealing. You might also not want to have to travel abroad in order to join a legal ayahuasca ceremony.

The Legalities Of Ayahuasca And Next Steps

The tide is turning when it comes to ayahuasca legality. Gradually, jurisdictions in the U.S. are relaxing the law on the use and possession of natural psychedelics, including ayahuasca.

The legality of ayahuasca is complex. There are some countries where it is fully legal and other countries where, from the point of view of the law, it is equal to drugs like heroin. In some countries, possession is decriminalized, while other countries state ayahuasca is only legal when used as a sacrament or for spiritual purposes.

If you find a location of a retreat that suits you best, you can refer back to this article to find out the legal status of ayahuasca in that particular country.

This article has been legally approved by Ruth Chun, JD. She is the founder of Chun Law Professional Corporation – focusing on the emerging plant-based industries. She is also a Director at Entheon BioMedical.

Sam Woolfe

Sam Woolfe

View all posts by Sam Woolfe

Sam Woolfe is a freelance writer based in London. His main areas of interest include mental health, mystical experiences, the history of psychedelics, and the philosophy of psychedelics. He first became fascinated by psychedelics after reading Aldous Huxley's description of the mescaline experience in The Doors of Perception. Since then, he has researched and written about psychedelics for various publications, covering the legality of psychedelics, drug policy reform, and psychedelic science.

Magdalena Tanev

Updated by Magdalena Tanev Magdalena Tanev

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