Frequently Asked Questions about the ESC and the Ayahuasca Dialogues

Over the last year and a half of engaging stakeholders in the Ayahuasca Dialogues, the ESC has been asked some questions more than others. Here are some of the more frequent questions:

How are you going to tell who is really a healer?

That’s not part of our plan. Our main goals center around questions of safe use and sustainability (economic, social, and environmental), not healing ability.

Is ayahuasca endangered?

Ayahuasca admixture plants are widely cultivated and not endangered. What concerns us are other sustainability issues like people’s affordable access to their traditional medicines, better agronomical/botanical understanding of admixture plants, and improving the share of benefits gained by traditional knowledge holders when seekers drink ayahuasca with them or buy plants they use.

Are you anthropologists and ethnobotanists?

Some of us are. We work with people of many disciplines. The ESC’s core strength lies in working with all stakeholders to collectively define priorities and consensus. Our core expertise is in building consensus through Plant Dialogues.

Are going to “certify” or accredit traditional healers?

No. Through dialogue, we are working to 1) define consensus on safer and more sustainable cross-cultural principles and practices, then 2) explore with many other groups how to raise awareness and/or recognize these good practices.

Are you going to certify anything?

Some ayahuasca cultivators have suggested that more equitable and more sustainable ayahuasca growing could be certified, similar to FairTrade, organic, or designation of origin. That’s why we include discussion of this as part of the Ayahuasca Dialogues. A thorough analysis of the risks and benefits of how and whether recognition of ayahuasca practices is a top priority during the Dialogues.

How does the ESC decide what constitutes practices that minimize harm and maximize benefits?

The ESC doesn’t decide. We only “set the table” for dialogue so that the true experts can express their opinions and better understand one another’s points of view to help build consensus.

How do you organize the Ayahuasca Dialogues?

Over the last year and a half, we have been conducting one-on-one interviews, roundtables/encounters, and gathering online feedback. Feel free to share your suggestions on how we can improve or volunteer to get involved in some way. Email suggestions at: ayafeedback [at] ethnobotanicalcouncil [dot] org

What is the relationship to the Ayahuasca Health Guide (Guía de Salud de Ayahuasca) and the Ayahuasca Dialogues?

The Ayahuasca Health Guide is a community effort facilitated by the ESC to start building consensus on the most important safety aspects that ayahuasca seekers and providers should pay attention to. The contents of the Health Guide will be used as part of the basis for engaging with more stakeholders in the second phase of the Ayahuasca Dialogues in 2015 and beyond.

Are you trying to regulate ayahuasca?

No. We are developing ways for local shamanic associations, government officials, ayahuasca centers, activists, indigenous leaders and others to come together to develop and possibly recognize good practices as an alternative to restrictive regulations. We see South American government regulation of ayahuasca as a model for other governments to follow.

Why not just post reviews online?

We are happy that www.OpenMindTrips.org and other sites are doing this very well and we are pleased to collaborate with them, especially to integrate criteria from the Ayahuasca Health Guide into their systems.

Are you trying to commercialize ayahuasca?

No. We are providing approaches for indigenous leaders, center owners, cultivators, and others to work together at this pivotal time when ayahuasca has already entered national and international markets. We are helping to ensure that the cultural container of ayahuasca traditions can evolve in this new space in ways that try to minimize the harms and maximize the benefits.

What is the Ayahuasca Agreement?

This is the consensus that we hope will emerge from the many years of the Ayahuasca Dialogues we have begun and will continue to facilitate.

When do you want to develop the Ayahuasca Agreement?

Our optimistic assessment is early 2016, but we are prepared to be in dialogue for as long as it takes to develop consensus.

How will you determine when consensus has been reached?

We base our definition of consensus on the ISEAL Codes, which refers to the lack of sustained dissent from any stakeholder group.

Isn’t consensus too much to ask for?

We think consensus is achievable. We think that the focus on safety and sustainability (measurable criteria) can help us reach consensus.

Who decides when consensus has been reached?

The Stakeholder Representative Council will have ultimate authority to determine whether the Ayahuasca Agreement needs to be further revised through community consultation.

Who is on the Stakeholder Representative Council?

We are inviting nominees throughout the first half of 2015, longer if necessary. The Council will be made up of people in this way 1) public nominations, 2) nominations posted on the ESC website for public comments from the ayahuasca community, and 3) final approval by the ESC Board. Nominations can be made at “nominations at ethnobotanicalcouncil dot org”. Read more here.

Why such a complicated process?

Because we want the ayahuasca community to have complete confidence in the ESC’s work and also to have power to supervise our actions.

Who invited you to do this work?

We responded to calls from people in the wider ayahuasca community who have suggested in various ways over the years that cross-cultural principles and practices should be developed to keep people safer and help steward plant medicines like ayahuasca in our global age.

Are you a bunch of gringos?

Yes and no. Our global network is multi-cultural and multi-lingual. The Ayahuasca Dialogues process ensures that no one group of voices (southern or northern) dominates the consensus building process. (See the ISEAL Codes)

Are you trying to sanitize ayahuasca culture?

No. We just want people to be safer.

How are you going to stop so-called “false healers” or others from doing harm?

We aren’t. All we are asking is that if healers agree to implement the eventual community-defined Ayahuasca Agreement, that harmful outcomes have a cross-cultural space for discussion and learning, which will be led by the Stakeholder Representative Council.

Are you putting all of the responsibility on centers or communities to keep seekers safe?

We want to make it easier for seekers to stay safer in the Amazon and know that their drinking of ayahuasca is bringing benefits. If one of the outcomes of the Ayahuasca Dialogues can be to define both hosts’ and seekers’ rights and responsibilities, then ayahuasca exchanges can involve more reciprocity. This helps make safety and stewardship of the Amazon and ayahuasca the responsibility of everyone involved. These issues will be further refined through the Ayahuasca Dialogues process.

Are ESC activities going to impact native peoples?

We think it’s important to separate semi-commercial ayahuasca activities and indigenous shamanism and not negatively impact cultures that wish to set their own economic or other boundaries.

Do you claim to represent ayahuasca or any traditions?

No. The ESC’s role is not to represent anyone, but to understand different people’s opinions about how to improve sustainability and safety. We are accountable to the groups we work with, which is why we are inviting them to join the Stakeholder Representative Council. We are not their representatives.

How are you going to keep people safe in the jungle?

There’s no 100% security anywhere, but we hope that our work can help keep people safer.

How are you going to cooperate with groups who define their own safety or sustainability practices? Are you going to recognize these systems? If so, how do you avoid playing favorites?

Part of the Ayahuasca Dialogues will involve learning from, understanding, and collaborating with groups like UMIYAC or others who define their own guidelines on safety. We feel that any local systems that demonstrably improve safe use and sustainability are worth learning from and maybe even working with.

Are you working from the top down?

No, we’re working from the ground up responding to individual and collective suggestions.

Are you going to ask healers to reveal the content of ayahuasca brews?

No. We focus instead on safety and sustainability.

Still have questions? Please contact us.

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Due to sustained opposition from a small but significant portion of stakeholders, we have dissolved the Ethnobotanical Stewardship Council.

We are grateful for your support in increasing dialogue, learning with one another, and raising awareness about safer, more sustainable, and more reciprocal traditional plant use practices.

For a summary of our work, please see our 2014 financial report or our Dialogues Report.

If you are interested in learning more about ethnobotanicals, please visit ICEERS.