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    Country by Country: Legal Status Map

    At the national levels there is a widespread divergence of interpretation of how international legal frameworks should be to ayahuasca. In order to avoid risks, it is important to know the specific legal situation of each country.

    DMT, main active ingredient in ayahuasca, is classified as a Schedule I drug under the United Nations 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, meaning that international trade is closely monitored and its use is supposed to be restricted to scientific research and medical use. Natural materials containing DMT, including ayahuasca, are not regulated under the Convention. Although the majority of the world’s nations classify DMT as a scheduled drug, few countries seem to have laws specifically addressing the possession or use of ayahuasca.

    “Many plants that contain psychoactive substances with stimulating or hallucinogenic properties, as well as preparations made from those plants, have traditional uses in some countries or regions; for example, some are used in religious rites. Under the 1961 Convention and that Convention as amended by the 1972 Protocol, plants that are the sources of narcotic drugs, such as cannabis plant, opium poppy and coca bush, are subject to specific control measures. In contrast, although some active stimulant or hallucinogenic ingredients contained in certain plants are controlled under the 1971 Convention, no plants are currently controlled under that Convention or under the 1988 Convention. Preparations (e.g. decoctions for oral use) made from plants containing those active ingredients are also not under international control.”

    (Art. 284 of the Report of the International Narcotics Control Board for 2010).


    General situation

    In Uruguay, there is a bit of legal void with regards to ayahuasca’s legal status. Firstly, the trafficking and selling of psychoactive substances is criminalized, but personal use is not. However, the maximum quantity of the controlled substance that one individual may possess for personal use before it is considered trafficking is not clearly defined. Secondly, and as in other countries, DMT is a controlled substance in Uruguay but the legal status of ayahuasca itself is uncertain. This ambiguous situation led to the confiscation of several liters of the brew destined for the Uruguayan Santo Daime community at the Brazilian border.

    Finally, Uruguay modern state was inspired by the French Jacobean Laic tradition and there is therefore a clear separation between political and religious institutions. Notably, Uruguay has rejected its indigenous roots. The emergence of new religious and spiritual groups related to ayahuasca has therefore generated debates in the mass media, since these ritual practices combine two problematic semantic fields – “drugs” and “religion.” The media has frequently warned the public about new “dangerous cults” coming into the country.

    The legal situation of ayahuasca currently remains unresolved, as in other countries. However, participants and members of the ayahuasca centers and institutions continue to carry out their rituals in an informal network that does not appear to be a major concern for the authorities.

    International law

    The Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971) subjects several psychoactive compounds contained in plant species to international control. DMT (N,N-dimetyltryptamine, a tryptamine alkaloid contained in Psychotria viridis and other plants generally used in the preparation of ayahuasca) is a Schedule I controlled substance in the Convention. However, according to the International Narcotic Control Board (INCB) Report for 2010 (par. 284) ‘no plants are currently controlled under that Convention […]. Preparations (e.g. decoctions for oral use) made from plants containing those active ingredients are also not under international control’.

    There is no general consensus among judges and law enforcement officials on whether ayahuasca is illegal because it contains DMT, or not. It is up to national governments to make the final decision in their own jurisdictions on whether to impose controls on these plants and preparations, including ayahuasca.

    National drug legislation

    In Uruguay drugs are regulated under 1998’s Law 17.016, which was a modification of the Act 14.294 of 1974 that was signed to comply with obligations under the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The 1998 law established lower penalties and established that small quantities should be considered as personal use, but how this part of the law is interpreted usually depends on the “moral beliefs” of judges. The law does not penalize the consumption and possession of drugs for personal use, but prohibits traffic, sales, and distribution.

    Over the past few years, new policies were developed that introduced regulations specific to tobacco, alcohol, and cannabis. In 2006, a smoking ban was introduced that prohibited smoking in public spaces, leading to an intensified persecution of tobacco. Following this new regulation, Phillip Morris (a multi-national tobacco company) took the country to the Haya International Court, with the outcome favoring Uruguay. Regulations for alcohol limited consumption and sales.

    The most famous Uruguayan drug policy initiative has been the regulation of the cannabis market through Law 19.172, which was passed in 2013 and regulates recreational, medical and industrial uses of cannabis through state institutions. As explained above, this regulation has been accompanied by a strong international advocacy movement led by the Uruguayan government and civil society at the UN level. For recreational use, the law allows for three options. First, individuals to cultivate up to six female cannabis plants each, once they have registered with the Cannabis Regulation and Control Institute (IRCCA). Second, the law permits the creation of “cannabis clubs,” in which a group of 15-45 cannabis users can associate after they first register with the IRCCA. In the clubs, members can cultivate up to 99 plants for personal use only. And finally, the third option requires cannabis users to register in central registry, after which they can purchase cannabis from pharmacies.


    On November 14, 2009, in the city of Chuy at the border between Uruguay and Brazil, customs confiscated 30 liters of ayahuasca destined for the Santo Daime Church. The ayahuasca had come from Porto Alegre, in southern Brazil, and was being transported to the capital city of Uruguay, Montevideo. The person who transported ayahuasca was not charged, but the ayahuasca was confiscated and was delivered to a technical police institution and the Minister of Health to determine its psychoactive components. The Uruguayan Minister of Health also consulted their Brazilian counterpart, who expressed that the components of the liquid are protected plant species in Brazil and that the export of the liquid from Brazil is forbidden. This seems to be a unique correspondence, but unfortunately we could not obtain any of these documents.

    The Santo Daime Church of Uruguay, Céu de Luz, defended its case using the constitutional principle of freedom of religious practice, which is guaranteed in Article 5 of the Uruguayan constitution, and requested for the return of the 30 liters of Daime. No one was arrested or prosecuted, however, the process continues in a type of legal limbo and the bottles of Daime have not been returned to the church.

    In the public arena, the debate about ayahuasca religious practices appeared in the mass media in 2010 when the father of a former participant of the Santo Daime church accused the center of being responsible for the suicide of his son. The media constructed the case with two powerful semantic ideas that have impact in the collective imagination – those of “drugs” and “cults.” The Santo Daime was portrayed as a cult that uses an Amazonian hallucinogen to brainwash their participants. However, the case did not have judicial consequences and public concern calmed. Up until now, the Uruguayan state and its drug policy institutions do not consider ayahuasca as a threat to public health and focus primarily on drug trafficking and health.

    Relevant documents

    In the 1990s, ayahuasca movements appeared, such as the Santo Daime church and different neo-shamanic and holistic therapeutic groups like Camino Rojo (“Red Path”), Sol de la Nueva Aurora (“Sun of the New Dawn”), and Ayariri.

    The first ayahuasca ceremonies in Santo Daime-like settings took place in 1991. In 1996 the Céu de Luz church was founded. In 2002, the Uruguayan Minister of Education and Culture officially recognized it, after it was registered as a non-governmental organization (NGO). In Uruguay, the official process to register a religious institution is similar to registering an NGO. Like other religious institutions, the Céu de Luz was officially registered as an NGO with religious proposes, with the name Centro de Iluminación Cristiana José Gonçalves [the José Gonçalves Christian Illumination Centre]. Finally, in 2006 it was officially recognized by ICEFLU/CEFLURIS.

    Red Path is an international organization led by the Mexican Aurelio Díaz Tepankalli. The members of this organization use a variety of psychoactive substances in their rituals, including ayahuasca. The Uruguayan center appeared in the mid-1990s and was initially recognized in 1994 by Aurelio Díaz. After some time, the Uruguayan Red Path separated from the international organization led by Tekpankalli and currently acts as an autonomous center, and is also registered with the Minister of Education and Culture under the name Camino de los Hijos de la Tierra [Path of the Children of the Earth]. They combine Gestalt psychology and Red Path ceremonies settings with local adaptations.

    The Sun of the New Dawn registered as an NGO 2010. The leader decided to adapt the design of the ceremonies to Uruguayan culture, which resulted in the establishment of a new local religious practice. He is somewhat inspired by the Santo Daime and used to follow the Nossa Senhora da Conceição Brazilian ayahuasca Church led by Gideon dos Lakotas (who recently passed away). A few years ago, the Sun of the New Dawn separated from the Brazilian church and they are developing different ayahuasca ceremonies inspired by the Charrua [local indigenous peoples] symbolism.

    Ayariri is a holistic center for alternative therapies led by a follower of Stanislav Grof, a therapist who offers different healing practices. Ayariri offers yoga, Holotropic Breathwork, Circular Dances, psychotherapy, creativity, body development techniques, and mystic tourism, one of which is an ayahuasca ceremony in the Peruvian vegetalismo style.

    As neo-shamanism becomes increasingly popular among the middle and upper classes, other neo-shamanic ayahuasca groups are emerging. Psychologists are leading at least two groups, one of whom is a physician who uses ayahuasca and other sacred plants as adjunct to his health treatments. Other groups are more specifically focused on treating drug addiction with ayahuasca ceremonies.

    While some initiative was taken to regulate ayahuasca in Uruguay by ayahuasca leaders in the past, there is currently no consensuses among them. There doesn’t seem to be any repressive policies being developed that target these groups.

    Updated: June 2017