Supreme Court Hears Case About Hoasca Tea

November 9, 2005
Updated: March 7, 2006

In early November 2005, justices of the US Supreme Court heard arguments for and against the importation of hoasca tea. Hoasca contains dimethyltryptamine (DMT), an illegal, hallucinogenic drug. The tea is used by members of the Brazil-based church called O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal (UDV) during religious ceremonies. There are only 130 members of the church in the United States.

Hoasca tea is made by brewing two Amazonian plants called Psychotria viridis and Banisteriopsis caapi. The plants are considered to be sacred to the UDV and the tea is used for religious purposes only. In May 1999, US Custom agents seized three drums of hoasca tea sent from Brazil to the UDV in the US. After lower courts debated the legality of the seizure, the US Supreme Court heard arguments about whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 should permit the importation, distribution, possession, and use of hoasca by the UDV.

Government's Case AGAINST Hoasca

  • DMT is an unsafe drug and has a high potential for abuse. The drug has actions similar to LSD and can cause psychosis, hallucinations and heart problems.
  • The importation of DMT-containing tea will harm efforts to halt drug abuse. The government must protect the public from harm caused by drugs.
  • Hoasca may be used for non-religious purposes.
  • Because hoasca contains DMT (a Schedule I drug), it is illegal and its importation violates international law.

UDV Response to Government's Case

  • Although hoasca contains DMT, exceptions of Schedule I drugs for religious use have been made in the past. For example, congress changed federal law to allow Native American tribes to use peyote in religious ceremonies.
  • The amount of DMT in hoasca does not cause UDV members to hallucinate.
  • Hoasca rarely causes health problems to UDV members. A seven-year study of UDV members in Brazil showed that of approximately 325,000 uses of hoasca, there were only nine minor health problems reported.
  • There are no documented cases where hoasca has been used for non-religious purposes in the US.
  • The importation of hoasca does not violate some international laws (e.g., the 1971 United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances) because hoasca is not mentioned specifically.
Dimethyltryptamine (DMT)
  • DMT is an illegal drug that can cause hallucinations.
  • DMT can be smoked, snorted, injected or brewed and consumed as a tea.
  • DMT is a Schedule I drug: it is illegal to buy, sell or possess DMT without a license in the United States (and in many other countries).
  • DMT is found naturally in many different plants.
  • DMT acts quickly and has short-lasting effects.

On February 21, 2006, the Supreme Court ruled that U.S. members of a O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal (UDV) had a right to use hoasca for religious purposes.


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