União do Vegetal

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União do Vegetal
Formation 1961
Type New religious movement
Headquarters Brasília, Brazil
Official language
José Gabriel da Costa
Website www.udv.org.br

União do Vegetal (Portuguese: Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal [ˈsẽtɾw isˈpiɾitɐ benefiˈsẽtʃ uniˈɐ̃w du veʒeˈtaw]; or UDV) is a spiritist belief with Christian imagery. It is based on the use of ayahuasca in a program of spiritual evolution based on mental concentration and the search for self-knowledge. Among the Brazilian ayahuasca religions, the UDV is marked by its commitments to organized expansion, centralized authority, and recognition by world governments as a legitimate religious practice. The translation of União do Vegetal is Union of the Plant.


Claiming roots as far back as the tenth century BC, members feel the movement then lay dormant before reappearing in Incan Peru in the fourth and fifth centuries BC. UDV as it is known today however was "re-created" on July 22, 1961 in Porto Velho, Rondônia, Brazil by the rubber-tapper José Gabriel da Costa, now known as Mestre Gabriel.

Mestre Gabriel was born in 1922 in Coração de Maria, a town near Feira de Santana. Uneducated, he left home at the age of 20 to become a rubber tapper in the Amazon region, thereby coming into contact with the South American Indians of Bolivia and Caboclos of Brazil, experiencing their ayahuasca. Inspired by his visions, he founded UDV. Mestre Gabriel died in 1971.

In Brazil, a number of modern religious movements based on the use of ayahuasca have emerged, one of them being the União do Vegetal. These movements are considered to be animist, shamanist spiritism mixed with Christian imagery. The União do Vegetal uses the term "Christian Spiritism" to describe its religious denomination. The União do Vegetal has members and churches throughout the world. UDV has approximately 15,000 members in Brazil, the US and Europe. UDV members participate in ritual consumption of Hoasca (ayahuasca) in a group setting.[1] The UDV states that Hoasca tea is not hallucinogenic but that it is drunk for the effect of mental concentration.

U.S. Supreme Court case[edit]

Hoasca tea made from Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis (the only two ingredients used in the UDV's preparation of Hoasca) was shipped to the American membership from Brazil. U.S. Customs agents seized a shipment and raided a UDV member's office, finding over 30 gallons of Hoasca tea in 1999. The UDV sued in 2000, seeking exemption from the Controlled Substances Act and equal treatment under the law.

In 2001, the 10th Circuit Court of New Mexico granted a preliminary injunction preventing the government from interfering with UDV's religious use of Hoasca. The Government appealed and the appeals court stayed the injunction of the lower court. In December 2004, the Supreme Court lifted a stay thereby allowing the church to use Hoasca tea in their Christmas services that year. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the case on 1 November 2005.

On February 21, 2006 the Supreme Court issued its ruling on the case. The court ruled, unanimously, that the lower courts had not erred in holding that the federal government had failed to prove the "compelling interest" in barring UDV use of hoasca required under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion in the case, in the second opinion he authored as a member of the Court. The case was remanded to a lower court for further proceedings. The UDV website gives no information on the result of this case.[2]

One of the active compounds of Hoasca is DMT,[3] which is produced by the human body and in many plants. DMT is classified in the United States as a Schedule I drug. Plants, animals, and humans containing DMT are not.[citation needed] Neither Banisteriopsis caapi nor Psychotria viridis are listed in any Schedule of the Controlled Substances Act.

Health of UDV members[edit]

A study of UDV members by psychiatrist Charles Grob of the UCLA School of Medicine found them to be psychologically and physically healthier than average, and he has recommended ayahuasca as a treatment for depression.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Salak, Kira. "HELL AND BACK: Ayahuasca". National Geographic Adventure. 
  2. ^ Supreme Court Case União do Vegetal USA.
  3. ^ "A general introduction to Ayahuasca". Ayahuasca is as complex as both chemistry and psychopharmacology can get. There's a uniquely vast array of botanical sources, and an infinite amount of preparation methods, usually involving psychoactive compounds that we're only beginning to comprehend scientifically, such as DMT and 5-MeO-DMT. The UDV prepares Hoasca tea using only the two plants Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis. 
  4. ^ Third Way magazine, October 2010, published by Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd.


  • Grob C.S. et al. (1996) "Human Psychopharmacology of Hoasca, a Plant Hallucinogen used in Ritual Context in Brazil" draft paper for the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease

External links[edit]