“90% of Spanish police officers have not heard of ayahuasca”

Recent police operations in ayahuasca ceremonies have caused justified alarm among the ayahuasca community, who are questioning the motivations behind this offensive against a practice deeply rooted in Spain, and which to date, has not caused any serious health problems and is legally protected by current legislation and by recurring judicial rulings based on it.

Who orders these police operations? For what purpose? Is the excessive use of force, as shown in videos released by the police themselves, justified? These are some of the questions asked by facilitators and practitioners of ayahuasca, following half a dozen police operations that, to date, have not resulted in a single judicial conviction.

In this context, the participation of a police officer in a recent symposium on shamanism at least partially revealed the police perspective on ayahuasca and answered some of the previously asked questions. The event took place last May in Tarragona, thanks to ICEERS, which invited sub-inspector Marcos Quinteiro to participate in the colloquium ‘Shamanism, Science, and Knowledge: Challenges of the Globalization of Master Plants,’ featuring prominent members of the Barcelona-based NGO, as well as teachers and researchers from the Medical Anthropological Medical Center (MARC) at the Universitat Rovira i Virgil, which hosted the meeting. All videos from that event are available on ICEERS’ website.

Marcos Quinteiro’s presence was justified by his two-year research on ayahuasca, published in ‘Ciencia Policial: Revista Técnica de la Policía Nacional’ (July 2020) in an article more akin to an anthropological study than the admonitory and moralistic discourse that usually prevails in the communications of Law Enforcement agencies regarding psychoactive substances.

You can watch and listen to Quinteiro’s intervention – who attended personally, not as a police representative, as he insisted – in the round table ‘The Multiple Faces of Ayahuasca in Spain’:

Quinteiro participated in several ayahuasca sessions with a facilitator working with ayahuasca and other power plants in Galicia, Fernando [fictitious name]. This is what he saw: “What I saw is that people who participate in ayahuasca ceremonies are not individuals who pose problems for security forces, do not generate social alarm, and usually do not cause any problems.

How can the deployment of 50 heavily armed police officers from Madrid, supported by drones and helicopters to intervene in a yopo ceremony in Asturias involving a dozen people, be justified? Manuel Villaescusa, a psychologist and co-founder of Plantaforma, who participated in the same roundtable as Quinteiro, asked this question.

The sub-inspector explained that the police often err on the side of “excess caution,” because they do not know what they will find on the other side of the door. “The majority of us police officers do not know or have the knowledge you have about these substances. So, we follow set guidelines and do our job, which sometimes is not to everyone’s liking.”

In other words, the officers sent to Langreo (Asturias) or San Paul de Mar (Barcelona) do not know if they will encounter armed-to-the-teeth cocaine traffickers or a group of peaceful ayahuasqueros meditating with incense and palo santo.

As an example of the profound ignorance of the police force regarding the reality of ayahuasca, Quinteiro referred to an informal survey he conducted during his research: “In a survey I conducted among 432 police colleagues from all over Spain, 89% had not even heard of ayahuasca.”

To date, all police operations against ayahuasca ceremonies and other power plants have been ordered by the Destructive Sects Section of the National Police, under the General Information Police Station, based in Madrid. This recently created section operates an email address for reporting destructive sects, as described in this recent article by Libertad Digital.

According to Quinteiro, who is not assigned to the said brigade, “most of the time, this information comes through those emails. These entries are authorized by a judicial order, and for a judge to authorize that entry and search, a lot must be justified. I imagine that there must be specific and detailed information from having done a week or months-long investigation of that movement that led them to believe it could be a destructive sect.”

Questions and answers from the roundtable ‘The Multiple Faces of Ayahuasca in Spain’:

The truth is that these “police suspicions” amount to nothing when the case reaches court. As Quinteiro himself acknowledged during his presentation, of the 16 trials for possession or use of ayahuasca in Spain, 15 have been dismissed by the judge.

In the specific case of Asturias, which received wide media coverage, the judge released the main accused, Swedish citizen Axel Rudin, and the ‘Operation Bunachi’ resulted in the seizure of five grams of marijuana. As a digital newspaper accurately titled after the sentence, ‘The ayahuasca sect was only in the imagination of the Police’.

There was neither a sect nor prohibited substances in the Langreo house. Why then does the police continue to label ayahuasquero groups as “sects”?

Excerpt from an interview with an anonymous representative of the General Information Police Station in Libertad Digital.


-All interventions from the colloquium ‘Shamanism, Science, and Knowledge: Challenges of the Globalization of Master Plants’, organized jointly by MARC and ICEERS.

’La revista de la Policía Nacional reconoce que la ayahuasca no es ilegal y «acarrea beneficios a quien la consume»’, Plataforma, 16 de noviembre de 2022.

’Nueva intervención desproporcionada de la policía durante una ceremonia de ayahuasca’, Plataforma, 28 de marzo de 2023.

«Las sectas destructivas se ajustan a las necesidades del mercado», Libertad Digital, 1 de octubre de 2023.

– ‘La secta de la ayahuasca sólo estaba en la imaginación de la Policía’, Nortes, 28 de marzo de 2023.

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