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Drink Ye All of It

Next time you enjoy a cup of fair trade tea and a digestive after church, spare a thought for the Christian group in Santa Fe who have won a legal battle that dragged on since 1999 to drink their choice of tea.

It's not an after-church brew, and its qualities are rather more potent than 'warm and wet'. The church is a branch of the Brazilian Uniao do Vegetal, and its tea is ayahuasca, a class A drug, which it uses sacramentally.

Uniao do Vegetal (UDV) is said to have 15,000 members in Brazil, the US and Spain. It was organized in 1961  by the Brzilian rubber tapper Jose Gabriel da Costa, though it claims to to have existed for centuries.

In 1999, US customs seized 30 gallons of the UDV's ayahuasca. The church's lawyers argued that this was unconstitutional under the 'Sherbert Test' which prohibits the state from placing a substantial burden on sincere religious practices, unless it can prove 'compelling state interest'.

It took five years for the UDV to get permission to use ayahuasca, and only in August 2010 did the case finally conclude in their favour.

UDV members claim that their tea is too weak to be halucinogenic (or entheogenic), merely aiding concentration in their spiritual exercises. In which case their practices have evolved somewhat since Gabriel's first experiments with it, which gave him the vision that led to forming the church.

A study UDV members by the 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.