Colombias ayahuasca ceremonies in spotlight after tourist’s drug death
Western backpackers travelling in increasing numbers into the jungle to take traditional drug administered by shamans
A group of backpackers have gathered around the bar in a hostel in Bogot to discuss their next adventure. Some are heading to the Caribbean coast to soak up the sun. Others are drawn to the idyllic villages in Colombias coffee region. But an intrepid few want to venture further from the beaten track.
In recent years a growing number of tourists have taken trips into the jungle to take ayahuasca, a strong hallucinogenic plant-cocktail long revered by remote indigenous faith healers. The drug, also known as yag, has drawn people from around the world, who contract tribal shamans to administer the ceremonial potion, in the hope of experiencing a spiritual awakening.
I heard a lot of people in Peru were taking it, said Cheri, a backpacker from Germany. But it sounds pretty scary You can lose control of your mind.
The drug made headlines on Wednesday when a British coroner confirmed that Henry Miller, 19-year-old from Bristol, had died after taking a dose in a ceremony four years ago in the Colombian jungle.
The active ingredient in ayahuasca is DMT, a powerful hallucinogen that causes extreme changes in perceptual awareness. That coroner, who ruled that Millers death was accidental, urged the Foreign Office to provide a standard message warning to tourists who want to participate in ayahuasca ceremonies.
Millers experience may serve as a cautionary tale. He had attended one ceremony where he drank three cups of yag but told his family he felt nothing. Two days later he attended another ceremony, but quickly fell ill and was taken by two teenage tribesman towards a nearby hospital on a motorbike. He died en route.
The tribe that administered the ayahuasca apologised and levied a punishment of nettles against the shaman and some of his family.