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  • Local shamans warn against the usage of Ayahuasca as a psychoactive drug, taken out of its cultural and ritualistic purpose.

    Local shamans warn against the usage of Ayahuasca as a psychoactive drug, taken out of its cultural and ritualistic purpose. | Photo: EFE

Published 20 June 2019

When combined, the herbs of the Ayahuasca root produce the potent psychotropic tourists are craving.

A pair of traditional and medicinal South American herbs, Banisteriopsis Caapi and Chacruna (or Psychotria Viridis,) used during ayahuasca rituals are at risk for hyper-commercialization due to their hallucinogenic properties.

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Endemic to the Amazonian regions of Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela the plants are traditionally used in shamanic rituals, guided by ‘yachaks’ or a community’s spiritual leader. When combined, the herbs produce a potent psychotropic which contains dimethyltryptamine.

"When the plant is taken, the effect produced is not ' hallucinogenic,' as it is usually sold abroad, but it is entheogenic, that is to say, during the ritual, several parts work simultaneously, both at a bodily and mental level. It's like the awakening of conscience, a process that can last for days, tourists often ask for a drug withdrawal to have fun and it's not what should be done, it's not entertainment," Roger Neira, director and founder of 'Ayahuasca Peru' told RT.

The custom has caught the attention of the tourism industry, foreigners are flocking to the region to "experience" the herbs’ unusual properties. Now included in most tourism packets, a shot of the pungent herbal tea can go for US$70 or up to US$500 for multiple doses.

“Ninety percent of the centers of healing and consumption of ayahuasca in Peru are owned by foreigners, mostly North Americans. There is a new 'colonization' of this ancestral practice. We see that they hire shamans or teachers to exploit them touristically and that is not a healthy practice because it tends to great disinformation of the true use," Neira explained.

In a move to protect them, Peru declared the plants a “cultural heritage” in 2008, explaining that the pair were “central” to rituals of traditional Amazonian medicine.

At the same time, the tourism experience has brought violence to the region with at least five deaths recorded over the last seven years. Last April, a Canadian traveler, enraged over a payment dispute, lashed out and killed his ancient shaman. The community rose up and lynched him in return.

Three years prior, a Canadian reportedly murdered a British ex-analyst during a session. While in 2012, a Peruvian owner and his German assistant were caught burying the remains of a U.S. visitor, whose stay at the treatment center had taken a deadly turn. 

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