20.06.2024

Inside the murky world of ayahuasca, the hallucinogenic, Amazonian brew loved by the middle classes

It’s a powerful, hallucinogenic drug which has been used by Amazonian tribes for centuries. Yet ayahuasca’s use isn’t just confined to shamanistic rituals deep in the jungles of Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador — or young Western travellers experimenting while they journey through South America.

Celebrities and the middle classes are also fans of the psychedelic brew, which can make users vomit during their quest for ‘spiritual enlightenment’.

Prince Harry earlier this year opened up about his own experience with ayahuasca, with the Duke of Sussex claiming it ‘changed me’ and describing it as ‘cleaning the windscreen’ of his troubled mind.

Now Ben Goldsmith, the son of late billionaire tycoon Sir James, has detailed his own visions on ayahuasca.

Now Ben Goldsmith, the son of late billionaire tycoon Sir James, has detailed his own incident with ayahuasca. The millionaire financier, 42, heartbreakingly revealed to The Sunday Times that he saw his late daughter, Iris, again while on the drug. She was just 15 when she lost her life in a tragic buggy accident. Pictured together

Now Ben Goldsmith, the son of late billionaire tycoon Sir James, has detailed his own incident with ayahuasca. The millionaire financier, 42, heartbreakingly revealed to The Sunday Times that he saw his late daughter, Iris, again while on the drug. She was just 15 when she lost her life in a tragic buggy accident. Pictured together

Ben told how he witnessed a showreel of her life, from a 'tiny baby gazing with sky-blue eyes up at a 23-year-old me' to hearing her 'infectious giggle'. Pictured, Iris

Ben told how he witnessed a showreel of her life, from a ‘tiny baby gazing with sky-blue eyes up at a 23-year-old me’ to hearing her ‘infectious giggle’. Pictured, Iris

The millionaire financier, 42, heartbreakingly revealed to The Sunday Times that he saw his late daughter, Iris, again while on the drug.

She was just 15 when she lost her life in a tragic buggy accident. Ben told how he witnessed a showreel of her life, from a ‘tiny baby gazing with sky-blue eyes up at a 23-year-old me’ to hearing her ‘infectious giggle’.

His encounter has, once again, shone the spotlight on to ayahuasca — and its darker side.

Presenter Bruce Parry, famous for making eye-opening documentaries in remote parts of the world, has been partly credited with ‘bringing ayahuasca to the middle classes’.

After taking it with indigenous tribes in Iquitos, Peru, he called the bitter brew one of his ‘greatest healing methodologies’ when discussing its effects in 2013.

In a frank admission, Bruce said he takes it ‘as often as possible’ in Colombia and other parts of the world.

No data exists to prove how commonly the drink is used in the UK.

Yet there are dozens of events and retreats, which cost up to £1,500 for a week, in the UK that have been shared online under the hashtag ayahuasca, or promising ayahuasca ceremonies.

DMT is the active ingredient in ayahuasca, which makes it a Class A Drug.

Possession can come with a prison term of up to seven years in the UK and an unlimited fine.

It is made by combining the bark from a Banisteriopsis caapi vine tree and leaves from the Psychotria viridis bush — both of which are native to South America — and originally used by shamans for healing and religious rituals.

The psychedelic affects all the senses — altering a person’s thinking, sense of time and emotions.

It can make users feel tripped out, hallucinate or feel frightened and confused.

Its effects, which are almost instantaneous and said to be similar to LSD and magic mushrooms, also include raised blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature, as well as nausea, diarrhoea and anxiety.

Experts feared the spotlight surrounding the drug, following Prince Harry’s interview in March and mention in his explosive memoir Spare, could ‘promote’ the ‘quack therapy’ as a way to ‘remove life’s filters’.

Ayahuasca triggered feelings of 'release' and 'comfort' that helped him deal with his trauma, Prince Harry said. He added: 'It was the cleaning of the windscreen, cleaning of the windshield, the removal of life's filters just as much as on Instagram, these layers of filters. 'It removed it all for me and brought me a sense of relaxation, release, comfort, a lightness that I managed to hold on to for a period of time. 'I started doing it recreationally and then started to realise how good it was for me, I would say it is one of the fundamental parts of my life that changed me and helped me deal with the traumas and pains of the past'

Ayahuasca triggered feelings of ‘release’ and ‘comfort’ that helped him deal with his trauma, Prince Harry said. He added: ‘It was the cleaning of the windscreen, cleaning of the windshield, the removal of life’s filters just as much as on Instagram, these layers of filters. ‘It removed it all for me and brought me a sense of relaxation, release, comfort, a lightness that I managed to hold on to for a period of time. ‘I started doing it recreationally and then started to realise how good it was for me, I would say it is one of the fundamental parts of my life that changed me and helped me deal with the traumas and pains of the past’

The Duke of Sussex’s comments were made during a tell-all with Dr Maté, an author and trauma expert who is an advocate of decriminalising drugs.

The Hungarian-Canadian doctor has used ayahuasca to treat his patients suffering from mental illness.

In the interview, which UK viewers were charged £19 to watch — and receive a copy of his book — Prince Harry discussed the rift with his family and his experience with drugs.

He said cocaine ‘didn’t do anything’ for him, though it was a ‘social thing’ and gave him a ‘sense of belonging’.

But marijuana ‘really’ helped him.

And ayahuasca triggered feelings of ‘release’ and ‘comfort’ that helped him deal with his trauma, Prince Harry said.

He added: ‘It was the cleaning of the windscreen, cleaning of the windshield, the removal of life’s filters just as much as on Instagram, these layers of filters.

‘It removed it all for me and brought me a sense of relaxation, release, comfort, a lightness that I managed to hold on to for a period of time.

‘I started doing it recreationally and then started to realise how good it was for me, I would say it is one of the fundamental parts of my life that changed me and helped me deal with the traumas and pains of the past.’

In a previous interview, Prince Harry claimed he would not recommend taking the substance recreationally.

But he added: ‘Doing it with the right people if you are suffering from a huge amount of loss, grief or trauma, then these things have a way of working as a medicine.’

In the interview with the Duke of Sussex, Dr Maté denied that the drug can trigger side effects such as vomiting — which one study found affects seven in 10 users — and hallucinations.

He said: ‘You purge with it sometimes, it’s a good thing. It doesn’t give you hallucination — it gives you visions… You think it’s really happening.’

In the interview broadcast online, Prince Harry talked to Dr Gabor Maté (pictured), a controversial author and trauma expert who is an advocate of decriminalising drugs. The Hungarian-Canadian doctor has used ayahuasca to treat his patients suffering from mental illness. In the interview, which viewers were charged £19 to watch — and get a copy of his book — Prince Harry discussed the rift with his family and his experience with drugs

In the interview broadcast online, Prince Harry talked to Dr Gabor Maté (pictured), a controversial author and trauma expert who is an advocate of decriminalising drugs. The Hungarian-Canadian doctor has used ayahuasca to treat his patients suffering from mental illness. In the interview, which viewers were charged £19 to watch — and get a copy of his book — Prince Harry discussed the rift with his family and his experience with drugs

Kate Hyatt (pictured) killed herself in October 2021. The actress and artist suffered severe psychosis after taking the hallucinogen for what she believed were medicinal reasons

Kate Hyatt (pictured) killed herself in October 2021. The actress and artist suffered severe psychosis after taking the hallucinogen for what she believed were medicinal reasons

Jennifer Spencer, 29, died by suicide after suffering from severe psychosis as a result of taking ayahuasca ¿ a Class A hallucinogenic drug

Jennifer Spencer, 29, died by suicide after suffering from severe psychosis as a result of taking ayahuasca – a Class A hallucinogenic drug

Traditional psychoactive plants that can trigger health problems

For thousands of years before the arrival of European explorers, native American tribes harnessed the psychoactive properties of plants for magic and ritual.

Since the 1960s hippy trail reached South America, Western visitors have been tempted to ‘broaden their consciousness’ by consuming hallucinogenic drinks mixed by local shamen – traditional healers and spiritual guides.

While substances such as ayahuasca are illegal to possess or supply in the UK, overseas retreats where people can sample them are widely promoted online, and many users have reported trying them in this country as well.

Actress Lindsay Lohan credited drinking ayahuasca – which is created by pounding vine stems in boiling water – with helping to free her from ‘the wreckage of my past’.

Musician Sting is also a proponent, saying ayahuasca had convinced him a ‘higher intelligence’ was at work.

Users experience hours of illusions and flashbacks. It is illegal in the UK as it contains the Class A drug DMT.

Experts warn ayahuasca and similar potions could trigger underlying mental health conditions or heart problems.

There are reports that tourists in South America have been robbed after being drugged by bogus shamen.

After the death of backpacker Henry Miller, 19, from Bristol, who paid £13 to try ayahuasca during his gap year trip to Colombia in 2014, a coroner warned against taking part in such rituals.

Wachuma – brewed from the mescaline-producing San Pedro cactus and known as ‘the doorway’ – causes vomiting and 12-hour hallucinations, risking exacerbating underlying mental illness.

The cacti are legal to own – but only if not intended for human consumption.

However, he noted: ‘I don’t think it’s a panacea for dealing with trauma.’

Professor Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter, told MailOnline at the time: ‘Ayahuasca is an under-researched botanical hallucinogenic and psychedelic drug that has shown some rather preliminary promise in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

‘Adverse effects are on record, some of which are serious.

‘Its promotion as a life-changing treatment is unwise at best and irresponsible at worst.’

Dr Max Pemberton, an NHS psychiatrist in London and columnist for The Daily Mail, claimed that Prince Harry had been ‘seduced by the fashionability of the drug, which is popular among the trendy middle classes’.

Three Brits, including Kate Hyatt, are known to have died after taking the drug.

The 32-year-old killed herself in October 2021. The actress and artist suffered severe psychosis after taking the drug for what she believed were medicinal reasons.

Following Prince Harry’s confession with controversial psychologist Gabor Maté, Kate’s grief-stricken mother Michelle wrote a five-page letter to King Charles urging him to stop his son extolling its effects.

Michelle at the time said: ‘The King is a parent and I wanted him to know how it felt as a grieving mother. His son’s comments are irresponsible, ill-judged and could lead people down the path to devastation.

‘I am angry and disappointed.

‘The experience Prince Harry described does not correlate with my daughter’s. He has a platform – discussing the use of that drug to help mental health is disgraceful.’

The family of Jennifer Spencer, who died by suicide aged 29 after taking ayahuasca in Peru in 2019, also said Harry’s comments were ‘irresponsible’.

Ms Spencer suffered severe psychosis as a result of her experience with the drug.

Henry Miller, from Bristol, died in 2014, aged 19, in the Columbian rainforest, which he had travelled to in order to be part of a shamanic ritual and take ayahuasca.

On his first try, he felt no effects from the brew, so went back two days later to try it again. But soon after drinking one cup, his breathing slowed and he became unwell.

While there is no data on how commonly the brown-reddish brewed drink (pictured) is used in the UK. But it is thought to be popular among the middle classes

While there is no data on how commonly the brown-reddish brewed drink (pictured) is used in the UK. But it is thought to be popular among the middle classes

Presenter Bruce Parry (pictured), famous for making documentaries in remote parts of the world, has been partly credited with 'bringing ayahuasca to the middle classes'. After taking it with indigenous tribes in Iquitos, Peru, he called the bitter brew one of his 'greatest healing methodologies' when discussing its effects in 2013

Presenter Bruce Parry (pictured), famous for making documentaries in remote parts of the world, has been partly credited with ‘bringing ayahuasca to the middle classes’. After taking it with indigenous tribes in Iquitos, Peru, he called the bitter brew one of his ‘greatest healing methodologies’ when discussing its effects in 2013

Ayahuasca is made by combining the bark from a Banisteriopsis caapi vine tree and leaves from the Psychotria viridis bush ¿ both of which are native to south America ¿ and originally used by shamans for healing and religious rituals

Ayahuasca is made by combining the bark from a Banisteriopsis caapi vine tree and leaves from the Psychotria viridis bush — both of which are native to south America — and originally used by shamans for healing and religious rituals

His body was found by the side of a road, after two men tried to take him to hospital and ‘panicked’ when he died en route, an inquest heard at the time.

A coroner ruled that it was an accidental death by intoxification.

Last year, actor Will Smith revealed during an interview with Oprah Winfrey that he drank the brew over 12 times during a retreat in Peru while having marital problems with his wife Jada.

Mike Tyson also said psychedelics saved his life, while Hunter Biden said profound trips helped him become sober.

Actress Lindsay Lohan also credited drinking ayahuasca – which is created by pounding vine stems in boiling water – with helping to free her from ‘the wreckage of my past’.

Meanwhile, musician Sting is a proponent, saying ayahuasca had convinced him a ‘higher intelligence’ was at work.

And Aaron Rodgers, an American football quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, revealed that he took the drugs on two separate retreats to Peru, which he credited for helping with ‘a lot of healing’.

Last year, actor Will Smith revealed during an interview with Oprah Winfrey that he drank the brew over 12 times during a retreat in Peru while having marital problems with his wife Jada

Last year, actor Will Smith revealed during an interview with Oprah Winfrey that he drank the brew over 12 times during a retreat in Peru while having marital problems with his wife Jada

Former boxer Mike Tyson said psychedelics saved his life. Pictured in February in Saudi Arabia

Former boxer Mike Tyson said psychedelics saved his life. Pictured in February in Saudi Arabia

Actress Lindsay Lohan credited drinking ayahuasca – which is created by pounding vine stems in boiling water – with helping to free her from 'the wreckage of my past'

Actress Lindsay Lohan credited drinking ayahuasca – which is created by pounding vine stems in boiling water – with helping to free her from ‘the wreckage of my past’

And Aaron Rodgers, an American football quarterback who now plays for the New York Jets after a blockbuster trade from the Green Bay Packers, revealed that he took the drugs on two separate retreats to Peru, which he credited for helping with 'a lot of healing'

And Aaron Rodgers, an American football quarterback who now plays for the New York Jets after a blockbuster trade from the Green Bay Packers, revealed that he took the drugs on two separate retreats to Peru, which he credited for helping with ‘a lot of healing’

Experts warn that the ‘intense’ trips the drink can trigger may lead flashbacks or even a mental health condition.

Its use dates back to 900BC, when it was taken for religious and medicinal purposes.

While it continues to be used in this way in south America, the use by tourists has grown.

It is popular among tourists travelling in South America, who drink the brew during a ceremony, led by a healer or shaman, at specialist retreat centres.

Some studies have suggested ayahuasca could improve mental health and some credit it for tackling addiction, depression and trauma.

A recent University College London study found the so-called ‘jungle tea’ may boost wellbeing and lower the risk of depression.

The UCL researchers, who examined results from the Global Drug Survey, said those who took the plant, which causes hallucinations that last up to six hours, were also less likely to develop eating disorders.

If you are affected by any of the issues raised by this article, you can call the Samaritans anonymously for free on 116 123

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