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It's described as the "yoga of drugs." But this is the truth about ayahuasca.

Ayahuasca is an hallucinogenic brew that’s been described as the yoga of drugs, and more and more Westerners are heading into the Peruvian jungle to try it.

The tea has been used by indigenous Amazonian cultures in religious ceremonies for centuries, and when you drink it, it takes you on a spiritual journey that can last for up to eight hours.

It’ll also make you vomit, have diarrhea, and completely lose your own sense of awareness and consciousness.

Foreigners who ingest the brew place their own safety and wellbeing in the hands of shamans they met only moments beforehand.

"What's complicated are your emotional attachments and obligations and others' feelings." Image via iStock.

So why are they doing it?

In her article for ELLE,  American writer Arianne Cohen talks about her own experience with ayahuasca, to her it was "like a tumultuous dream, with an internal magic wand that I waved over my soul, pausing each time I felt a soft spot."

Cohen wanted to try the ritual to work through her ex issues, figure out her career and finally address the eating issues that had been following her around all her life.

After Cohen ingested the tea, she immediately saw a vision of 'pink demons' blocking her way. She then vomited into a bucket for over an hour, before seeing herself as a "white Pillsbury Doughboy–style blob floating down her street".

"Reaching out to stop me were the inconsequential tiffs and difficult people in my life, each spraying colorful fields of their particular crazy. My blob wanted an unobstructed roadway," she wrote.

"Surveying my life sans ego, the solutions to various problems became immediately apparent. Many of our troubles are not, actually, complicated. You're going to act or not. What's complicated are your emotional attachments and obligations and others' feelings."

Ayahuasca ceremonies have made their way to pop culture. Image via Universal.

After that initial experience, Cohen tried ayahuasca seven more times. She described feeling 'clear' afterwards.

"Which is not to be confused with empty. I could easily access emotions and thoughts and was aware of what my body wanted—food, exercise, sleep, etc. In the weeks that followed, I continued to listen to my body's signals, one of which, one day while I was working, was to go buy a snack."

However, not everyone's experience is as glowing as Cohen's.

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In September 2015, a New Zealand man died while participating in an ayahuasca ceremony in the Peruvian port city of Iquitos, deep in the Amazon.


Matthew Dawson-Clarke was healthy 24-year-old, who wanted to try ayahuasca after working on a luxury yacht, chartering the waters of the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.

There are about 17 licensed ayahuasca retreats in Peru, and many more operating illegally. The Kapitari retreat Matthew went to was unlicensed.

Matthew paid US$800 for a 7-day retreat that would include four ayahuasca ceremonies.

There have been at least five deaths at ayahuasca retreats in the region since Matthew died. Image via Universal.

By 5pm on the first day, Matthew had gone into cardiac arrest. A fellow ayahuasca participant performed CPR on him as they tried in vain to get him through the jungle and to a local hospital. By 12pm that night, the Iquitos hospital had handed his body over to the morgue.

There have been at least five deaths at ayahuasca retreats in the region since Matthew died, but so far the retreats and their operators have not been held accountable.

Don Lucho, the shaman at Matthew's ceremony, told Foreign Correspondent that Matthew's death was 'his destiny', while the British tour operator who organised Matthew's trip said 'shit happens'.

"We had well over a thousand people on retreats before Matt came along and no incidents whatsoever."

But he did admit that maybe they were 'complacent'.

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"When something goes wrong you can't just dial an ambulance and have them come out in five minutes like you can in the western world."

However, the deaths and bad trips have not been enough to stop the influx of Westerners into the region, who are hoping to solve their modern dilemmas through this ancient ritual.

And as demand increases, the price and the number of shifty operators in the area, will probably increase too.

Would you ever try ayahuasca?