Meet Ayahuasca: A Breakout Star For Psychedelics Users

Ayahuasca's popularity is experiencing incredible growth - and creating a whole new tourism market in many communities.

Ayahuasca is an ancient hallucinogenic plant from South America that’s been used for sacred indigenous ceremonies for thousands of years. In modern practice, people drink the plant’s brew in group settings, then talk about the experience in an integration session later.

While the experience itself can be challenging, ayahuasca’s popularity is experiencing incredible growth.

Participants vomit, sometimes frequently, during the experience. They feel … weird. They experience a profound transformation as they examine deep soul-searching thoughts, witness mystical images, hear strange new sounds.

It’s all part of a ceremony using the psychedelic ayahuasca. And more people are seeking it out than ever before to help with their depression, defeat an addiction or just find a new meaning to life.

After consuming ayahuasca, people report they feel like they died and were reborn.

Some say ayahuasca can help you become a “better you” after coming out of the three-to-seven-hour experience. Reports are that you feel more positive or connected – often for the first time in your life.

Celebrities Embrace The Journey

You may even feel that slapping a Hollywood comedian on a world stage in front of a live audience is self-satisfying and perfectly appropriate, like Will Smith did. Smith wrote about his experience after more than a dozen ayahuasca rituals in Peru before the slap: “In my 50-plus years on this planet, this is the unparalleled greatest feeling I’ve ever had.”

The guy he slapped, Chris Rock, is also an ayahuasca journeymen. “I’m a changed man,” Rock tweeted after one of his first ayahuasca experiences, years before Will Smith made him part of Hollywood history.

Welcome to the new world of psychedelics-as-a-service.  And ayahuasca appears to be one of the breakout psychedelics, capturing the hearts and minds of Hollywood’s elite and others, including Susan Sarandon, who was buzzed on ayahuasca at Burning Man, and Miley Cyrus, who told Rolling Stone it was one of her favorite drugs she has ever done. Paul Simon tried it and wrote a song about it. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers said ayahuasca was responsible for the best season of his career.

The Economic Impact Of Ayahuasca

This thousand-years-old plant brew is created by boiling together two plants (the stems of one, the leaves of another) that releases the psychoactive alkaloid N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) from the leaves. DMT is widely found in plants and animals and acts as a neurotransmitter.

The participant is generally given about 5-6 ounces of the ayahuasca brew at the beginning of the treatment. Then the journey into self begins.

Ayahuasca has suddenly become the discovery of the century for people trying to get right with themselves, and since 2005, it has fueled a full-blown tourism industry. Masses of people from all parts of the world have traveled to the Amazon to participate in ayahuasca rituals with shamans.

Numerous lodges have transformed some areas of Iquitos, a port city in Peru, into a mecca of shamanic tourism. Estimates of the number of centers in the Iquitos region offering ayahuasca vary from 30 to 100. Local restaurants even offer “ayahuasca diet menus” to cater to the numerous tourists who are observing the restricted diet before and after ayahuasca retreats.

The options for drinking and experiencing ayahuasca in and around Iquitos (in terms of prices and packages) vary enormously. There are nine-day, 12-day, three-week and monthlong retreats, mainly for large groups, with prices ranging from $2,000 to $3,300 per person.

You don’t have to go to South America though. There are ayahuasca retreats in Mexico, Portugal, Croatia, Germany and Austria. Or you can stay in the U.S. and head to Florida or Hawaii, among other locations.

The Mexico retreat includes a six-night accommodation and three ayahuasca ceremonies with six to eight other people for $7,800 per person (airfare not included). A private retreat for just you and a small group of friends starts at $22,000.

According to an article in the New Yorker, San Francisco is one of the U.S. hot spots for ayahuasca. “Ayahuasca is like having a cup of coffee here,” self-help guru Tim Ferriss said. “I have to avoid people at parties because I don’t want to listen to their latest three-hour saga of kaleidoscopic colors.”

This ayahuasca surge comes at a time when the world needs it. It has been associated with improved psychosocial well-being, quality of life and positive traits such as assertiveness, confidence, optimism and emotional maturity. Other effects of ayahuasca include increased mindfulness, reduced self-judgment and greater self-love, according to a study.

While Hollywood celebrities are embracing it as another new hip social event—creating psychedelic soirees, so to speak—ayahuasca may just help everyone get to the real truth of who they are. And that’s a trip for the ages.

Dave Hodes

David Hodes is a business journalist based in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. He has contributed feature articles to several cannabis and psychedelics publications, as well as general business/lifestyle publications, on a variety of topics. Hodes was selected as 2018 Journalist of the Year by Americans for Safe Access. He is a member of the National Press Club, and the deputy booking agent for the National Press Club Headliners Committee.


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