In this series of reports on the globalization of ayahuasca and impacts on the Amazon forest, Brazilian journalist and writer Carlos Minuano investigates how the advance of studies in the therapeutic potential of ayahuasca is driving a new wave of psychedelic tourism in Peru and Brazil. This wave is affecting Indigenous peoples and even the plants that make up the ayahuasca beverage.
Recent experiments attest to the antidepressant and anxiolytic potential of ayahuasca, a psychoactive beverage used for thousands of years by Indigenous peoples in the Amazon and for decades by Brazilian religious sects, such as Santo Daime and União do Vegetal.
Despite being a positive development for people with mental health needs, the possible medicalization of ayahuasca and the expansion of its use in therapeutic and religious contexts has serious impacts on the Amazon region.
In cities of the Brazilian and Peruvian Amazon, the number of tourists from all over the world in search of healing and transcendence is growing. To meet the demand, many villages act as a hybrid of ayahuasca factories and tourist centers.
And the globalization of ayahuasca consumption is also threatening the sustainability of the plants used for its brew. Ayahuasca is prepared from the leaves of a shrub called chacrona (Psychotria viridis) and a vine known as jagube or mariri (Banisteriopsis caapi), two Amazonian plants. According to scientists, the increased extraction of these plants, exacerbated by deforestation, is approaching a point of no return.