Experts warn of dangers ‘trippy’ tea as popularity rises in NL

The preparation of ayahuasca in Peru. Photo: Terpsichore via Wikimedia Commons

The ‘trippy’ Amazonian tea ayahuasca is becoming more popular in the Netherlands prompting experts to warn of the dangers, the Volkskrant said on Tuesday.

The tea, made from hallucinogenic plants from the Amazonian rainforest, has been used for centuries in Peru, Colombia and Brazil for ritualistic purposes and has been making its way onto the Western market as a means to stimulate spiritual and personal development.

But experts say the tea can also cause a bad trip and warn that the ‘self-appointed shamans’ who organise ayahuasca weekends are not qualified to deal with this, the paper writes.

Ayahuasca’s main ingredient is the hard drug DMT and this puts it on the illegal substances list. However, the Netherlands is seen as one of the prime destinations of ‘ayahuasca tourism’ and some twenty companies are openly advertising therapeutic sessions involving the tea, the Jellinek clinic for addiction treatment has found.

Some are even registered with the Chamber of Commerce, a sign, the paper writes that the justice ministry is not prioritising the search for the illegal drug.

Claims for the tea, which induces a hallucinogenic state that can last up to six hours, include a remedy for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, addiction and burn-out. While there is some evidence for the therapeutic value of ayahuasca, there are too many unknowns, according to chairman Joost Breeksema of the Open Foundation which supports research into psychedelic drugs.

‘What we do know is that professional coaching, after care and a through medical screening are essential for safety and effectiveness,’ he told the paper.

Mental problems

Eva Ehrlich of the Trimbos knowledge institute  says an ayahuasca trip can make make things worse for psychologically instable people.

‘More research is needed to see who may benefit from the drug. (..) I’m sure the people who organise the ceremonies mean well but they are hardly equipped to deal with people who are grappling with serious mental problems. (..) Ayahuasca must not be combined with anti-depressants. In a worst-case scenario people could die,’ Ehrlich is quoted as saying.

According to health inspectorate IGZ, which told the paper the therapeutic use of ayahuasca comes under the heading of ‘alternative medicine’, no incidents involving the drug have been reported. But that is just a matter of time, according to Arno Adelaars who has written a book about the drug.

‘I have witnessed a ceremony in which a woman flipped completely, shouting and flailing. She was kept in isolation in a room for five hours and the person leading the ceremony didn’t have a clue what to do. That’s what you get when people who have taken ayahuasca a couple of times. They think they know what they’re doing,’ the paper quotes him as saying.

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