Although his parents urged him to study medicine, Jimmy Weiskopf dropped out of college and in the 1970s moved to Colombia, where he eventually began to focus on a different kind of elixir. The New York City native became an early advocate for the hallucinogenic plant mixture ayahuasca. For centuries, Amazonian Indians have been drinking ayahuasca, also known as yaje a combination of the ayahuasca vine, tree bark and other plants to achieve a trancelike state that they believe cleanses body and mind and enables communication with spirits. Weiskopf, who has published a 688-page tome about ayahuasca, was once among a tiny coterie of foreigners using the potion, but these days he has lots of company. (Read "Colombia's Drug Extraditions: Are They Worth It?")
Word of ayahuasca's healing properties has brought a growing number of New Age tourists from the U.S. and Europe, some of whom pay thousands of dollars to stay at jungle lodges where Indian medicine men guide them through all-night ayahuasca rituals. Sting and Tori Amos have admitted sampling it in Latin America, where it is legal, as has Paul Simon, who chronicled the experience in his song "Spirit Voices." "It heals the body and the spirit," says Eustacio Payaguaje, 51, a Cofán Indian shaman who regularly treks to Bogotá to lead weekend ayahuasca ceremonies in the city. "It is medicine for the soul." (Read "The Year in Medicine 2008: From A to Z.")
But as the subtitle of Weiskopf's 2004 book, Yaje: The New Purgatory, suggests, ayahuasca is not for the faint of heart or stomach. Drinking a few ounces of the sludgy brown liquid usually leads to a violent purge from both ends of the body. Beat Generation novelist William Burroughs, seeking to get high on Colombian ayahuasca in the early 1960s, described hurling himself against a tree and barfing six times. At a recent ceremony on the outskirts of Bogotá, most of the 40 participants packed sleeping bags, water bottles and rolls of toilet paper. Sting, in a Rolling Stone interview, made clear that ayahuasca is no party drug. "There's a certain amount of dread attached to taking it," the singer said. "You have a hallucinogenic trip that deals with death and your mortality. So it's quite an ordeal. It's not something you're going to score and have a great time on."
I'm so fascinated by this! Rather cheapens it to label it 'drug tourism' though