Hallucinogenic plant ayahuasca gains foothold in US

Los Angeles (AFP) – Dominique was hooked on cocaine and smoked two packs of cigarettes a day until she stumbled onto ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic concoction that she says has changed her life.

The French-American woman, who lives in Los Angeles and did not want her real name used, is among thousands of people across the United States who are increasingly turning to the powerful psychedelic brew from the Amazon to overcome addiction, depression or psychological trauma.

The potion, prepared and consumed as part of a shamanic ritual, is especially gaining a following in Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

Thousands are flocking to sample the elixir and swear by its therapeutic properties, despite warnings from scientists and users that ayahuasca can be dangerous and even prove fatal, especially when mixed with other drugs.

Ayahuasca’s proponents, who include celebrities such as Sting, Paul Simon, Tori Amos and Lindsey Lohan, say the plant offers a spiritual experience like no other. Many also say it has allowed them to overcome traumas that no other conventional therapy can tackle.

“There’s been this misconception that it’s the hippies that come with feathers in their hair, but it’s pretty much the opposite,” says Jeff, who organizes ayahuasca ceremonies in the Los Angeles area and who did not want his real name used.

“In a time defined by consumerism and entertainment, people want to have strong experiences, one might consider spiritual experiences, something sacred.”