Warning against South American cleansing ceremonies

  • 22/09/2015
Matthew Dawson-Clarke (Supplied)
Matthew Dawson-Clarke (Supplied)

By Dianna Vezich

Doctors are warning people of the dangers of South American cleansing ceremonies after an Auckland man died taking part in one.

Matthew Dawson-Clarke, 24, was on the trip of a lifetime. But it was in the Amazon in Peru where his adventure took a tragic turn, after he visited a seven-day ayahuasca tea retreat.

Hours after consuming a special tea – brewed with plants from the Amazon forest – he went into cardiac arrest.

"What we know about it is that it's got a drug in it called DMT – dimethyltryptamine – which is a hallucinogenic drug," says Professor Doug Selman from the National Addiction Centre.

Mr Dawson-Clarke's body has arrived back in New Zealand from Peru. His family have spent the day preparing for his funeral, which is due to be held in the coming days.

Aucklander Mike Peters went on an ayahuasca retreat in Peru last year and filmed it. He says he had the tea four times in one week.

"It's actually a really hard-core experience. It can be quite horrific in parts. As much as it can be an enlightening experience, it's a trial by fire," says Mr Peters.

The tea is consumed in some churches in Brazil as a sacrament, and New Zealand's National Addiction Centre says it's safer than alcohol.

"It can kill by itself. If you take any drug, you're putting yourself at risk. It's just that DMT is a relatively safe drug. It's five times less dangerous than alcohol," says Prof Selman.

Mr Peters claims he had a positive experience, but warns it's not always that way for others.

"In Iquitos specifically there are a lot of ayahuasca shysters – people pretending to be shamans and quite often there've been cases where people have died as a result of that," says Mr Peters.

Mr Dawson-Clarke's death isn't the first connected to ayahuasca. A Canadian woman died after taking part in the ritual earlier this year.

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