There aren’t many options for people who wish to use psychedelics legally.
You can apply to be a subject in a research study. A few universities conduct research on the use of psychedelics for treating medical issues. There are only a handful of openings, however, and those are usually for people with specific conditions such as cancer or PTSD.
If you’re interested in Ayahuasca—the plant-based psychedelic used by traditional shamans in the Amazon region—you can go to Peru or Brazil where it’s legal. Many Peruvian shamans and spiritual groups offer Ayahuasca retreats to visitors from around the world.
In fact, there are so many ways to take Ayahuasca in Peru that the hard part may be making up your mind. Do you want a comfortable bed or a sleeping blanket with mosquito netting? A traditional shaman who requires a month of celibacy or a street vendor who offers you a bottle of brown liquid as you get off the bus?
When I decided to go to Peru, I tried my usual strategy of online shopping, browsing for Ayahuasca retreats like a tourist looking for a congenial cruise ship. Indeed, some of the web sites I found resembled Club Med or Carnival Lines with lush photos of rainbows, bonfires, and satisfied, tattooed customers.
Once I plunged into the discussion forums, however, the terrain got murky. I waded through controversies over the authenticity of shamans and the ingredients in their Ayahuasca. I heard stories of gringo seekers looking for enlightenment and finding sexual abuse or disappearing into the jungle.
With enough time and research, I probably could have found a reputable shaman and a place to stay without too many hardships for a soft American. That level of comfort would have been fine for ordinary tourism, but psychedelic drugs are unpredictable. They grab the smallest things in your mind or your environment and amplify them until they take up your entire consciousness. Any worries in the back of your head, any funny noises out in the jungle darkness, can blossom into full-blown paranoia and a bad trip.
For that reason, I wanted a safe and familiar setting for my first psychedelic experience in 40 years.
I lucked out. My search for a safe place in the Amazon jungle wound up much closer to home. See the next post for more.