Is Psychedelic Tourism Destroying the Sanctity of Plant Medicine?

psychedelic tourism

As psychedelic healing and plant medicine go more mainstream, luxury psychedelic tourism is on the rise—good news for the spread of this medicine, but how might over-commercialism affect this sacred practice?

A recent Bloomberg article highlights the rise in all-inclusive psychedelic retreats. Indigenous plant medicine has been around for centuries, and its health benefits have been scientifically demonstrated, but as it gains mainstream acceptance and finds a bigger audience, some only see dollar signs.

Bloomberg reports, “according to Data Bridge Market Research the psychedelic market is expected to grow from $3.8 billion in 2020 to $10.7 billion by 2027.”

With the potential to make a lot of money, could some unscrupulous companies capitalize on this trend and remove the sanctity of this practice?

Carlos Tanner is the director of The Ayahuasca Foundation in Peru, he founded the center in 2009 as the result of his own healing journey. “When I started our retreat center, The Ayahuasca Foundation, I was coming off of a seven-year study myself; a four-year apprenticeship where I lived with a curandero and several years after that of studying with other teachers,” Tanner said.

“For most people that were starting centers at that time—which wasn’t many—you were a student first, and eventually after years of study, you came to the point where you wanted to offer this to people from outside of the culture. Now we see people who don’t have very much experience at all, but yet they’re opening a healing center.”

As this budding industry is dealing with rapid growth, there are some complicated issues regarding its increased popularity.

“When it comes to the commercialization of substances that have an ancestral background I would say that it is a delicate situation, and I hope that there would be a benefit to those indigenous populations from which those traditions were orignated. But at the same time, I know many indigenous people and they are for the spreading of what they believe to be their culture, which oftentimes was something that was looked upon negatively or was degraded as if they were second-class citizens, quite literally,” Tanner said.

“But now having people from the Western world, from the modern world, want to learn or experience elements of their culture, I think gives them a sense of pride. So it’s a complex question, to say the least.”

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Brain Scans of Shamans Show Ability to Alter Consciousness Naturally

A new study is the first to investigate what occurs in an alternate state of consciousness by looking inside the brain of a shaman.

Shamanism is considered to be the most ancient form of healing and spiritual practice. While science has been studying the healing benefits of the psychoactive plants used by shamans to enter into an altered state of consciousness, there have been very few studies to look at the neurological nature of the state itself. A groundbreaking new study investigated the shamanic state of consciousness accessed without the use of psychedelics.

Carlos Tanner is a longtime student of traditional shamanism and the director of the Ayahuasca Foundation. an educational and ceremonial center in Peru. “Shamanism refers to an alternate dimension, a dimension where spirits reside, where communication is possible, where greater insights can be acquired and brought back to the waking-day life,” Tanner said. “So a shaman would be someone who can enter into a different dimension and then pull that back.”

The process by which shamans access this state is rooted in the rich tradition of what Tanner calls, a ‘science of consciousness enhancement.’

 “Oftentimes, there is the term ‘ceremony’ to describe the intentional entrance into this shamanic state. So there would be a preparation where there might be rituals to essentially prepare, certain clothing might be worn, and the use of certain tools, oftentimes a musical instrument, might be used,” Tanner said.

“All of those are a beautiful science of consciousness enhancement that, I think, has been developed through the continual use of a psychotropic substance, although to a point where, in many cases, the psychotropic substance is no longer needed to enter that state because the consciousness enhancement that was provided by the psychotropic substance can be accomplished without it.” 

Richard Harris Ph.D. is a researcher at the University of Michigan who conducted the recent study on the shamanic state of consciousness. Dr. Harris and his team were interested in investigating this state in its purest form, unaffected neurologically by the use of any exogenous substances. To facilitate the entrance into the altered state without the use of psychedelics, the practitioners all listened to a recording of shamanic drumming.

“So, we did a study with 24 shamanic practitioners and 24 normal, control individuals and we collected EEG data (electroencephalogram data), you know brain activity data, while each participant had their eyes closed while they were listening to classical music which was the control condition, and then while they were listening to shamanic drumming music which was the more experimental condition,” Dr. Harris said. “So, what we’re doing with the shamanic drumming, we’re using the person’s own physiology to engender the state.”

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