A coroner wants the Foreign Office to issue extra guidance on the use of hallucinogenic drugs in tribal rituals following the death of a teenager in Colombia.
Henry Miller, from Bristol, died in a remote area of the rainforest after reacting to ayahuasca, or yage, which he drank during a shamanic ceremony.
The 19-year-old’s body was found on the side of the road in the Putumayo region, close to the border with Ecuador, in April 2014, in what has since been recorded as an accidental death by intoxification.
During an inquest into Miller’s death, Avon Coroner Maria Voisin said she will be writing to the Foreign Office to urge it to issue extra guidance to those travelling to areas where the drug is prevalent, the BBC reported.
In a statement read during Miller’s inquest, his family said: “Young travellers should be made aware of the small but real dangers of this practice.”
Ayahuasca is a blend of two plants and contains the hallucinogenic drug dimethyltryptamine, more commonly known as DMT.
Earlier this month the New Scientist reported that taking the drug produced effects that are strikingly similar to near-death experiences.
Ayahuasca has been used for centuries by native people in South America for healing and spiritual purposes, and was documented by writer William Burroughs in his book, The Yage Letters. As well as bringing on visions, it can also cause vomiting, diarrhoea and psychological distress.
The inquest heard Miller, previously described by his family as “adventurous”, had travelled into a remote part of the rainforest to take part in a shamanic ritual. According to earlier media reports, Miller paid $50 (£36) for the experience which he undertook with a group of other foreign tourists.
A statement from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said Miller had attended a tribal ritual 48 hours prior to his death and had drunk the substance but felt no effects.
Two days later, on 22 April, he tried it a second time and became unwell soon after consuming it.
The inquest heard that two men tried to take Miller to hospital via motorcycle but he died on the way and they “panicked” and left him at the roadside.
The coroner read a statement from witness Christopher Dearden during the inquest.
Dearden said he was at the ceremony with his partner Elaine and had paid 50,000 Colombian pesos to Mama Concha’s Place for the experience.
“A harmonica was playing and there was chanting with about a dozen people there, four of whom were Colombian students who were given permission to film,” his statement reads. “I started to feel the effects straight away.”
The inquest heard that Miller, who was due to start university in September, had no pre-existing medical conditions.
During the inquest it emerged that the tribe had held its own hearing which resulted in the shaman Guillermo and his wife, Mama Concha, being ordered to undergo punishment with nettles together with their son and his friend.
Miller’s older brother Freddie told the Guardian in April 2014: “Henry was an adventurous person who travelled extensively. He was polite, popular with a great sense of humour and was very much loved by his family and his many friends.
“We hope we can all be given the time and space to come to terms with what has happened and to grieve for our son and brother.”