Correcting the New York Times about Ayahuasca

Just as we were finishing up an initial stakeholder mapping and dialogue visit to Iquitos in August, the New York Times ran this travel piece “Iquitos, Peru: Wet and Wild” by Nina Burleigh.

We wrote two letters to the editor and they ran neither. We share them here to show we tried.


This to the corrections editors:

Dear Editors,

Correction: In Friday’s article “Iquitos, Peru: Wet and Wild”, it should be noted that Ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi) is a vine and the part of the plant used in ceremonies is the vine, not the root as stated in the article. Ayahuasca itself is not a hallucinogen as claimed in the article. Ayahuasca is almost always mixed with at least one admixture plant, usually the leaves of chacruna (Psychotria viridis) or other plants that contain the visionary chemical Dimethyltryptamine. Vomiting and diarrhea are not always experienced and do not always precede hallucinations, as stated in the article. Alfredo Cairuna was not likely speaking an “Indian dialect,” as he does not and has never lived in India.


JW, Ethnobotanical Stewardship Council



This to the letters editor:

Dear Editors,

In Ms. Burleigh’s article “Iquitos, Peru: Wet and Wild”, her prominent and negative portrayal of Ayahuasca perpetuated biased coverage of one of the Amazon’s most important traditional plant medicines. A growing boom in Ayahuasca tourism means many more people are drinking this powerful brew, and yes, a few have ended up hurt or dead. More numerous are the Ayahuasca seekers who understand Ayahuasca’s minimal risks, drink with trusted healers, and return happier and healthier with mental and spiritual insights.

My recent research expedition to Iquitos and other parts of Peru leaves me with the impression that Ayahuasca seekers have considerable interest in credible ways to recognize sustainable and safe Ayahuasca tourism destinations. If a community-led safety and sustainability norm for Ayahuasca cultivation and use can be developed, then future journalists can write more about their insights from—rather than their fears of—this important part of the Amazon’s intangible cultural heritage.


JW, Ethnobotanical Stewardship Council


There’s always next time to get it right.


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