British student Henry Miller, 19, died in Colombia after apparently consuming the traditional hallucinogenic drink ayahuasca, or yage. Emma Thelwell, who took the drug herself, explains why it has become a rite of passage for some backpackers.
I had never swallowed a pill at a party. Yet there I was in the depths of a Colombian bamboo forest, knocking back a liquid containing a psychoactive drug - under the supervision of a shaman who didn't speak a word of English.
During my month in Colombia I didn't join the thousands of backpackers indulging in the country's most famous product - cocaine. But I was sold on ayahuasca. I was intrigued by the fact that for centuries, South America's indigenous societies have used this "teacher plant" in regular rituals.
Ayahuasca, also known as yage, is a blend of two plants - the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and a shrub called chacruna (Psychotria viridis), which contains the hallucinogenic drug dimethyltryptamine (DMT). DMT - and therefore ayahuasca - is illegal in the UK, the US and many other countries. Ayahuasca could have serious implications for somebody who has a history of mental health problems, warns the UK's Talk To Frank website. The drug could be responsible for triggering such a problem in those who are predisposed but unaware of it.