CNN’s Recent Ayahuasca Coverage: Medical Psychedelics Getting Mainstream Consideration

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Not that long ago, most mainstream news sources were reticent to take an openly positive stance on medical marijuana. That has shifted dramatically in the last few years, thanks in part to CNN and other  major media outlets. Now, it seems that the reporters working for CNN are exploring some of the more popular psychedelic substances as well. Late last month, CNN published a series of articles about ayahuasca tourism and aired a special This is Life with Lisa Ling which followed a group of veterans seeking psychological relief into the jungle to record their ayahuasca ceremony experience.

For those unfamiliar with ayahuasca, also called yagé, it is the name of a drink made from a combination of plants that has been used ritualistically in South America since well before the presence of European history writers. While the report by Lisa Ling does not officially take an overt stance on the use of ayahuasca, simply showing the power of this medical psychedelic on television is a major milestone. Those who take it universally seem to agree that the brew is not recreational; it can be intense and even overtly unpleasant. Still, it holds great potential for clearing away negativity and trauma, and many people seek out ayahuasca rituals as a result.

The articles published leading up to the initial airing of the special were balanced and fair. One entitled “Could this be the next medical marijuana?,”  talks about the growing Western interest in ayahuasca for therapeutic reasons. It openly discusses the rising popularity of ayahuasca tourism and includes links to the story of a young man who died while under the care of a shaman who believed himself to be a Martian.

Instead of proclaiming this death evidence that ayahuasca is inherently dangerous, however, the first article discusses efforts to provide tourists with better safety information about ayahuasca rituals and individual shaman and links to a crowdfunding campaign to help self-regulate the ayahuasca industry.

That effort is headed by The Enthobotanical Stewardship Council, which  is currently raising funds for The Ayahuasca Dialogues on Indiegogo. This effort will include the creation of The Ayahuasca Health Guide, which is intended to be an online resource for those performing and interested in participating in ayahuasca rituals. Practitioners will be rated on whether or not they harvest their ayahuasca ingredients sustainably and on their fair trade practices with the local communities. The Enthobotanical Stewardship Council is also raising funds for more research on the brew. Between discussion of the positive impact of ayahusca on those recovering from trauma and providing links to the crowdfunding campaign, CNN’s balanced reporting comes across as slightly positive.

As for Lisa Ling’s special, she specifically tried to keep from taking an official stance on ayahuasca use, instead showing people the ritual and the participant’s feelings on it, letting the experience and culture around it speak for themselves. Ling may not be taking an overt stance on ayahuasca, but it’s clear she believes that it is not a recreational drug craze but something that those desperate for healing are seeking out.

There is a clip from the show that is entitled “CNN wouldn’t let Lisa Ling try this,” which includes Lisa Ling staring right at the camera, stating that CNN forbade her to participate in the ceremony, but that she would have if she could have. Maybe next time? Having one of the most respected journalists in the country take this ritual seriously may be the beginning of a deeper conversation in American media about the usefulness of ayahuasca and other psychedelics in therapeutic settings.

For previous Ladybud Magazine stories about psychedelics, click here.

Photo Credit: Terpsichore under (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons