Indigenous Knowledge Colonized for Profit

One reason I’ve often heard to keep the rainforest is that we have no idea the healing powers of the plants and animals within. Science has just not yet plundered all of the secrets that people living in these environments have known for ages. DMT is big in the public conscious these days. It’s, like, in everything, man.

The above articles both relate to the popularization of a DMT containing vine and the rituals around ayahuasca. Its popularity with a growing group of wealthy Westerners is still rising and businesses have sprung up to meet demand. The sacred rituals and use for ayahuasca are being overrun by the tourism dollar. The commercialization of the ritual depletes both the meaning as well as the source. Those who use ayahuasca in these ceremonies expound the life-changing properties of the trip.

Proponents with large audiences are Joe Rogan and Dave Asprey. Rogan, a UFC commentator and standup comedian, has and incredibly popular podcast. Asprey, a Silicon Valley wunderkind, made his money in tech before starting his Bulletproof Exec corporate training and body optimization company. Both have a stake in the burgeoning mental/physical enhancement industry of which instant spirituality through psychoactive substances is a piece. Buttered coffee, inspired by Tibetan butter tea,  is where Asprey started.  Rogan is heavily invested in Onnit a company that produces brain and body supplements of which cordyceps plays a role.

The impact of a horde of Western nerds and jocks is relatively low to that of China’s long understanding of these substances and massive boom in population that can afford them. The above articles focus on the environmental impact of the harvest of this wonder drug. The impacts to the indigenous people are focused around monetary benefits and environmental degradation. Also, the fact that it is not going to last forever. Once the cordyceps demand falls or the fungus is no longer available for harvest, the indigenous communities will have lost a source of income, a traditional and important medicine as well as the environment in which it grows. This massive loss of diversity and it’s affects on traditional food sources will create social problems.  The instant wealth and the resultant abandonment of traditional skills will hurt.

Traditional ecological knowledge is a boon for western science. It always has been and always will be. While many of the ethnobotanists and other scientific researchers are well intentioned, the eventual impacts of pharmaceutical companies or quick-fix holistic living aficionados tends to undo whatever has been preserved.

What is worse? Chasing a life-changing ayahuasca high that may cure your heroin addiction? Drinking coffee with butter in it to wake up your brain? Ingesting cordyceps to enable you to accomplish that marathon that was always just out of reach?

I’ll contemplate these questions on my upcoming San Jose del Pacifico trip.

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