A British teen was found dead on a roadside after drinking hallucinogenic herbs during a tribal ritual in Colombia. Henry Miller, 19, was in a remote rainforest area with other tourists when he consumed the psychedelic drink yage in a late-night ceremony, an inquest into his death heard.
The substance, also known as ayahuasca, brings on vivid hallucinations and supposedly spiritual experiences, but is also known to cause nausea, diarrhoea and psychological stress.
Yage is made from leaves and is used by native people in South America for healing and spiritual purposes.
Mr Miller, from Kingsdown, Bristol, took part in two ceremonies within three days of each other led by Shaman Guillermo and his wife Mama Concha, Avon Coroner’s Court heard.
Shaman Guillermo told his son and a friend to take Henry to hospital on a motorcycle hours after he fell unwell on the second occasion on the night of 22 April 2014, the inquest heard.
The court was told the two men realised Henry was dead on the way to the hospital and left him at the roadside hoping his body would be found.
Henry was found dead outside Mocoa, the capital of the Putumayo region, later on 23 April.
Chris Deardon, who was also travelling in Colombia and met Henry at a nearby hostel, said he had seen the 19-year-old alive some time after midnight on the 23rd.
Mr Deardon told the hearing that each ceremony
cost 50,000 Colombian pesos (about £15.50 at the time) and that he took part in both with Henry.
Mr Deardon said in a statement: “The second ceremony started around 10pm at night and was meant to last until 4am at the latest.
“After introductions Mama Concha asked Henry to step forward and drink from a small cup with herbs. None of us knew what this was but I assumed it was to facilitate a response to the ayahuasca.
“After 15 minutes I threw up and I remember seeing Henry get up to do the same.
“When he came back he seemed to be feeling the effects straight away.”
Mr Miller had left the UK two months earlier to travel to South America and was due to begin his studies at the University of Brighton in September 2014.
Mr Miller’s parents have warned of the dangers of British travellers taking part in tribal rituals after their son’s death.
His father David said his son told him in a call the day before he died that he had taken part in a ceremony on Easter Sunday, April 20.
David added that Henry told him he had drunk three cups of yage “but felt nothing”.
He said in a statement: “I was contacted by Christopher Deardon and he confirms that Henry went for a second visit on April 22 and he last saw Henry in the early hours of April 23.
“Shortly after 2am on April 24 I received a message to ring the hostel and when I did I was told that Henry was dead and that he had died at the Shaman’s house and the Shaman’s two sons had taken his body and left him by the roadside.
A post-mortem examination carried out in the UK by Dr Russell Delaney agreed with the findings of similar tests performed in Colombia.
Dr Delaney gave the cause of death as intoxication of yage, also known as ayahuasca, and scopolamine, also known as hyoscine.
Earlier this year, Shaman Guillermo, Mama Concha, their son and his friend were put on trial by the local indigenous community and ordered to undergo punishment with nettles, the inquest heard.
Ignatius Hughes QC, representing the Miller family, said: “I should alert the court to (the family’s) concern that other young travellers might benefit from being made aware of the small but real dangers inherent in this perfectly lawful practice.
“We understand from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that consideration is being given to a standard message to travellers when they visit the FCO website for that part of the world.”