The Economics of Ayahuasca

Kenneth Tupper, PhD

Abstract: This presentation considers the emerging status of ayahuasca as a commodity in international trade networks and the global economic system of the early 21st century. It explores how the brew and its constituent plants are variously represented as a medicine, sacrament, or plant teacher by people who drink it, and how drinkers (and suppliers) negotiate these representations with the competing status of ayahuasca as a consumer item in the global marketplace. Is ayahuasca drinking becoming a bourgeois luxury for the affluent of the global North? Does the commodification of the brew somehow profane it? How does ayahuasca consumerism fit within the politics of international drug control? Is ayahuasca, as the International Narcotics Control Board suggested in its 2010 Annual Report, simply an example of the “increased trade, use and abuse of…plant material” containing psychoactive substances? These and other questions lead to reflections on what the economics of ayahuasca might reveal about the nature of money, value, and ecology at a critical moment in world history.

Kenneth W. Tupper, PhD, is an Adjunct Professor in the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia. His 2011 PhD dissertation focused on ayahuasca, entheogenic education, and public policy. His other research interests include the cross-cultural and historical uses of psychoactive substances; public, professional and school-based drug education; and the creation of effective public policies to maximize benefits and minimize harms from currently illegal drugs (

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