Kiwi Matthew Dawson-Clarke dies in Peru after tobacco purge

Matthew Dawson-Clarke was participating in a retreat in Iquitos, Peru, deep in the Amazon rainforest.
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Matthew Dawson-Clarke was participating in a retreat in Iquitos, Peru, deep in the Amazon rainforest.

A Kiwi man has died soon after taking part in a "tobacco purge" at a resort in Peru.

Matthew Dawson-Clarke, 24, of Auckland participated in the ritual on the morning of September 4, dying from a cardiac arrest later that evening.

The ritual involves drinking a tobacco tea, water, and subsequently vomiting. The same ritual recently claimed the life of Canadian Jennifer Logan.

"He went to find the world, the world found him."
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"He went to find the world, the world found him."

Clarke was participating in a six-day retreat at the Kapitari Ayahuasca Retreat in Iquitos, Peru, deep in the Amazon rainforest.

Witnesses say he took part in the tobacco cleanse early in the morning of September 4, and immediately became unwell.

"He was screaming louder than I've ever heard a human scream," said Michael Stoeckli, who was also at the resort.

The traditional cleansing ritual has been gaining popularity with tourists to Peru in recent years
JESSIE WILLIAMSON / THE WASHINGTON POST

The traditional cleansing ritual has been gaining popularity with tourists to Peru in recent years

"Something must have happened to him to cause him to realise that he just did something that was very wrong for his body."

Dawson-Clarke continued to feel ill for much of the day, with occasional bouts of relief.

"His breathing was very laboured, very heavy, almost like quivering breathing."

At around 6.30pm Dawson-Clarke's heart stopped. An American firefighter trained as a emergency medicine technician (EMT) onsite was notified and attempted resuscitation.

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Clarke was then rushed to a hospital on a trike and boat, but was pronounced dead on arrival.

"In hindsight the EMT said Matt was already dead when he attempted CPR," Stoeckli said.

Father Stuart Clarke was devastated. His son had been abroad for several years.

"He went to find the world, the world found him."

Clarke wanted people to be aware of the potential dangers so other families could avoid a similar fate.

fundraising page has been set up to help pay for the costs of bringing his body home.

As at Tuesday morning, almost $9000 had been donated.

Stoeckli and Dawson-Clarke's parents believe the health risks of the cleanse should have been explained better, and that he should have been hospitalised much sooner.

"This was an unneccesary death," said Stoeckli.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had been providing consular assistance to the family following the death.

WHAT IS A TOBACCO PURGE?

A tobacco purge generally takes place in preparation for an Ayahuasca Ceremony, an Amazonian ritual where a hallucinogenic-laden tea is drunk. 

Significant amounts of tobacco tea is consumed, along with water, before vomiting is induced by a guide.

It is seen as something of a deep cleanse, with tobacco used to purify the liver and lungs, and bring clarity to one's thoughts and emotions.

One website lists the ceremony as a US$35 addon to an Amazon expedition.

This isn't the first death thought to have been caused by a tobacco purge gone wrong. Canadian Jennifer Logan, 32, died of a pulmonary edema after the ritual. 

A large accumulation of fluid in her lungs caused respiratory failure. 

The government has warned of the spiritual cleansing rituals, saying while not illegal the tea presents certain risks as it is not regulated.

There have been reports of psychological damage, assault, theft and rape of people under the influence of ayahuasca tea.

 - Stuff

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