LOS ANGELES – Ayahuasca is a dangerous drug that has becoming increasingly popular among Hollywood celebs— so much that Chelsea Handler tried it in front of the cameras for her new Netflix series, “Chelsea Does.”
It’s proponents call it a plant medicine but it’s critics nicknamed ayahuasca “the little death” and DMT, the ingredient in the ayahuasca tea that users consumer, is illegal in the United States. DMT is classified as a Schedule 1 drug for its high likelihood of being abused. Other Schedule 1 drugs are heroin and LSD. Side effects of ayahuasca include vomiting and often diarrhea.
While promoting her new show, Handler told Matt Lauer on the “Today” show that she has a “close relationship with drugs” and that she has “experienced so many.”
“I didn’t feel anything the first night … so of course I had to take [the ayahuasca] a second night with a shaman,” Handler elaborated to the New York Post. “There was a lot of chanting and vomiting on camera for me, which of course I was very excited to do.”
In the trailer for her show, she explains to viewers why she wants to try ayahuasca.
“I want to show people what happens when you get f--ked up. I’m going to Peru to do ayahuasca. It’s supposed to be one of those transformative experiences; people say it changes their life,” she says as footage rolls of her vomiting into a bowl.
Handler isn’t the first Hollywood starlet to embrace the drug. Lindsay Lohan, Sting and Penn Badgley have all raved about the drug publicly. Stars have discussed doing the drug abroad; though according to the Hollywood Reporter it is also done frequently in Hollywood mansions at invite-only gatherings for those in the know.
Sting revealed in an interview he believed his ayahuasca experience was religious.
“…I realize for the first time this is the only genuine, religious experience I've ever had. I have no idea what it is, but there is definitely an intelligence - a higher intelligence - at work in you during this experience.”
So what about this drug appeals to the Hollywood crowd? Dr. Charles Grob, UCLA professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences and a researcher of ayahuasca, explained to FOX411 he believes users are searching for something.
“Why would having an ayahuasca experience appeal to anyone?” he said. “I think people are searching for some degree of a psycho spiritual transformation.”
However Naomi Watts, who in “While We’re Young” played a character who experienced ayahuasca, questioned the appeal of the drug.
“It’s difficult to play high,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “I’d never even heard of ayahuasca before. I can’t remember now if you actually see me vomit, but allegedly that’s what happens. God knows why anyone would want to do that.”
Dr. Grob explained that although the acute side effects can be severe, they can also be minimized.
“The nausea and vomiting that you have heard about those are just the acute effects. They can certainly be unpleasant but people who are experienced with ayahuasca find it manageable. It can be minimized by following a strict diet, avoiding alcohol, avoiding certain foods.”
One woman in Los Angeles, who spoke to FOX411 on the condition of anonymity, detailed her experience with ayahuasca in Costa Rica, during which she was monitored by shaman and an assistant.
“For me taking ayahuasca was not risky at all. After doing research on the plant and watching video testimonials of people who have tried it and found the experience life changing in a spiritual sense, I knew I wanted to experience it,” she said. “About two hours after drinking it all of a sudden [I] started seeing visions of myself running through the Costa Rican jungle like I was The Flash or some form of a female superhero, and it also brought up some of my past that needed to be healed-- stuff I hadn’t thought of in years, but it wasn’t scary.”
Giancarlo Canavesio, investment banker-turned-documentary producer, founder of Mangu.tv and ayahuasca user, weighed in on why he thinks celebs do the drug.
“I would imagine that what appeals to them is what appeals to everybody else which is the desire to feel: love, inner peace, healing, mystical state, gratitude, empathy.”
Grob warned that Handler’s sampling of ayahuasca on camera may have some negative side effects.
“I think that’s a bit over the top and a bit exhibitionist,” he explained. “I think it might encourage kind of excessive interest particularly among individuals who may have underling vulnerabilities; so it could be problematic. I’m not sure how pleasing it will be for viewers to observe her throwing up and her inner experience no one will know what is going on unless she starts to articulate what is going on.”
“Chelsea Does” premieres January 24th on Netflix.
You can follow Blanche Johnson on Twitter @blancheFOXLA.