How ayahuasca can revolutionize psychotherapy

A look at the psychoactive brew that brings users a spiritual payoff for their "work"

Just before dusk, 18 strangers entered a yurt on a Midwestern homestead. Peruvian tapestries decorated the walls of the large, round structure, and rattles stood poised for ceremony.

The participants — professional men and women ages 35 to 65 — put on comfortable clothing and set up sleeping bags, pillows, and blankets. Everyone got a plastic bucket, cheerfully colored in green, red, or blue.

"It looks like a big pajama party," joked the host, Kim.

In a greenhouse at the University of Minnesota, Dennis McKenna tends to one of two key plants used to
prepare ayahuasca
Emily Utne
In a greenhouse at the University of Minnesota, Dennis McKenna tends to one of two key plants used to prepare ayahuasca
The leaves of the Banisteriopsis vine
Emily Utne
The leaves of the Banisteriopsis vine

The shaman, a North American who had trained in South America for more than a dozen years, took a seat at the front and led the group through a conversation about what to expect.

Stay with your breath, he advised. There's no talking, no touching. Purging in any direction is a distinct possibility. The bucket is your friend.

He dimmed the lights, and after intoning a prayer, poured a foul-smelling brown liquid into a series of cups. One by one, all 18 visitors brought it to their lips and drank.

For 40 minutes, the yurt fell silent. Then the shaman began to sing.

Around the same time, the drink took effect. Some who consumed it cried, others belched, several fled for the outhouse. Many reached for their buckets and vomited.

For the next four to five hours, those in the room did what many call "the work." Some took trips back into their childhood memories. Others had visions: of nature, of healers, of fireworks. Afterward, they would say that the tea offered an opportunity to look at their problems in a new light.

"It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life," says Fred, a kind-eyed, gray-bearded man in his 50s.

Kim and her husband, Josh, have organized about 50 of these gatherings since the summer of 2010. In that time, they've seen hundreds of people have an experience like Fred's.

All three asked that their real names not be used out of fear of the law. Though no one in the United States' underground network has yet been prosecuted, the liquid falls into the category of Schedule I controlled substances.

The risks scare her, but the way Kim sees it, she doesn't have a choice.

"My life is not my own anymore," Kim says. "If that were to mean standing up in the face of legal action, I'd do it.... After seeing how much this helps people — truly heals people — I'd do anything."

The psychoactive brew goes by many names. William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg called it Yage. In Brazil, it's known as Hoasca. Other aliases include the Spirit Vine, the Vine of the Soul, and the Vine of the Dead.

Its most common name is ayahuasca. The indigenous cultures of the Amazon have brewed the plant concoction, and its naturally occurring dose of the hallucinogen DMT, for centuries.

In recent years, the West has caught on. The tea cropped up in the Jennifer Aniston flick Wanderlust and the Showtime series Weeds; proponents include everyone from Sting to The Howard Stern Show's Robin Quivers. One ayahuasca expert estimates that on any given night, between 50 and 100 ayahuasca groups are in session in New York City alone.

Some of the same doctors and researchers who have, in recent years, gotten FDA approval for breakthrough studies involving MDMA and psilocybin mushrooms are now turning their attention to ayahuasca. Preliminary work suggests the brew could help treat depression, chronic addiction, and fears of mortality.

People with less-defined diagnoses, but a hunger for something missing, say ayahuasca offers something ineffable: compassion, connectedness, spirituality.

"Ayahuasca is penetrating American society, and its highly successful people, way more than any other psychedelic," says Rick Doblin, the head of MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a nonprofit research association based in Santa Cruz, California. "The number of people who have had incredible experiences with ayahuasca, if they could all surface in the public sphere at the same time, it would be absolutely astonishing."

In a greenhouse at the University of Minnesota, Dennis McKenna walks past the cacao (chocolate) and the Punica (pomegranate), and strides straight to the back corner, where the vines of the plant Banisteriopsis have twisted around each other — and nearby electrical cords — to reach the room's rafters.

McKenna, a white-bearded professor wearing wire glasses and a denim shirt tucked into his jeans, points at one of the younger vines, a supple green stem the width of a pencil.

"This is nothing," he says, explaining that mature plants can reach 1,500 feet and weigh several tons. "Usually, the part you use is the thickness of a finger."

McKenna would know: He has drunk ayahuasca several hundred times since 1981. An ethnobotanist and ethnopharmacologist by trade, McKenna first tangled with psychedelics as a teen coming of age in the '60s. He tried everything from LSD to jimson weed, but never ayahuasca: There was none.

"It was this rare, legendary thing," McKenna remembers.

The first record of ayahuasca arrived in the West in 1908, thanks to the British botanist Richard Spruce, who mostly described lots of vomiting. Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evan Schultes followed up a half-century later with the first academic account. Around the same time, Beat author William Burroughs wrote letters depicting his quest for the tea to Allen Ginsberg, collected in 1963 as The Yage Letters. But in the Western literature, there wasn't much more than that.

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39 comments
LivingClean-Ibogaine
LivingClean-Ibogaine

When Ibogaine treatment is followed by Ayahuasca and Psychotherapy, it creates a truly groundbreaking synergy of medicines for treatment of addictions. 

Thank you so much for focusing on this subject and talking about Dr. Mate's courageous stand as an expert in the field. 
In our program we add naturopathic medicine to this mix, to make physical healing even more effective. Most importantly we see Ibogaine-Ayahuasca-Psychotherapy synergy helping people to fully recover and find new meaning in daily life...  I've seen this happening firsthand at Living Clean Ibogaine (www.livingcleanibogaine.com) program in Mexico, where this approach to addiction therapy is practiced.

Unfortunately this can only be done legally in countries like Mexico, but even here, we can't apply Ayahuasca in our treatment process, meaning we  send people away to trusted network of indigenous spiritual leaders and healers from other countries, where Ayahuasca is legal. This creates many barriers on the path to recovery for people whose resources are already drained.
Overall, we've learned that Ibogaine is often ideal for addiction interruption, whereas Ayahuasca comes in during the integration phase and helps to process, emotionally and physically, traumatic experiences that had caused addictive patterns in the first place.
Thank you for this excellent article and discussion.

ICEERS
ICEERS

Psychoactives, for example, Ayahuasca, can be astonishingly beneficial and radically transformative for motivated, prepared, and subjectively open seekers. However, Ayahuasca is no panacea. No matter its soaring beauty, emotional galvanization, extensive insights and striking benefits, programmatic self-psychotherapy, entirely on one’s own, most often fails Ayahuasca’s (and other Psychoactives’) fullest potential. Likewise, verbal psychotherapy may catalyze far-reaching, even eye-popping results. But, such outcome is far from ordinary. Emotional growth is demanding and rarely easy, each step forward being hard-won, generally. Relational psychotherapy naturally stakes out Ayahuasca for its relevant powers (and sister Psychoactives, selectively, for theirs). What’s more, and conversely, Ayahuasca intrinsically supports communication and mental analysis. People commonly get together after a journey for catharsis, exchanging experiences and views. Hence, the two modalities patently, self-evidently go together positively, and professionally combining them is done universally. The combinatorial result can be strikingly exponential. Far from rare are savvy psychotherapy clients saying a particular psychoactive experience has been personally tantamount to years of standard treatment.


Don't miss the World Ayahuasca Conference 2014 in Ibiza, Spain Sept 25-27 and the workshop: Treating Individuals, Couples and Families: Psychoactives as Robust Psycho-Therapeutic Accelerants and Enhancers

aya2014.com/en



artistlike
artistlike

I've had bouts of nearly paralyzing depression and extreme anxiety all my life.  After careful study (lots and lots of reading, including summaries of NIH-controlled studies), I decided to try this.  Other than alcohol, I have never taken any kind of "recreational" substance in my life, so this was a real leap of faith--and every aspect of my life has improved as a result.  There is really no way to convey my experiences with ayahuasca in words or images; the best summary I can give is that it was a truly communal experience with myself and with something that felt for reasons I can't comprehend rationally as coming from an intelligent third party that guided me, with a maternal type of compassion to confront difficult truths about myself.  It was just a truly phenomenal experience.  I eventually heard myself repeating, quietly but out loud, "thank you, thank you," and years later that feeling of gratitude has remained with me.  I am not a religious person; I've only been inside of churches for weddings and funerals.  I don't know how to explain the profundity of this experience, but it left me feeling safe in life, grateful for it (which I never really had been before), and aware that our worlds as we experience them are limited but are enmeshed with something spectacular that we simply cannot rationally comprehend.

gregkell23
gregkell23

I think its fair to say that one living in this world should take this venture alone or with only a close friend. People giving out psychedelics cant instill a negative agenda in a fragile mind.

gregkell23
gregkell23

It is all considered black magic. Use it to fix yourself then discontinue use. Otherwise you damage the magnetic field around your body. Your astral body

BLived
BLived

Once initiated into the awesome power and transformative potential that is the entheogenic tremendum, one is left to wonder, amongst so much else, at what a different world we'd be living in today if at the center of all, would-be truly holy, world religions there lived a sacrament as unambiguously numinous, radically instructive, and (if you're lucky/ready) ego-shattering as this Amazonian eucharist, this Lux Natura; Ayahuasca.

No question why both ancient and modern religious and political power centers, be they political, religious, cultural, or otherwise move to deny, quash, repress, obfuscate, malign, and altogether disempower and discredit any mind-altering force, be it of the jungle or of the lab, capable of setting human consciousness, conscience, and culture free of the confines of empty state-sanctioned faiths, cynical scientific materialism, and abject herd-minded consumerism.

We, those of us who credit nature in general and the plant/fungi kingdom(s) in specific with having contributed so much to our sense of wholeness, wonder, and higher imagination, owe an unspeakable debt of gratitude to the women and men, today and down through the ages, known and unknown, who have braved a range of undeserved and very real dangers, from loss of career to loss of liberty or life, in order that they may conduct the research, keep alive the traditions, disseminate the teachings, empower the ceremonies, venture the alchemy, publish the discoveries, deliver the lectures, convene the conferences, advocate for and defend the rights of, and in so many ways protect, magnify, and altogether honor this most potent, living, and generous of Gnostic Lights for us all.

Begging his pardon in advance (for the certain discomfort such frank praise inevitably inflicts upon people of such humble, shy, and understandably private dispositions), we have in the person of Professor McKenna, for those new to this fascinating field and collection of equally fascinating eccentric luminaries, not only a biochemist and academic of international esteem but also, and not just for those of us blessed to count him as a cherished mentor or personal friend, as close as this ragtag generation of shamanically inclined post-moderns can come to a genuine, and truly worthy, tribal elder.


~DG
Longville, MN.



PS: Oh yes, and his most recent book (http://brotherhoodofthescreamingabyss.com) is a rip roaring good read t'boot. So there's that.

digitalprotocol
digitalprotocol topcommenter

this is awesome....interdimensional bliss

Jeffrey Cowell
Jeffrey Cowell

No shit it's old news, the medicine is hundreds, if not thousands of years old.it's a new concept to modern medicine

Rickardo Ehman
Rickardo Ehman

What was old can be new again. Great story, thanks for shining a spotlight on this amazing tool.

digitalprotocol
digitalprotocol topcommenter

@BLived oh man   - that is some exquisite writing


tribal elder shit needs to be dropped tho

digitalprotocol
digitalprotocol topcommenter

@Lindsey Rivera ooooo aren't you so sage.  sleazy hipster....   whats not old news is its breaking into the mainstream you pinhead 

BLived
BLived

@digitalprotocol @BLived 

*goes to check digitalprotocol's previous commenting history in other discussions to assess likelihood of a realistic/fair/interesting exchange and finds a lot of this in the mix.....

"
"digitalprotocol you are such a sad cunt"

November 20
- - -

"You cannot sue the federal government you dumb bitch!"

November 19

- - -

"PatScott you are an old fat white pig"

November 19
- - - 

"PatScott you're a cop...fuck off and die"

November 19
- - -
...etc.


Concluding that it'll be a crapshoot whether further exchanges will be ones of value if a fair exchange of difference of opinions is at hand.

Let's see.

BLived
BLived

@digitalprotocol @BLived 

Thanks and why?
(in that order ;-))

Happy to consider your further feedback (if you'd be so kind), but warning that you are speaking into a listening full of the experience of integritous and deeply value-contributing authority (referenced by term "elder") and no inclination to truck with knee-jerk or out of hand anti-seniority/establishment/father/... attitudes. 

jdubb1949
jdubb1949

@digitalprotocol Hope my lack of patience to read the testimonials doesn't get me into trouble again... Have never read or followed directions in my life'

BLived
BLived

@mohanlon3 @digitalprotocol @BLived 

Dear Mohanlon3. Thanks for chiming in.

Seems possible that you either did not read the thread in order or I somehow failed to make my point clear. While I both treasure the preciousness of the term "elder" and apply it sparingly, this was simply a relation genuinely deserved of its use.

How about reading then my use of its as an opportunity to generously project "Ah, ok. So this guy really feels such a level of respect for, and value from,  Prof. McKenna and his work that he would use a term of such esteem as 'elder'". Or the like?

These aint fight'n words m'friend... so what's with the 'tude? 

What cause for conflictive dialogue there? Where did anyone here lay claim to exclusive right to the use of this honorific?

But then even by your interesting (rather dark) litmus test, indeed if there came some catastrophe that rendered either my "techne" or my "hyper lobal" higher thinking ineffectual, yes having a master of plant biology, indigenous shamanism, and organic chemistry (aka an all around "clever fella", if you prefer) would be just the kind of elder I'd hope to count as part of my survival posse.

Can we not agree then that in any domain of human experience, whether wired or not, the open-hearted and curious are naturally appreciative of those "wise folk" (or "masters" or "elders" or...) that Life and experience has deputized to share, show, and teach?

Let's do.


mohanlon3
mohanlon3

@digitalprotocol @BLived many people, who belong to tribes, learn skills they depend on to live from elders.  I use the term in a much more sparing sense than noted above, but my wilderness survival skills were taught to me by a local tribal elder during my youth, (He is related to me distantly, and I am a member of his tribe) of course, we just called him "Old Jim." to distinguish him from his son "Young Jim"  Just because you all may be wired and hyper lobal, does not mean that your reference point is the only one valid.  If an EMP was set off above MN tomorrow, your Techne becomes so much silicon poo, and Old Jim becomes the center of a community dependent on him to learn to eat and live without the automated largesse Techne provides, show some respect.

BLived
BLived

@PhDinEverything @BLived @digitalprotocol 

What?, the "tribal elder" reference?

Me thinksth thou, no matter how 
piled high and deep kind sir, doth protest too much.

Ignoring the reality that one man's "gibberish" can be another's poetry and remembering that no one here invited the writing/thought police (aka, we're not hosting an formal forensics event here, but rather enjoying a format that invites sounding off as much as demonstrating economic self-control), welcome to this beehive of an exchange!

Being the self-appointed cunning linguist among us
here (as if your own generous use of judgemental adjectives was not itself well described by them and earned you that mouldy pun), what would a shining of that same proud, critical, and, ostensibly, impartial light reveal about such jabber mouths as Heinlein, Huxley, and/or Hardy; not to mention lingual performance artists like Joyce or poets like Ginsberg (or, god-forbid such excesses, Rumi).

I'm sure while we can agree that for words to have meaning there has to be reasonably harmonious look-up tables (of both terms used but also practices of grammar and syntax embraced) in both speaker and listener for a sufficiently successful sharing of meaning. Fair enough. Is the origin of your irk then a function of us accessing critically divergent databases? And, whatever the differences, do you really presume to be able to successfully argue that one (system of terms and grammar) is inherently superior to (read: in a place to stand in judgement of) any other?

Which set of definitions shall "rule" when judging the accuracy of a word, especially when acknowledging that regardless of their differences, no one person or group's agreement on what is a fair use of language is tantamount to justifying the judgement of another's.

So to be clear, when I use the phrase "tribal elder" do I need, in your academically justified opinion (since walking in waving that flag seems essential to the sturdiness of the soapbox upon which your critique heavily depends), to be true to any principle other than the truth of my experience? And does how I construct the communication of the experience, again in your opinion - for more it could never be pHd or un-, bear obligation to anything (eg brevity or accuracy as you're judging them)  other than the obvious goal that my communication reach my listener in the manner that I both enjoy delivering it and wish, but who would want to completely control such things, it to land?

Reality Check: we are, whether written or spoken, essentially talking about either monkey-mind or small mouth noises here, yes? But you feel, if I understand correctly, that I was entirely having too much fun with the freedom that having my own mind, mouth, and an engaging conversational partner was inspiring. Yes?

Hmmm...

Is yours a criticism based on a defense of M. Webster et.al or more a question of use of in-group jargon to which you either don't belong or whose right to coin their own terms and meanings you fundementally disagree with?

If its true that we will have trouble innovating and evolving our individual understanding and collective dialogue (eg our consideration of the prospect of co-creating positive change in this world) beyond the limits of our language or operating lexicon, then by what means and under the aegis of what grammatical court or ontological tzar would terms, perhaps understandably judged as "gibberish" by those not tuned-in to the adaptive value of the emerging meme in question, be "allowed" to migrate from their power upon my streets to their credibility in your library?

Anyway, thanks for making some lunch-break reflecting and ranting a whole lot more interesting and engaging. And, if you'll allow the cheek, a hearty 'good luck with that'.


* saunters to the front of the class, brushes the apples aside and lovingly lays the talking stick back upon PHD-Everything's desk, bows low, and in a dramatic <<poof>> of patchouli scented sage smoke, reappears back in his desk awaiting the due intellectual retour his sophomoric incredulity has invited (and no doubt deserves) *

;)

PhDinEverything
PhDinEverything

@BLived @digitalprotocol  I have my PhD in Linguistics and studied the affects of psychotropic substances on language. My most recent paper, actually, was titled "Making Sense of the Gibberish," and I can in fact confirm that this statement is superfluous, excessive, gratuitous, overflowing, lavish, inessential, and downright pleonastic. I would suggest phrasing that is a little more reasonable, necessary, important, needed, and most importantly; useful.

BLived
BLived

@digitalprotocol @BLived deep waters indeed mystery-friend. Not that any further exchange would see me presuming to answer this for anyone other than myself, perhaps we'd enjoy taking this off to another LIVE exchange platform and allow the focus here to return to the article and comments more directly about it?

PM me if interested in reincarnating this discussion somewhere (digitally) else.

digitalprotocol
digitalprotocol topcommenter

@BLived you avoid talk of posthumanism and it cannot be avoided. we are past the point of no return. Techne is the new god. good or bad, this god cannot be stopped.

Please guide me even further. I have much respect for elders and knowledge. I still do not see how "tribe" fits in. other than that we are all a human tribe. a tribe of earthlings. 

Are you familiar with the Egyptian book of the dead? The tests involved for ascending into the beyond? 

how does one engage in tribal behavior in a posthumanist world? or where?


BLived
BLived

@digitalprotocol  

Enjoyable exchange, thanks.

What choice do we have with words but to either toss them out when the consensus meaning is passe or toxic  OR  reclaim them by empowering them with new meaning.

So respecting your experience of what doesn't work for you about the term "elder", I (among so many, in the "tribe"; another term you're sure to love just as much) simply chosen to reclaim it, refine its powers (by, for example, decoupling mere aging as defacto qualification recognition as an "elder", and adding new wisdom, integrity, and expertise as pre-qualifications for earning the term) and use it in all its reframed glory.

Fair enough?

PS: Quetzalcoatl recently reincarnated as Korean orphan living in Poughkeepsie and should be happy to meet to share a chocolate milk, parent's willing, somewhere around 2017!

;)

PPS: The elves of hyperspace however ask about you every time we commune. "Less chatting and more MHRB de-fatting" they chirp your way!

;))

digitalprotocol
digitalprotocol topcommenter

@BLived we are close to being on the same page, however, i have yet to experience DMT. 

I had a knee jerk reaction to the term "tribal elder" as very clearly are in a post tribal society. only those living with broken and antiquated use this term. refugees from agrarian societies. this is dumb. We are in a posthumanism phase and need not to adhere to these systems of power. Elder wisdom is fine. just dont talk about tribal elders unless you want to be investigated by the FBI and whatnot. 

i seek to learn of higher of plains of thought and consciousness. clearly the establishment forbids me crossing interdimensional lines. 

I wish to meet Quetzalcoatl

 
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