Updated: Apr 21
A recent rising tide in mainstream psychedelic exposure is primed to blow the doors wide open to the next phase of human evolution, creating enormous cultural cathartic healing and a shift in the collective consciousness. Countless influential public fingers, podcasters and YouTubers actively promoting the use of ‘plant medicines’ are creating cultural on-ramps for both newbies and experienced psychonauts to expand, explore and tinker with their own consciousness.
However, mass adoption could also present a new and potentially catastrophic risk to fragile or inexperienced individuals, ill-prepared to the volatile and unpredictable potency contained within Pandora’s box.
Is Ayahuasca humanity’s spiritual saviour or a deadly ticking time bomb set to crater the collective consciousness? Let’s take a closer look and find out.
Is Ayahuasca too hardcore to be healing?
8 years ago Planet Kambo co-founder David Rees and I were featured in a BBC documentary about Ayahuasca hosted by our friend Simon Mundie at the BBC. We were both interviewed and expressed very different views on the powerful plant medicine.
Having received enormous personal therapeutic rewards from plant medicines, I gave my first-hand account of their benefits for mental health, personal development and spiritual growth.
David on the other hand, explains an opposing and polarising perspective. A dear friend of ours tragically committed suicide soon after trying Ayahuasca for the first time at David’s private 32nd birthday retreat in the Netherlands.
Can Ayahuasca cause suicide?
Gone but not forgotten, warrior, wingman and best mate, Samuel Reason, an ex-Royal Airforce veteran surviving 2 front line tours of Afghanistan, heartbreakingly, took his own life in November of that year, only two months after drinking Ayahuasca.
This tragic event came as a complete shock to everyone who knew him, as, on the surface, Sam’s life appeared to be in perfect order. Seemingly very happy and having just moved in with his girlfriend, David describes Sam as -
“A reliable man of honor, integrity and high moral values - I am proud to have had him as such a close friend."
David confirms that after the Ayahuasca ceremony there were no indications whatsoever that Sam was planning to take his own life. Not only that but David describes how Sam raved about how amazing his experience was and how it had changed his life for the better.
Whether Sam’s Ayahuasca experience contributed to his death is up for debate but David believes that the powerful plant medicine had brought to the surface dark facets of Sam’s psyche that he had been carrying with him his whole life and that it had potentially opened a horrific pandora’s box of memories, trauma and unprocessed emotions related to the atrocities of war that he had witnessed while serving in Afghanistan. David claims that without the support, aftercare and professional help in dealing with and integrating these painful energetic imprints, he was left to suffer alone.
This highlights the need for a heavy screening process and for the dangers to be very clearly defined to potential participants before they attend any kind of ceremony or event where Ayahuasca would be consumed.
Do psychedelics help with treating trauma?
On my own personal journey of healing, understanding and self-discovery, I’ve worked with Ayahuasca many times and gained some incredible insights into my own life along the way. Not only that but I’ve also had some earth-shattering epiphanies regarding the bigger picture, such as the nature of reality, the universe and of life itself which has often induced a blissfully ecstatic state. Many times I’ve been left sprawled on the floor with head in hands, mouth agape and mind completely and utterly blown.
Using plant medicines in a therapeutic setting is literally like therapy on steroids.
However, excavating and processing deeply buried emotional skeletons is also a huge part of the enigma that is the Ayahuasca experience. Buried deep in the dark recesses of the human mind, painful emotional sewage, karmic debris and uncleared spiritual toxins churn like a witch's brew poisoning us from the inside.
Like a once dormant volcano that now spews forth its fiery lava, Ayahuasca opens a portal for the subconscious mind to purge these stuck energies that have kept it weighed down in a sea of despair like a concrete slab chained to the ankle.
Is Ayahuasca dangerous?
In extreme situations, such as in Sam’s case, this “opening of the emotional floodgates” without the proper aftercare and support can be extremely dangerous. Many potential Ayahuasca users who have unacknowledged dark skeletons in their proverbial closet are simply unaware of the personal demons, psychological darkness and hidden emotional baggage that they are carrying. The human mind is very effective at suppressing painful memories in order to protect the person from being re-traumatised as you’ll read about in more detail below.
This explosion of sinister thoughts, hellish flashbacks and emotional torture can push a seemingly “together” person, unknowingly tiptoeing along the cliff edge of their own sanity, over the edge and into a turbulent vortex of self-destructive darkness.
Like an unforgiving glance in the psychological mirror only to see the most formidable, haunting and malicious parts of yourself looking back, Ayahuasca can force one to confront the shadow, face fears and process deeply buried feelings, all of which I’ve personally faced head-on in my Ayahuasca journeys. Although extremely difficult at times, the psychedelic jungle juice, in my opinion, has definitely been worth the squeeze. The more I’ve worked with Ayahuasca the more I’ve come to realise that it is a long game that you must play with it and it’s not a quick fix by any stretch of the imagination. It’s very much like going to school; you don’t go to school for one day and think that you’ve made it, you progress over a period of years before eventually graduating, except in this case, Ayahuasca is a school that you’ll never really graduate from. Unravelling the mysteries of the universe, clearing many lifetime’s worth of karmic debt and becoming the best version of yourself is a mountain summit that can never be reached.
A relationship is built between you and the medicine and like any relationship, it needs to be respected and nurtured over time. Ayahuasca becomes a tool and a powerful ally much in the same way that Kambo is, albeit with a different character, essence and flavour.
“What we don’t know about psychedelics is a very thick book”.
Jordan Peterson, London Real
What is DMT and how does it work?
DMT, aka “the spirit molecule”, unheard of in mainstream Western culture until very recently, has become increasingly popular in the last decade or so. Often vaporized and inhaled, the dry crystalline alkaloid is known as the “businessman’s trip” because of its short but very intense psychedelic effects, DMT is not active when ingested orally. The human body contains an enzyme called Monoamine Oxidase which renders DMT inactive when it passes through the digestive system, but when DMT is combined with a Monoamine Oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) it allows the DMT to be absorbed through the lining of the stomach and intestines.
Ayahuasca vs DMT. What’s the difference?
Ayahuasca is a boiled mixture of two or more plants that contain both DMT and an MAOI. The DMT containing plants can vary but it’s always combined with the much revered Banesteriopsis Caapi vine, aka “the vine of the dead”. It’s this sacred vine that contains the MAOI which allows the DMT to be absorbed into the bloodstream. When drunk it can induce deep psychedelic, entheogenic and visionary states that offer profound insight, wisdom and healing.
Legend has it that the method for making this mystical jungle brew was revealed to a shaman in a vision while under the influence of a high dose of jungle tobacco.
Ayahuasca for treating mental health problems
It seems there is massive scope for this powerful plant medicine to be used in a therapeutic setting. I’m no stranger to therapy or to plant medicines for that matter and I can say without a doubt that using ayahuasca while under the care of a skilled therapist will revolutionise the mental health space, transform the way we approach therapy, and open up a new dimension in mental and emotional healing.
One of the difficulties with modern psychotherapy is that trauma can be very troublesome to access because the subconscious mind constructs metaphorical walls around it to protect the patient from further pain.
It’s a survival response, keeping the feelings buried to safeguard the patient from being re-traumatised. While an amazing and often life-saving attribute of the human mind, it’s not helpful at all once the real threat has gone and it’s time to relax, recover and rebuild. It can literally take decades of therapy to breach those walls and get to the most painful feelings and in some severe cases, it may not be possible at all.
When using a powerful plant medicine those walls come crashing down and the buried feelings flood to the surface. While this experience can be overwhelming, this underlines the need for its use to be facilitated under the close supervision of a highly experienced therapist. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this is the future of mental healthcare and although strides have already been made in this sector it’s still decades away from becoming the gold standard.
This article has really only scratched the surface of the awesome potential of these power medicines for mental health, personal development and spiritual wellbeing and I hope that after reading you have a clearer idea about how they work, the potential benefits and also the inherent risks and dangers.
I’ll leave you with a favourite analogy of mine; powerful psychedelic medicines are akin to handling a bolt of lightning. When used safely, correctly and with the respect they deserve, they have the power to upgrade the internal hardware, reboot the psychological software and install a whole new mental operating system. When abused, taken recreationally or simply in excessively large doses, psychedelics have the potential in extreme cases to cause mind-melting, psyche-wrecking and soul-destroying ego explosions of cataclysmic proportions that tragically, as with our dearly missed friend Samuel Reason, can prove to be fatal.
It goes without saying, tip-toeing into the murky world of psychedelics can be a merciless experience that shouldn’t be undertaken without careful personal introspective consideration. Wading into these uncharted waters needs to be done with one’s eyes wide open, with a deep respect for both the positive and potentially negative consequences.
I can only hope that this article helps illustrate both sides of the psychedelic flip coin, I have experienced first-hand both the best and worst-case of life scenarios imaginable while working with plant medicines. I pray that you can mine some wisdom from my personal experiences and that anyone considering exploring this space does so with a better understanding of the potential good, bad and occasionally, ugly outcomes.
Thanks so much for reading, if you have any questions or thoughts please leave a comment below as I love to engage and hear your perspectives.
Until next time, stay safe, don’t have nightmares and we’ll catch up again soon.
Planet Kambo Ltd.
Plant medicine veteran & Planet Kambo co-founder Jonathan Gold, left an unfulfilling 10 year IT career to pursue a higher path of healing, self-discovery & enlightenment uniting him serendipitously with the transformational healing power of Kambo frog medicine.
Now a skilled facilitator boasting thousands of recovery testimonials, Jonathan escaped the matrix of corporate enslavement & lives a life of service, duty & soul alignment.