Doctor sees healing power in psychedelic plant as Peru investigates deaths

Doctor sees healing power in psychedelic plant as Peru investigates deaths

Doctor sees healing power in psychedelic plant as Peru investigates deaths

VANCOUVER — A retired doctor who spent years treating drug addiction says he has seen the healing powers of a psychedelic plant that a Vancouver Island man was studying in Peru before he was killed by a mob that blamed him for a shaman’s death.

Dr. Gabor Mate said ayahuasca grows in the jungle and is brewed with other plants into a thick concoction people drink at ceremonies in countries such as Peru, Costa Rica and Brazil.

The drug is illegal in Canada. Health Canada said in a statement that ayahuasca is a controlled substance that is considered to have no medical benefit.

Mate said the hallucinogenic medicine is used as part of ancient aboriginal practices to help people tap into childhood trauma with support from a leader, and he has seen its power at work in Peru, and Costa Rica, from where he returned two weeks ago after facilitating ceremonies involving the plant.

“I’ve known people whose addiction has stopped,” he said, adding he has worked with ayahuasca for 10 years. “I know people who’ve recovered from medical diseases that otherwise they got little help for. I know a woman who tried to kill herself 17 times, who is no longer suicidal.

“It’s not like a drug you give to somebody. It’s more that it opens up portals into yourself, understanding self in a new way and having a deeper vision of reality. It’s that understanding of the self and a clearer view of reality that helps you heal.”

Peru’s attorney general has ordered the arrest of two suspects in the killing of 41-year-old Sebastian Woodroffe, who had travelled to the Amazon rain forest to study hallucinogenic medicine. Officials said forensic experts were studying Woodroffe’s body to determine whether he had any involvement in the death of Olivia Arevalo, an octogenarian plant healer from the Shipibo-Konibo tribe in northeastern Peru.

A Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research study published in 2013 in Canadian Drug Abuse Reviews says ayahuasca-assisted therapy delivered in 2011 in a B.C. rural First Nations community experiencing substance use appeared to show improvements in outlook, hopefulness and empowerment and that more research was warranted.

Mark Haden, adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia’s school of population and public health, said the plant helps people gain insight and works toward healing but problems occur in impoverished communities where shamans aren’t accountable.

“I think psychedelic drugs should be legalized in Canada and North America within a context that allows for people to experience psychedelic medicines in a supervised setting and the supervisors need to be part of an accountable professional body,” said Haden, who is also executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

Mate is an author and international speaker on repressed trauma and the emotional and physical effects of hidden stress. He said many of the illicit drug users he treated in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside became addicted in response to unresolved traumatic experiences in childhood.

The ayahuasca concoction isn’t a take-home remedy and isn’t for people with a history of psychosis, mania, seizures or heart issues, Mate said, adding he couldn’t speculate on what set off the events leading to Woodroffe’s death, but alcohol and stimulants, such as crystal meth, are more apt to cause violence.

“I’ve participated in multiple ceremonies and I’ve seen the occasional person freak out, but rarely. I know people who’ve done or led hundreds, maybe thousands of ceremonies and never had any acts of violence.”

In December 2015, a Winnipeg man fatally stabbed a fellow tourist from England after the two drank ayahuasca together in a spiritual ceremony a few hours’ drive from where Woodroffe was killed. The men drank the hallucinogenic brew before the British tourist grabbed a butcher knife, leading the Canadian to fatally stab him in what British authorities later determined was self-defence.

Mate said that a decade ago, he led a ceremony involving ayahuasca with members of an Indigenous band in British Columbia who’d experienced multigenerational trauma.

Health Canada told him he would have to do a clinical study on the effects of the plant, but Mate said that would have cost millions of dollars.

“It’s a completely different entity,” he said of the plant. ”What I wish they would do is look at it realistically and objectively based on international experience.”

Health Canada did provide an exemption to the drug several years ago for a Montreal chapter of a Brazilian religion for sacramental use of the plant.

Rhonda Nelson of Athabasca, Alta., said she went on a life-changing retreat led by Mate in 2015 to deal with anxiety and depression related to childhood trauma before attending similar ceremonies in Peru in January 2017 where she again drank ayahuasca.

“It would be akin to 10 years of psychotherapy. I was able to get in touch with that deep suffering and what the root of it was,” she said.

Nelson, 45, said she also experienced physical healing and no longer has symptoms of congenital myasthemic syndrome, a neuromuscular disorder.

“When I ingested the plant, it brought up emotion in me that I’d been familiar with me all my life but in such a way that the intensity was similar to the intensity that I experienced when it first originated in early childhood,” she said.

— Follow @CamilleBains1 on Twitter

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Peru

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said the 500 deaths from COVID-19 in the province are a tragic milestone. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta hits ‘tragic milestone’ with more COVID-19 deaths

Province up to 500 COVID-19 deaths, adds 1,265 cases

A recent investigation by the RCMP Central Alberta District Crime Reduction Unit led to the arrests of 24 people. (Contributed photo)
24 people arrested following RCMP investigation in central Alberta

Twenty-four people are facing a combined 235 charges following an investigation by… Continue reading

Photo from Town of Sylvan Lake Facebook page
Sylvan Lake communities band together on development plan

Sylvan Lake Intermunicipal Development Plan expected to be approved next spring

Tribe restaurant owner Paul Harris, left, consults with manager Brandon Bouchard about how to proceed under pandemic rules that make it hard for eateries to be profitable. (Contributed photo).
New pandemic rules deemed workable for Red Deer retailers

Stricter COVID-19 reduction measures introduced in lead-up to Christmas

Quentin Lee Strawberry
Man accused in 2019 Red Deer murder will stay behind bars

Quentin Strawberry going to trial next year on second-degree murder charge

Hockey Canada suspends world junior selection camp after positive COVID-19 tests

Hockey Canada suspends world junior selection camp after positive COVID-19 tests

Justice Minister David Lametti responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Liberals to present bill on single-game sports betting

Liberals to present bill on single-game sports betting

Bayern, Man City win to advance to Champions League last-16

Bayern, Man City win to advance to Champions League last-16

FILE - In this March 26, 2006 file photo, former soccer player Diego Maradona smokes a cigar as he watches Argentina's first division soccer match between Boca Juniors and River Plate in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The Argentine soccer great who was among the best players ever and who led his country to the 1986 World Cup title before later struggling with cocaine use and obesity, died from a heart attack on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, at his home in Buenos Aires. He was 60. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)
Argentine soccer great Diego Maradona dies at 60

Argentine soccer great Diego Maradona dies at 60

In this July 1, 2020, photo, Salt Lake Tribune data columnist and Utah Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen poses for a photo. Larsen is a sports writer, but with much of that world sidelined during the pandemic he's been digging into coronavirus data and its sobering implications. So when he found himself with a cache of spare change, partially from his childhood piggy bank, he knew plenty of people could use it. (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)
Tweet on spare change generates big money for virus aid

Tweet on spare change generates big money for virus aid

FILE - In this Wednesday, March 18, 2020 file photo, a view of a 'Matterhorn-Express' gondola lift in front of Matterhorn mountain in the Zermatt ski resort, in Zermatt, Switzerland. Restrictions to slow the curve of coronavirus infections have kept ski lifts closed in Italy, France, Germany and Austria, as well as countries further east. But skiers are already heading to mountains in Switzerland, drawing an envious gaze from ski industry and local officials in mountain regions elsewhere on the continent who lost most of last season due to the virus. (Jean-Christophe Bott/Keystone via AP, File)
As season nears, Europe ponders skiing during pandemic

As season nears, Europe ponders skiing during pandemic

FILE - In this Dec. 10, 2015 file photo, actor John Boyega, right, pose with Star Wars characters during the Japan Premiere of their latest film "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" in Tokyo. Boyega stars in Steve McQueen’s “Red White and Blue,” the third film in the director’s anthology of West Indian life in London from the ‘60s through the ’80s. The five-film series will debut Dec. 4. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara, File)
John Boyega isn’t going to ‘take the money and shush’

John Boyega isn’t going to ‘take the money and shush’

The Hockley Motel in Mono, Ont., is shown in this undated handout photo. An Ontario motel that served as a backdrop for the beloved CBC sitcom "Schitt's Creek" is up for sale. The Hockley Motel in Mono, about an hour's drive northwest of Toronto, was listed for $2 million today. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Colliers International
Calling all eccentric millionaires: ‘Schitt’s Creek’ motel up for sale for $2 million

Calling all eccentric millionaires: ‘Schitt’s Creek’ motel up for sale for $2 million

Most Read