The Daily Mail recently published an update on the increasingly popular retreats located in South America which offer Ayahuasca “tea” made from native plants that have been used for centuries for shamanic cleansing rituals.
The plant, which is found throughout the jungles of Brazil, Peru and Colombia, contains the psychedelic drug DMT and is used for healing and contacting the spirit world. Ingestion is usually in the form of a “tea” which almost always induces profuse vomiting and other negative physical effects before the start of the hallucinogenic experience which many claim can bring about personal enlightenment.
Hollywood stars such as Jim Carrey, Tori Amos and Courtney Love are all raving about their ayahuasca experiences. Lindsey Lohan claims the tea “saved her life” and Sting said the hallucinogen gave him “the only genuine religious experience I’ve ever had.”
He described how he felt after drinking the tea, as if something was coursing through his body, “like an intelligence searching everything. I am wired to the entire cosmos. I look at the ground and I see a crack in the ground and inside that crack I see a little flower growing… it's my brother.”
Their endorsement has caused a boom in tourism in the Amazon basin where resorts and lodges offer “cleansing ceremonies” for pilgrims and local church-like ayahuasca “cults” lure the vulnerable into their congregations. In Brazil, which has a profusion of these cults, the tea has been linked to a string of suicides, murders and cases of mental illness and insanity – often experienced by victims the first time they drink the tea.
One mother, whose son allegedly became schizophrenic and committed suicide after taking the substance, told the Mail: “This drug... has taken the lives of many other sons and daughters. It is responsible for the deaths of more people than anyone is willing to admit.”
For instance, a 41 year old nursing assistant named Deise Faria Ferreira who joined a ayahuasca cult known as Santo Daime, left her home in central Brazil in July of this year and has never been seen or heard from again. Her family believes she is the latest victim of the unregulated spread of the cleansing rituals which are protected by the Brazilian government under the guise of “religion.”
According to Deise’s daughter, Apoena, her mother started having health problems such as high blood pressure and signs of mental illness after she first started drinking the tea at church services.
“She became very different, more restless, less able to concentrate. Her blood pressure kept going up, and none of the tablets she was prescribed was able to get it down,” Apoena told the Mail. “She ended up taking medicine for convulsions, depression and anxiety, as well as the blood pressure pills. She'd never had any problems with her health before. This was the effect of the ayahuasca, I'm sure of it.”
Deise received medical treatment but the cult convinced her to stop taking the medicine she was prescribed, which they called “poison”. The last they heard from Deise, she was going off with the group to take part in a weekend-long ayahuasca purging ceremony. Cult leaders told her not to tell anyone where she was going, but Deise called her mother and let her know of her plans. No one has heard from her since.
“When my grandmother called the cult leader the next day to find out where she was, he at first pretended he hadn't been with her,” Apoena said.
But details later surfaced about Deise becoming agitated and asking to go home shortly after imbibing the tea during the retreat. They learned that someone offered to drive her home, but Deise opened the car door and jumped out during the trip, running off on foot. Police were able to find nothing but Deise’s clothing, which was covered in red stains that were not blood.
Two months later, Apoena said her family no longer holds out hope that her mother is alive.
“Either she became ill and died, and they got scared and hid her body, or they used her as a sacrifice and murdered her. I don't know what they do in these rituals, I just know that she is no longer alive. It's left the family in pieces. The authorities should better control the use of this drug before it destroys more lives.”
Apoena claims that since her mother disappeared, she has been contacted by other families who have suffered their own tragedies, which they too blame on the hallucinogenic brew.
“We've heard lots of cases of people who committed suicide immediately after taking the tea for the first time. Two families who live next to the Daime church my mother went to also spoke to us. One of them told us that their daughter killed herself after drinking the tea. Another woman, who lives right next to the temple, said her husband took his own life after taking the tea for the very first time. There are lots of cases of suicide, but the families are often poor and because it was suicide they don't have any way of proving that it was because of the drug, so the death goes unreported.”
She added: “Anyone can take the tea, there are no health checks and not even first-aiders on stand-by in case anything goes wrong. How many more people will have to die and how many more families will have to suffer before something is done about this?”
The problem is that many of these so-called “churches” are protected under religious freedom laws and governments are reluctant to step in.
Meanwhile, people are beginning to sell the drug on the internet and pilgrims are flocking in ever greater numbers to these South American retreat centers and churches, many of them young people just looking for a spiritual thrill.
Some of them never come home.
This was the case with an 18 year-old American student named Kyle Nolan who disappeared in 2011 while at an ayahuasca lodge in Peru. The shaman eventually admitted that Nolan had died during the retreat and he buried the boy’s body.
Claudetina de Almeida, 47, lost her 20 year old son Joao Raimundo who killed himself by jumping off a viaduct after taking ayahuasca in a Santo Daime church where he had been a member for three years. She had watched her son change from a normal, happy person to a delusional man who believed he was the incarnation of Jesus Christ and that one of his sisters was the Virgin May.
“He once tried to attack me with a hoe. I thought he was possessed by an evil spirit. It took me a while to realise the problem was his health. The psychologists said that he was schizophrenic.”
Joao reportedly drank poison before throwing himself off of a viaduct in the center of Sao Paulo. His mother reported the death to police but the case was closed just two months later due to lack of evidence that Joao’s death was due to ayahuasca.
Even though movie stars rave about the drug, some famous people have lost their lives from the drug. One case is that of Glauco Villas Boas, 53, one of Brazil’s best-known cartoonists who was gunned down along with his 25 year-old son by a member of the ayahuasca “church” Glauco had founded. When police caught the killer he confessed to the crime, saying he wanted to prove to his younger brother that he was Jesus Christ. The killer’s father said that his son had once spent five days without sleeping and spent the time reading the Bible.
“One day he arrived back from the church so out of his mind that his brother had to tie him to the gate. His mother asked the church to stop giving him the tea, but it was in vain. On New Year's Eve he went to church and, on his way back, was so high that he crashed his car in a ditch.”
The stories go on and on. Anyone who knows someone who is participating in, or considering, the use of this deadly tea should show this article to them immediately. Until the government steps in to do something about it, we must do our part to protect our fellow brothers and sisters!