Navigating Between Worlds: Ayahuasca And Cultural Preservation


Episode 50

Chris Kilham

Medicine Hunter Chris Kilham joins us to talk about plant medicines, shamanism, and cultural preservation. Is ayahuasca the ideal psychedelic? What’s the best way to prepare for an ayahuasca ceremony? And what ​is the difference between cultural preservation and cultural appropriation?

Podcast Highlights

  • Chris describes his varied experiences with ayahuasca.
  • Why it’s important for everyone to have access to plant medicines.
  • How to foster cultural preservation.

Podcast Transcript

00:26 Paul Austin: Hey listeners, back with another Third Wave podcast, I'm your host, Paul Austin and today we have Chris Kilham on the show. Chris is a medicine hunter, author and educator and the founder of Medicine Hunter Inc. He has conducted medicinal plant research, in over 45 countries, and Chris works with companies to develop and popularize traditional plant-based food and medicinal products into market successes which includes his work with Ayahuasca, which is obviously what we focused on today in our conversation. We talked about his personal experiences with Ayahuasca, we talked about the growing commercialization of Ayahuasca and what that means, both from a cultural appropriation perspective, but also what opportunities it provides to indigenous people who are within the Ayahuasca ecosystem. And then we also talked about with the growing commercialization, the commodification, is there a sustainability problem. And actually Chris is doing research on this because although a lot of people assume there might be a sustainability width problem, there's no actual research to prove that. So that is what Chris is doing right now.

01:38 PA: It was great to have him on the show. Chris has also written a book called The Ayahuasca Test Pilots Handbook, which you can find on Amazon. And without further ado, I bring you Chris Kilham, the medicine hunter.


02:00 PA: Once medicalization happens, and as this process develops, we start to build an infrastructure for open access. So that's a lot of literacy and education. So that's kind of what we're going for.

02:13 Chris Kilham: Excuse me, do you expect legalization of microdoses of things like acid?

02:21 PA: That's a great question. I think what we'd like to do is first lay the foundation from a research perspective about what utilities microdosing might have.

02:32 CK: Yeah, yeah.

02:33 PA: So, I know MAPS, Canada is gonna start a trial pretty soon to test it for ADHD I believe and then The Beckley Foundation is doing it for creativity and what not, so...

02:47 CK: Okay.

02:48 PA: My understanding is microdosing, because it's this sort of... It's like yoga or mindfulness meditation. And that it's a really sort of beginner introduction to what altered states can bring in terms of understanding insight spiritual development, and I think for that reason it would help more people to engage with psychedelics as a topic, which would then increase literacy, which I think would build a broader network for the work that we're doing and what not. So that's kind of the narrative and what not.

03:20 CK: Well, the medicalizing of psychedelics has been good for the category in some ways. Yeah.

03:28 PA: Yeah, how do you feel about that because your background and your perspective is as from a very indigenous perspective, you've done so much work in the Amazon with Ayahuasca but also I was reading through your biography before this, things like Rhodiola which I'm a huge fan of, I've been using for 10 years now. And it's like...

03:47 CK: Yeah, yeah.

03:48 PA: It's amazing.

03:49 CK: Yeah. Well, I think that having studies and having clinicians involved and getting published papers out there is all part of a process of reaching a certain group and frankly, of providing assurances that these things are somehow real and legitimate even though the truth of the matter is that it's their history of use that gives all the real assurance of their legitimacy. But I think you satisfy people of a lot of different languages in this category of psychedelics in the category of consciousness and so we need to accommodate and utilize the whole science side without ever losing sight of the traditional native side ever.

04:38 PA: I'd be curious to hear more about that in terms of the legitimacy that comes from the historical use. This is something that we talk about as well, where we have these waves of psychedelic use and the first wave, for example, was indigenous use. So you had, obviously, Ayahuasca in the Amazon, you had Soma in ancient India and even kykeon with the Eleusinian mysteries. Why do you think legitimacy is largely rooted in the historical indigenous use compared to the scientific method, which is largely a result from the 17th century onwards? I'd be curious to hear that dynamic of it.

05:19 CK: Well, legitimacy really refers to something being real in a manner, okay? That's a legitimate treatment. That's a treatment that's accepted as real. It's not some quack crazy thing, okay? So with the psychedelics let's say you take the psychoactive snuffs of southeastern Colombia or you take Ayahuasca or some of the other DMT-containing preparations in the Amazon. They persist through history because they work. Because they provide profound benefits, they open up people in strange and unusual and often very, very beneficial healing ways and so they earn their centuries or millennia of respect through extremely exalted experience. That's exactly what it is, it is an exalted experience, it's something that is so... At its best, the psychedelic experience is so vast and magical and joy-filled and unified and bright and harmonious that all possibilities are understood within that kind of ocean of consciousness. That's the validation of this.

06:40 CK: I always get annoyed when people talk about scientific validation. Science doesn't validate this, science corroborates this in the scientific language. This multi-millennia use of people going on these journeys to whatever extent they have, whether it's been with certain fungus, the Psilocybe species mushrooms in Southern Mexican shamanistic practice or whatever. These are things that so profoundly move people that they were legitimate and valid long before anybody ever owned a test tube.

07:27 PA: And this reminds me of an author who I've read a little bit of, Nassim Taleb, who wrote, "The Black Swan and Antifragile." He's a guy who did pretty well with probabilities and he talks about something called "The Lindy Effect," which is this idea that the longer something has been used and the longer that it's around, the more likely it will be used going forward. So in other words, when you have a medicine for example, like Ayahuasca, which has this millennial long tradition of use, the chances that we are going to be using it for another millennia for example, are much higher than say like anti-depressants, which have only been around for 30 years or something like that.

08:14 CK: Yeah, and we don't co-evolve with anti-depressants, like nobody has ever co-evolved with the Zoloft molecule. But we've co-evolved with a myriad of plants, we've all arisen from the basic primordial life soup together and diversified over billions of years. And so what we have is this complexity with plants that we share biology with them. We share actual anatomy with them too, I mean Venus plants eerily represent our own tissue, so we have this vast vast connection, that can't possibly be approximated by or ever replaced by something synthetic. There's just no chance of that. And it's definitely the case that the long-term use, especially if you can manage not running out, let's say, not running out of Ayahuasca, the long-term use, is almost assured. I think you're right by virtue of not only what it has been traditionally, over time, but now in this whole age of information, what people are learning relatively easily with a few key strokes spreads this knowledge. This is a real flash point, for Ayahuasca for sure.

09:40 PA: This is one of your specialties, we could say, as the medicine hunter and as someone who has spent so much time in these communities. How have you experienced this flash point yourself in terms of the changes that have developed and even just the last five to 10 years, around kind of the globalization and even commodification of Ayahuasca which has normally been a sacred plant medicine only in the Amazonia?

10:04 CK: One of the things that has happened that has been pretty wonderful in my estimation, is that the interest in Ayahuasca, and the burgeoning Ayahuasca scene has pretty single-handedly revived shamanism in a part of the Amazon where like all other parts of the Amazon it's been dwindling and diminishing. Anthropologists have lamented for a good long time, that as the generations go by, fewer and fewer people were choosing to train as shamans to learn about the medicinal plants, to learn about the ceremonies and the healing methods. So, one of the remarkable consequences if you will, of the popularization of Ayahuasca especially as it relates to people going down to South America, is that it has revived Shamanism.

11:00 CK: So, people go, "Okay, well, hey, I can stay and learn from my grandmother and I can have a good living and a good life here in my community where I know everybody, I grew up with everybody and I can still, you know go fish on the river and do what I do and not go off into some sort of sprawling urban nightmare like the river cities are." And so, this as it turns out, is a remarkable consequence, very positive in my estimation. And you see it a lot of these Ayahuasca centers shamans and healers who are educating people, not just about Ayahuasca, but about other healing plants, they're preparing different medicines for them to use while they're there, undergoing the Ayahuasca ceremonies as well. So there's this remarkable revival.

12:00 CK: And then I think also somewhat on the flip side, you absolutely get people who are going down there, 'cause they heard about it and it's on their like check-off list for sort of daring stuff to do, and some of that's a little stupid, but for the most part, I think people wind up having profound experiences whether that's what they went down there for or not.

12:23 PA: You mentioned the revival of Shamanism, why has that been so important? Do you think in these local indigenous communities? Whether that's reviving the understanding of spirit, whether that's... What is that role of shamanism, in these indigenous communities?

12:42 CK: Well, the shamans are the doctors, they are the wise elders, they are the healers, they're the herbalist, they're the therapists, they're the ones who look into problems of all different kinds. A problem might be you have this recurring pain in your stomach or a problem might be, you're having some sort of weird mental phenomenon. And so, the shamans if they are talented, learn... Okay, let's check out what's going on with your stomach. I think I need to make you a special preparation for that. And the next thing you know, you're on a restricted diet and you're doing some kind of strange tea. So they have to function as real doctors in those circumstances, and midwives, very often these shamans are women. A lot, a lot, a lot of women shamans in the Amazon. They don't get as much credit as some of the big sort of superstar male shamans but there are just tons of women shamans down there. And so, that role is critically important.

13:49 CK: And now our interaction with the shamans, current and also coming up, is of course changing their whole practice. They weren't previously making medicinal drinks for foreigners on a daily basis. "So while you're here, use this, this will help you to detoxify your kidneys or whatever. But now they are. So there is this very strange and interesting, and I think for the most part positive fusion of non-native people going to these native people, interacting with them through the plant medicines, the plant medicines are the vehicles for all of this, and having ceremonial experiences with Ayahuasca that are often profoundly beautiful and life-changing, and also being exposed to dragon's blood for skin, and cat's claws are anti-inflammatory, and a robo oil for irritated places on your face and Chu Chu Huasi to bring you back from fatigue, and on and on and on and on.

15:04 CK: There's a whole world of stuff that people are getting exposed to in the course of combing through the markets, and meeting these shamans of these different places. So it's really kind of amazing what's going on with medicinal plants and with shamanism, as a result of the popularization of Ayahuasca specifically.

15:25 PA: What I'd love to dig into, before we continue with this route, is a little bit about your story. So how did you get involved with the Amazon or more specifically Ayahuasca? Was it first and early psychedelic experience for you, which led to becoming involved, or was it the other way around, and that you first became involved in these Amazonian communities, and then through that you were exposed to Ayahuasca?

15:49 CK: I think it's fair to say that I was turned on, if you will, by a psychedelic, when I was 15. I got high for the very first time ever. I took 250 mics of pure LSD had an astonishing experience, completely life-changing. It was one of those brilliant, luminous, expansive, "I can't even believe how good this is" experiences. And that was, as it was for many people at the time, it was a kick-off experience into exploring yoga and meditation and natural foods and herbs, and so many different things. And like many of my friends, I kinda fell into those pursuits.

16:40 CK: And I've been practicing yoga pretty much daily since 1970, and I have certainly employed the psychedelics a great many times in the course of my life, and most especially in the Amazon over like the last 11 years, with my wife Zoe and with friends and other people. And so in any case, in 1975, I think it was '75, I read a book called Wizard of the Upper Amazon, about a man named Manuel Córdova-Rios, who was captured by natives and hold deep into the jungle supposedly, and trained by a shaman, and eventually became a shaman in his own writing. And I was fascinated by the accounts of Ayahuasca.

17:29 CK: And from that point on, I was definitely interested in it, though, I had no idea if I'd ever be able to have an encounter myself. And then flash forward to 20 years ago... 21 years ago, I started exploring the Amazon on a fairly regular basis. Searched for Ayahuasca, didn't find it. The first couple of times I was like looking in the wrong places or had a couple of narrow misses, and then eventually when I did connect with it, that was a big Aha, and it came on the tail of an entire decade of medicinal plant exploration and meeting with different shamans of all types in any case in Brazil, and Ecuador, and Peru. So I had a nice base of Amazonian investigation and experience with shamans prior to actually drinking Ayahuasca.

18:27 PA: How did drinking Ayahuasca defer from these other psychedelics that you had done in the past, whether that was LSD with your first time? When you consumed this plant medicine within its sort of home or place of origin, so to say, what was that experience like for you?

18:45 CK: Well, as you just basically identified, in previous times, let's say, in my teen years with LSD, these were not guided experiences, and they weren't actually attached to any particular traditional use, or observation. They were still remarkable, but they were sort of unstructured in that way. And what I found with Ayahuasca is that not only was it extravagantly intense, just massively powerful and thorough, but also I got the sense of its connectedness to a vast web of life in a way that I did not get with other quite remarkable psychedelic agents. I haven't had that same profound connection with peyote though I've certainly had great ceremonies and with mushrooms though I've certainly had great ceremonies, Ayahuasca for me has been sort of the... I like to say it's like having Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Lou Gehrig at bat all at the same time. It's like a 990, it's just outrageous.

20:06 PA: Yeah. I like the sport metaphor there. I think some people will identify with it. No, they were all different time periods, weren't they? Babe Ruth was in the 20s.

20:15 CK: Lou Gehrig was the 40s and...

20:15 PA: Mickey was?

20:16 CK: Mickey Mantle was 60s and 70s.

20:21 PA: So are you a big sports fan then? Is that...

20:23 CK: No.

20:23 PA: Okay, you just liked it to use that metaphor.

20:25 CK: I just like that metaphor. I think that Ayahuasca is so powerful in its mental thoroughness, its emotional thoroughness, it's physical thoroughness, the way everything just moves. It's unlike anything else I've ever done. And I'm not inexperienced as far as the psychedelics are concerned.

20:50 PA: I had my first Ayahuasca and my only Ayahuasca experience about seven months ago in Costa Rica. But for me, I think because of the place that I was at, the way in that it was served, it was a very light experience. And I told a few people, friends of mine who have extensive experience with Ayahuasca I really had no purging. It was a very sort of... It was coming at a time in my life where I was approaching burnout to some degree from being overworked. And I went on this retreat and it was very nurturing and it was very pleasant.

21:29 PA: And that was really surprising for me because a lot of the stories that I had heard about Ayahuasca are largely rooted in darkness and difficulty. And the sense of obviously you go through hell to get to heaven. Are your experiences difficult? Are they challenging? I'm just curious because it seems like a lot of people, although it's a profound experience, it's also really challenging and difficult because of the purging and some of these other things that happen.

22:08 CK: I have had the full range of experiences with Ayahuasca. Everything from extremely difficult to beatific beyond my capacity to express. It is known as a purge and the purging isn't just vomiting. It's mental and emotional and psychic purging of those things we've accumulated in our lives. Psychic habits, ideas, notions, toxic feelings, resentments, guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, so many different things that we carry. So part of the cleansing experience of the medicine is bringing those up and out and incinerating them, if you will. And so some of that is sad or painful or takes us through feelings of grief. What I can also say is that I've had equally many or probably more on nights that weren't difficult like that, that were more on the mystic connection side of things. Just United with the entire field of being and often feeling immersed in love. And so I think it's a mix. You can drink for a long time and then have a very surprising night. I've gone along for months at a time just [chuckle] having a really good time and then just had a night that completely drove me right through my mat. So it's not predictable. It's not predictable.

23:54 PA: It's not.

23:54 CK: But you learn to navigate though. That's the thing is that as you go along, especially if they have a meditation or a yoga practice or a martial arts practice or something that causes you to really have to focus your attention, you can navigate more successfully in that space while you're mareado, you're feeling the effects of the medicine.

24:19 PA: How do you navigate then those difficult experiences with Ayahuasca? Do you ground yourself through meditation? Do you prepare beforehand in a certain way to understand the process of acceptance? What sort of tools do you use to help with that process?

24:32 CK: What I do personally is prepare myself before ceremony by just being conscious that what I want from the Ayahuasca is healing in certain ways but with great kindness and love rather than, "Yeah, drop me head first into the big chipper shredder. I'm ready baby," not that kind of an experience. And so a lot of that set up makes a difference. But also, as things arise, remembering to breathe, remembering to sit up and be open or lie down and be at ease, whatever it is that you need at the moment. All of those things come into play. You know, sometimes some miserable stuff just happens and fighting it is always the worst possible thing. So you have to surrender physically, breath wise, every way, just okay, go through this. And that usually helps to very significantly reduce the discomfort of whatever's going on anyway and lead to some kind of an integrated understanding of whatever it is that you're dealing with at that moment. So it's basically awareness, pure and simple.

25:48 PA: So let's dig back into the work that you're now doing or have been doing over the last five to 10 years with Ayahuasca. There's this narrative that's developing about the extinction of Ayahuasca. And how it seems to be a really relevant concern because of what we spoke about earlier, the globalization commodification. Is that true, is there a sense of Ayahuasca going extinct is that a danger or are there other things, developing either in the Amazon or elsewhere that are being oriented towards preserving it or helping it grow? I would just like to dig into that.

26:22 CK: I'll start with the end of what you were asking first Paul I have been doing surveys actual surveys of Ayahuasca cultivation and wild harvesting and I'll be going... I wrote an initial survey, and I don't wanna suggest that this is completely exhaustive but people have been saying for years "Oh, we're running out of Ayahuasca it's a big crisis", and yet none of that expression of concern has been based on anybody going out and checking it out. What I've done with some guide friends we published the first study recently was go out and find different people of all different types in the general Pucallpa area of Peru and the Iquitos area, the two big areas for the most of the people who are going to shamans and finding out if they're growing it if they're buying it, where they're getting it from. And the number of things emerged one was that an increasing number of people are growing their own vine.

27:34 CK: There are many, actually tens of thousands of vines out there, that people are growing. So that's a positive development and I think we'll see a lot lot more of that also we know that the big area of wild collection is a place called the Rio Tamaya. I'll be there in a couple of weeks doing the second part of the survey, so just to address the whole issue of Ayahuasca availability or scarcity or sustainability or crisis I'm not seeing a crisis yet certainly all of the Ayahuasca centers place orders for vine and they get vines sent to them 100 kilos, 200 kilos, 500 kilos, whatever they order they get. And of course it's true with the Chacruna leaf too, but the vine is the more difficult issue because of how long it takes to grow generally a minimum of five years before you start using it. Part of my contribution to the scene is to go actually get at least some real in the field in the forest info about what is actually going on with this because [chuckle] believe it or not that [chuckle] hasn't been done before.

28:47 PA: Right it is probably more like people have an intuition, where they are going into these places and they might be thinking or they see the huge growth and they are like, "Well this is a concern, this is" but you are saying maybe the numbers obviously don't reflect that.

29:00 CK: We don't know.

29:03 PA: Okay.

29:03 CK: We don't know, but I can tell you that there are some like 15 year-old vines for example, that you can harvest the 300 400 500 kilos from them and they still have 70% left, when you find areas where there are lots of older vines, it's possible to harvest lots and lots and lots of material from that area and not necessarily harm the supply. We'll find out.

29:34 PA: What methods are you using to collect the data from a survey perspective?

29:38 CK: Go to the villages along the Rio Tamaya meet with the collectors, and the harvesters. Go out see what they do ask them questions about. We got questions about pricing and quantities in the previous survey. So I expect the same I expect that we will get a lot of the same info. It is on the ground work and eating local [chuckle] food and sleeping in netted hammocks and all that good stuff.

30:04 PA: Which I assume is something that you still enjoy.

30:08 CK: Oh yeah, I love being in the field. There is no substitute for being out there whether it's investigating Rhodiola in Tian Shan mountains of China or Ayahuasca in the Rio Tamaya, or Kava in Vanuatu going there is the only thing that gives you the true understanding of what is happening in the field, nothing else will do.

30:33 PA: What's at the core then of this motivation to do this work? To travel all over, to have these obviously amazing adventures but to really pick a certain topic that is somewhat controversial that particularly with an emphasis on medicinal plants is not profit-oriented or motivated. What really has inspired you to do this for the last 20 to 30 to 40 years of your life?

30:58 CK: I come from a family of broadcasters and ministers, okay [chuckle] so everybody is a talker everybody's got big ideas, everybody is talking all the time and but the minister who's there out there serving, just plain serving just like serving people. And so I got that habit as you serve people and look some of this, I assure you is purely selfish, I get to travel the world I actually do get to go to places like in the forest, in Congo with local village people who were like happy to take us and drop everything or something equally outlandish. It is a dream come true from a travel perspective and from a service perspective a long time ago, my very first trip to the Amazon I met a 103-year-old shaman named Maria Seana and she sat me down and she said "you bridge the worlds you tell people about each other. This is important for you to do". And she described how being a bridge was really essential in a time in which there is so much misunderstanding and I really took that to heart.

32:12 CK: And so I'm fortunate to be in a time in which plenty of companies want my consulting services so I can make a good living. And I can also devote time and energy and money to doing things like these surveys which I do or going down to the Amazon with my wife Zoe, taking groups of people down for which we charge nothing at all. It always costs us money. So the people can have profound healing experiences. This is really about helping people to have access. In the case of native people who are trading medicinal plants, I can give them access to the global market. That's a cool thing. Or we can bring people down to the Amazon to a place like Nihue Rao or Temple of the way of light or whatever and know that they're going to have transformative healing experiences. A lot of it's just service pure and simple.

33:14 PA: And I think a big part of that and a big conversation that's happening around... Whether it's organizations or people like yourself who are acting as this bridge between cultures really is this element then of cultural appropriation, which I think is becoming a relevant and controversial topic in itself, particularly around Ayahuasca. I'm not gonna ask any sort of specific question, but just more an open-ended question is how do you feel about cultural appropriation and what's going on with Ayahuasca in that realm?

33:51 CK: You think if somebody goes down to Peru for a week and drinks Ayahuasca buys a shitload of Shipibo-looking clothing and comes back home and sets up shop as a Shipibo shaman and pours Ayahuasca charges everybody 150 bucks a night. I think that's cultural appropriation, but let's be real. These people are asking us to go down there and to sit with them and to drink their traditional medicine and to be in ceremony with them, Okay? This is an invitation. I... Well, I'm not... I travel the globe. I've seen plenty of circumstances in which people have had things wrongly taken from them, especially traditional knowledge relative to the healing powers of certain plants on the part of pharmaceutical entities. That's real cultural appropriation by all piracy, but this is a much more involved intercultural exchange that's happening here, and it's turning out to be mostly good for mostly everybody for the different people involved in services around these places. Food and transportation and all of that. This is like a big deal wonderful thing that's happening for the shamans, for the traditional medicine. It's mostly positive. You can always find negative examples. There's no question. While I accept and understand and experience in different places around the world, true cultural appropriation. We also live in a world in which the origin of everything is not from here.

35:44 PA: You see this in the language that we use. Tacos and rodeo, and it's a conglomeration of all these external influence.

35:52 CK: Yeah, and look what happened, for example, whatever... 25, 30 years ago when Thai restaurants started popping up in the United States, more than just once or twice, here and there. And Thai food really became popular, and that spawned an entire Thai US population. Then a whole interest structure for the purchase and sale and distribution of all of those ingredients all over the US, you can't look at that and say, "Wow, that's negative cultural appropriation." That's an amazing success story for a whole humongous group of immigrants that figured out how to flourish more readily than waiting 20 years. That's a brilliant thing.

36:40 PA: Where do you stand in terms of... And maybe we keep it within Ayahuasca or maybe just generally speaking, what's appropriate in terms of its use, and what may be for you... You already talked about the example of somebody who goes down and buys all Shipibo clothing and comes back and facilitates ceremony. Are there other ways that you understand what's Okay, what's acceptable, and what might not be?

37:05 CK: A lot of it comes out through trade. If you pay people very, very poorly for let's say something that comes out of the rainforest, and then you make just a bloody fortune on the backend, that's crappy. That's not Okay. That's cultural appropriation. I've been involved with some schemes with native ingredients where we've charged a huge convention on biological diversity back-charge to the native people to the customers. Major cosmetic companies... Oh, by the way, you're going to pay $7 a kilo additionally for money that's going to go directly back to those people for their schools, and they're like, "Oh, Okay." You can do this. You can do these models. You can make this kind of thing happen. You just have to give a damn. You just have to care enough to pick up the phone and say, "This is how it's going to be." It's not as though it's some sort of ingenious thing, just being fair. I think a lot of it has to do with... Well, what's the fairness factor here? You look at guayusa tea out of Ecuador. That was just like Ecuadorian native tea, okay?

38:27 CK: Now it's a big tea in the US, but, but, but there's a whole sustainable project down in Ecuador with plantings and people being paid well, the harvest and a whole drawing operation and a thing that all of a sudden, people are doing better. So you can say, well, on the one hand, this is really something that only Ecuadorian natives have been using in the strength that they call night watchman, but on the other hand, by sharing this and opening this up, then a whole bunch of people are flourishing who otherwise would not be flourishing, they'd be struggling, they'd be stringing together a living somehow in a much more challenging way. So, I don't think there are simple lines, I think you kinda have to look at every circumstance and say, "Yeah, these people are doing it great and honorably and amazingly, and no, these people over here they're total scumbags."


39:35 PA: Hey listeners, just a brief interruption, a really brief interruption quick for some announcements and really there's only one major announcement this week and that's about Michael Pollan's new book, which if you haven't heard about yet, it's called How to Change Your Mind, what the new science of psychedelics teaches us about consciousness, dying, addiction, depression, and transcendence. Michael was at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square, New York City, last Tuesday for the book launch, and I was there with a few friends and experiencing that moment was very special because to me, it represented a flash of time signifying a major cultural tipping point for these substances and you know before then and since that point, Michael's been on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times magazine, he's been on The Colbert Show, The Tim Ferriss Podcast. I'm actually just reading through Twitter comments right now. He's going on the Sam Harris podcast as well. So that is the biggest announcement. So if you haven't checked his book out yet, I would highly recommend doing so. It's an excellent read.

40:44 PA: The other brief announcement is that we are hosting retreats in Amsterdam in two months, so the end of July, July 27 through 29 and August 3 through 5, and there are still some spots left. So if you're interested in joining us in Amsterdam for the retreat, just go to,, and you can fill in an application to join us in a couple of months. We'll get back to the show.


41:20 PA: I remember about six months ago, I was reading through something that happened back in 2014, where there was an organization, which I believe was a non-profit, that was attempting to set up a rating system of sorts or an accountability system and I think it was called the...

41:44 CK: Yeah.

41:45 PA: Ethnobotanical...

41:45 CK: Ethnobotanical Stewardship Council.

41:48 PA: We haven't talked about this on the podcast before, what was that all about, what kind of went down there?

41:54 CK: I was on their board for about a New York minute till I get really got a hold of what was happening. Basically, a guy who was young and smart and had experience with NGOs and was very, very clever, came up with maybe the best name ever, for a group. I mean, Ethnobotanical Stewardship Council, who wouldn't wanna be part of that? After having drunk Ayahuasca once and having a vision in which Ayahuasca told him that he needed to save Ayahuasca, okay? So he became like the Ayahuasca messiah and this was his church. So, basically, they wanted to set up a rating system for shamans and certify shamans as safe to drink with and they wanted to have a hand in how the certain Ayahuasca recipes were made and there were, at the time, no native people associated with this group at all, certainly no shamans, they'd had no actual conversation with any native shamans about any of this and it was really this classic turn of the last century colonial imposition, like we'll go in and straighten them out, they'll be better off once we're done with them, kind of things.

43:23 CK: And so I wound up becoming a vociferous opponent of the group, and of its founder, very ardently so, I might say, I was really intense about it. My intention was to hound him out of businesses rapidly as possible 'cause I realized he was a danger. They started an ad campaign called Save Aya making all kinds of lewd claims about how if they were well-funded then various bad things that had occurred would not have occurred which was ludicrous. So anyway, they were taking credit for shit that they had no association with, so that was an awful thing. And it's not up to us to rate or certify or to tell the shamans how to do what they do. It is up to us to decide who to go to, and to say, "Well, so and so apparently is sexually irresponsible. We won't go to that person, we'll go to somebody who has a good reputation in that way". That's how you wind up being influential on the scene.

44:36 CK: When I first heard about it and I just kinda did a glossary look over, again, it sounded great, it looked great. And then I talked to a few people, this was like probably mid-2017 or something, so well after the fact everything had happened dissolved and I remember reading through some of the materials and saw the letter that you had written, basically stating what you've just stated now.

44:58 CK: Right.

44:58 PA: And at the same time when we come from this Western perspective of Yelp, and these other accountability and rating systems, is there, from your perspective, a way where we can utilize some of the, "modern technology" that we have to help ensure that with the growth of Ayahuasca, that people who do decide to go down and drink it, especially those who haven't done so before, can make sure that they have a safe, meaningful experience. What to you is that good balance point between the indigenous shamans and what's going on locally on the ground? And some of the maybe technology or resources that we have available to us from a western perspective?

45:43 CK: I think that a lot of social media in general, and the Ayahuasca forums specifically, give people good information. You can go onto the various Ayahuasca forums, and if somebody's got a problem some way or another, generally that'll get repeated. Or if people consistently have remarkably positive, friendly experiences at a certain place. Just kinda the volume of that gives you very good indications of who's doing it well and right. I mean, for example, we just... My wife Zoe and I just took a group to Temple of the Way of Light. And beyond being friends of theirs we don't have a particular... We don't have a business affiliation with them or anything, but we love what they do. And there was just this kind of impeccability to the way they handled everything that made the experiences that the people in the group that we brought down very, very wonderful. Very wonderful. They had no worries, no concerns. The stories of good places get repeated, the stories of sketchy places get repeated. "Oh, so and so. The shaman is always shtupping some apprentice." Not a good idea. So I think that is already in place. And then people get to decide what kind of experience they wanna have.

47:12 PA: With an experience like Ayahuasca, which I think comes with a certain level of levity and respect and reverence, that if someone is committing to going through this experience that they should also be committing to doing the necessary research beforehand to understand what it is that they may be committing to.

47:34 CK: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you're going to probably an unfamiliar place to be with somebody who you haven't previously known, to drink a powerful psychedelic in the dark and to have experiences. So you want whatever is the maximum of safety that you can have in that situation. And somebody who, "Oh yeah, definitely go to Ricardo Amaringo at Nihue Rao. He's unbelievably good. You won't be disappointed." That kind of thing. Everybody should have access to that information. And people shouldn't just go down there and open up the Iquitos Times and say, "Oh, I'll go to Don Rafael, he sounds cool."

48:22 PA: Is that an issue in Iquitos? Do you have a lot of people who are just showing up there and just kind of being whisked away by maybe less than savory shamans? I haven't been down there before so I don't have any first-hand experience.

48:34 CK: Well, yeah. All over the hippie trail all over the world. Whether you're talking Thailand or India or the South Pacific or in Iquitos, you've got people who are drifting. They're drifting in terms of their global mobility, and they're also drifting in terms of their lives. And they kinda get swept into different scenes. Wind up going to shaman so and so. And sometimes it works out great, and sometimes it works out not so great. They get the bottom-feeders. Yeah, for sure. Anything that can happen is happening out there. Though I will say on balance, for the most part, it's all pretty good.

49:16 PA: I'd love to just, as a way to put a cap on this excellent conversation, hear a little bit more about what you're excited about, hopeful for. I mean, we already talked about the survey that you're facilitating. But just as the growth of interest continues in psychedelics, but also specifically Ayahuasca, what is your vision of what might develop in the next three to five to 10 years with Ayahuasca, in particular in its relationship to the Western world? And that's obviously a very open-ended question.


49:55 CK: Yeah.

49:56 PA: I do that on purpose just so that you can explore it as you wish.

50:00 CK: I do think that you're going to see... Even though you already see a proliferation of ceremonies, say throughout the US and Europe and other places, I think we'll only see a lot more of them. The Ayahuasca coming to you kind of thing, whether you're in Rome or you're in Savannah, Georgia. I think there's going to be a lot more of that. Hawaii is going to emerge as an Ayahuasca bread basket. I was there a couple of months ago and people are growing vine, and there's huge, huge chacruna cultivation there. In fact, so much so that some ready-cooked chacruna's actually being shipped to Ecuador to shamans there because they're experiencing a little bit of a shortage of chacruna right now. That's kind of interesting. I think there'll be much more significant cultivation in Hawaii, and that's going to kind of power a lot of Ayahuasca. It's gonna mean a lot of Ayahuasca's gonna get brewed, and a lot of it's gonna get distributed all over the place.

51:17 CK: I think we will continue to see a great many people going down to the Amazon to Iquitos, where you have the most centers established. And also further south in Pucallpa where the Shipibo people actually originate, where we're seeing more and more centers popping up. Pucallpa's quite far behind Iquitos. But I think we'll see a lot of people continue to go down. People are going down to the sacred valley to drink both Ayahuasca and San Pedro, and I think we're gonna see a lot more of that. A lot of people really like that equation. We see less Ayahuasca being served overall in Ecuador, and I don't know what the situation is in Colombia. But I would expect Equator, Colombia and Brazil to all kind of come up much more than they have up to this point in time, because they're all also centers of this medicine in terms of traditional tribal use. So in general, I would expect this to flourish. I hope that I continue to get to play, and that my wife Zoe and I continue to get to play in a meaningful and really, really enjoyable way with as many people as possible, and also to share ideas at conferences and through webcasts and that kind of thing.

52:42 PA: Well, I just want take the opportunity to thank you for all the work that you have done, acting as this bridge between these indigenous communities in the Amazon and Western culture, with the work that you've done with FOX or Dr. Oz, or whatever else it is. You've been a tremendous spokesperson, I think, for these medicines and really acted as a forerunner of what now is this rebirth of a global psychedelic interest.

53:13 CK: Well thank you Paul. It's my pleasure to be here with you, and I love this sharing. I mean, I think that's what we're supposed to do for and with each other.

53:23 PA: Now, for our listeners, is there a place, if they wanna find out more about your work or support your work or whatever else it is, what's a good place for that?

53:33 CK: We have vast propaganda on I mean, audio, video, articles. Just mind-boggling endless thousands of pages. So, It's great, there's a lot there. If you're interested in medicinal plants there's a huge medicinal plant section, a big Ayahuasca section. So check it out for sure.

53:58 PA: Great. Well again, thank you so much Chris. And it was such a pleasure to have you on the show today.

54:03 CK: Thank you Paul. You take really good care, okay?

54:06 PA: You as well.

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