To Hell and Back: Healing Depression with Ayahuasca and Huachuma, Part 1

Ayahuasca is a plant medicine, similar to iboga, that seems to be a little bit more well known in the "mainstream."  One of my readers recently reached out to me and shared his success in curing his depression with ayahuasca.  I asked if he would be interested in sharing his story on Journey of Self Love, and here it is.  His story sucked me in and left me feeling completely inspired and beyond happy for his journey.  It's quite long so I have broken it up into three parts.  Enjoy!

Part 1:

A Calling:  It is often said by those who have experienced ayahuasca that it is not something you seek out. Rather, it is ayahuasca that seeks you. It calls to you. It beckons you to drink of it so that you can experience the healing powers it has to offer. I can honestly say that is what I experienced. Ayahuasca called to me, I drank of it, and my life has been forever changed.

Aya-What?:  I had never even heard of ayahuasca before as I sat in my dentist's office one day awaiting my turn. To pass the time I picked up a random magazine and started flipping through it, landing on an article about Courtney Love. I'm not sure why I even bothered reading that particular article since I have never really been into her music, but I read it anyway. In the article Courtney mentioned that she was “opposed to all drugs, except ayahuasca.” And that “everyone should experience ayahuasca at least once in their lives.”

Ayahuasca? What on earth is that?

My dentist said “see ya in six months,” and I went home that afternoon and did a search on the internet for ayahuasca. I just couldn't get it out of my mind. Somehow I even managed to spell it correctly. I read one article, and then another, and another. What I read totally blew me away, but in a really good way, and I spent hours reading about this incredible Amazonian medicine.

Why had I not heard of ayahuasca before?

I read the (now famous) article by Kira Salek that appeared in National Geographic Adventure Magazine and how she was completely cured of a lifetime of depression by drinking the psychedelic tea that the indigenous peoples of the Amazon Jungle have used for thousands of years. Salek's account is now the most famous article in the magazine's history, still drawing inquiries years after it was published.

In addition to curing depression, I read of others being completely cured of such nasty ailments as anxiety, OCD, PTSD, fibromyalgia, and others. Not only did these people find relief from their afflictions, but they were completely cured, finally free from the soul-crushing symptoms that had wreaked havoc on their lives for so long. I continued reading anecdotal reports of people claiming to be cured through ayahuasca, but what really got my attention was when I stumbled upon the medical research that had been done on this amazing medicine. Yes, actual medical research!

Dr. Charles Grob, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at the UCLA School of Medicine and the Director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center has conducted extensive research on ayahuasca. To sum up Dr. Grob's lengthy study of long-term drinkers of ayahuasca in Brazil, he found that ayahuasca drinkers had a dramatic increase in the number of receptors in the brain for the feel-good chemical serotonin that is naturally found in the body. The increase in receptors allows the body to make better use of the serotonin that is already there.

Modern antidepressant medications, in contrast, flood the brain with a high dose of serotonin in the theory that more is better. There are some researchers who hold the belief that flooding the brain with so much serotonin actually causes the brain to lose some of its receptors, ultimately resulting in a loss of the drug's efficacy and a need to switch to a different kind of antidepressant medication. With their heavy side effects and often poor results, some people just give up on these medications and decide to trudge through life without them (like I did).

I continued searching online for more ayahuasca experiences and eventually stumbled upon the account of Jim Davis. After experiencing a dramatic healing of his own depression through ayahuasca, Jim decided to quit his job in the United States and move to the Amazon Jungle to study ayahuasca full-time. Jim and his wife, Gina, now own and operate the Hummingbird Ayahuasca Healing Centre, just outside of the bustling Amazonian city of Iquitos, Peru ( The Hummingbird is different from many of the other ayahuasca retreats in the Iquitos area insofar as they concentrate on helping people heal with ayahuasca instead of the typical “ayahuasca tourism” experience that many of the other retreats offer.

As someone who had spent many years suffering under the heavy weight of depression and anxiety, my interest was more than piqued. In the weeks following my discovery of ayahuasca, I simply couldn't get it out of my mind. Is it really possible to be cured of depression and anxiety? Is it really possible for someone like me to live a normal life?  I frequently found myself returning to the Hummingbird Centre's web site, and one day, almost on a whim, I sent Jim an e-mail to see if he had room for me sometime in the near future. He did. I then made a reservation with him and sent payment via Western Union. And then I booked my flight to the jungle.

It was done. I was going to the Amazon Jungle to experience ayahuasca. And there was now no backing out.

Becoming Depressed:  People don't just wake up one day depressed and anxious. It isn't the result of a single event. Rather, for most people it's a process. It is often the result of a series of negative or traumatic events that slowly do significant damage to one's ability to feel and function like a normal person. It's different for everyone. For some it's the result of years of being on the receiving end of an abusive parent or spouse. For others it's the result of living in an inner-city slum with no way out. It usually results in a lack of hope for a better future. For reasons that the scientific community is still exploring, when a person experiences any kind of significant trauma, it changes the way the brain perceives things. People lose the ability to feel any happiness. They become anxious and experience panic attacks. They lose any remaining semblance of self-esteem and withdraw from society. In short, life sucks. And not only that, but depression can be deadly as well with suicide being the tenth most common cause of death in the United States.

My Own Personal Pearl Harbor:  I grew up in a small coal mining community deep within the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia near the Virginia/Kentucky border. It was a relatively poor community where coal mining was the primary industry. My father worked as a coal miner, as did both of my grandfathers, and several of my uncles. Coal mining may have run in the family, but I knew from an early age that it wasn't for me.

I was mostly oblivious to the poverty as a child and actually have fond memories of playing in the forest with my friends. Things began to change, however, as I grew older and realized that I was not exactly living in an optimal location for making a living for myself. As a teenager I was unable to find work at the local grocery store or at any of the restaurants in town. And this was during a time when the economy was supposedly “booming.”

After high school I attended a nearby community college. It was at the end of my first semester (final exam week) that something happened to my family that ultimately led to me plunging into the depths of depression and anxiety. It was my own personal Pearl Harbor. Just as the December 7, 1941, attack on the Pacific Fleet docked at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese changed the course of history, the event of December 7, 1992, changed my life forever.

My father was working the night shift at a small coal mine nearby. Early that cold December morning my mother received a phone call, a phone call that no one should ever have to receive. There had been a terrible accident, she was told, a massive explosion deep within the mine. My father and seven other men were trapped inside.

I, along with my mother, brother, and several aunts and uncles maintained a vigil outside the mine as rescue crews made attempt after attempt to enter the mine, but the progress was slow. The mine was still smoldering from the explosion and it was difficult for the rescue crews to enter it, even with their protective equipment.

The hours turned into days as the rescue crews continued their operations. And then the news crews starting showing up...just a couple at first, but in no time at all the area outside the mine was flooded with reporters. And not just from the local stations. These were big-time reporters. These guys were from the major networks. I'll never forget one of them pointing a camera at me and asking me if I still had hope. I did, but I had no intention of ending up on national television at the expense of my father who was still somewhere in that mine. I walked away from the reporter without saying anything.

After a few days I did start to lose hope. It had become painfully obvious that the odds of anyone surviving that accident were nil. My family eventually went home to shower, eat, and try to get some rest. For as long as I live, I'll never forget turning on the television and seeing them talking about the “trapped miners” in Virginia on CNN Headline News...every half hour and on the hour. Surreal doesn't even begin to describe it.

After about a week the rescue crew finally reached the miners...all deceased, of course. We got closure from the accident, but it was just the beginning of a major depression for me as I tried my best to resume a normal life. Try as I did, it just wasn't working too well for me. I eventually was able to get out of the Appalachians, but after working a series of difficult jobs with difficult bosses, there was no denying it...I was mired in a deep, dark depression. My life sucked. I didn't see any way out and I started to have frequent thoughts of ending it...of taking my own life.

Stay tuned for part two this Wednesday!

Part 2 Post / Part 3 Post


***New Update 6/22/17!  I just finished a book, "Healing With Iboga" about experience with iboga!  It includes information about what iboga is, my experience, and my tips to make the most of your experience as well as how to integrate back into everyday life!  Available in paperback or kindle!***