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Alternate Therapies: The Ayahuasca Experience

The Ayahuasca Experience – Written by Editor

Thinking outside the box is a way of life for the Roderick family. Their willingness to explore opportunities and take chances has benefited their family with thriving businesses, a comfortable lifestyle, and worldly experiences many can only dream about. These luxuries did not happen by chance; they took hard work. As parents, Steve and Stacy Roderick raised two Marines, a Seaman, an Airman, a Restaurant Owner, and an Executive. All can attribute at least part of their success to their parent’s direction and openness about life and opportunity. That openness continues as the Rodericks explore alternate therapies, from stem-cell injections in Costa Rica, to more obscure treatments in South America. 

In early 2021, Steve learned of his son and daughter-in-law’s interest in beneficial mushrooms through their study of Paul Stamets, who, according to the online site Bioneers, is “very possibly the planet’s foremost expert on psilocybin mushrooms.” Their interest in mushrooms was strictly a culinary exploration to find beneficial health benefits in different foods. Having piqued Steve’s interest, he began to research further. He ultimately learned of the “magic mushroom,” a psychedelic version tied to the practice of Ayahuasca, an ancient yet innovative and controversial practice. 

For two years, Steve spent time researching and verifying his research, reading medical journals, and discovering what an Ayahuasca experience would mean to him. Steve realized that Ayahuasca was essentially the starter treatment while psilocybin mushrooms performed as the follow-up benefit for the overall program. Steve’s primary purpose during his informational exploration was to identify plant medicine’s psychological and physiological health benefits. 

“I understood that conventional medicine in the United States refused to consider these mainline medical treatments, and that became an area of interest to me,” Steve explains. 

The study of mushrooms can be strictly culinary, concentrating on supplemental use with products such as Lion’s Maine (Hericium Erinaceus) and other ground powders often used in nutritional supplements like juice mixtures.

“Without any depression, anxiety, or PTSD-related issues, one might not be led in the same direction of interest for the psilocybin mushroom’s psychedelic benefits unless they seek them for recreational usage, which does not interest me,” Steve says. 

Steve’s life history includes his own experience with PTSD.

“I suffered from extreme PTSD from many years back and for a long period of time,” he shares, “I was able to deal with it, but it was always an effort. My depression would become anxiety and then turn to anger. Even if I didn’t exhibit it externally, I carried it internally, keeping it repressed.”

Steve tried conventional medicine, meditation, and yoga, without success. When his research led him to Ayuhuasca, he hoped this would finally provide the remedy he had sought for so long. With his decision to move forward with the Ayahuasca experience, he began researching the different locations in South America.

“There are several places you can go around the world,” he says, “Through online research, I was able to find everything from a five-star resort in Costa Rica to a bamboo hut in the Amazon jungle. I wanted the experience to be as authentic as possible, and as close to the plant medicine origins as possible, so I chose the jungle. For me, having the jungle experience and living with the tribe was extremely interesting.” Choosing the jungle option allowed for less distraction. “

“Part of the experience was leaving a pampered world to get completely disconnected and away from any comforts in order to embrace the earth and be grounded.”

Steve’s concern over choosing a resort-style option was that the experience would lack seriousness and feel too much like a vacation. But he went on to say, “Other people might not like the idea of living in the jungle, showering outside, or walking around barefoot in the Amazon. So there are other options and ways to personalize the experience.”

On his first visit to the Amazon jungle, Steve was joined by his wife Stacy.

“Stacy does not have PTSD, nor does she suffer from depression. But, Ayahuasca has incredible benefits for people not suffering from those things. It can bring healing to areas you might not have realized cause pain. There could be a past trauma that doesn’t rise to the level of PTSD or maybe low-level anxiety. It can simply be a way to connect you to the rest of the world so that you see people differently and shift your paradigm.”

According to Steve, once you get through the Ayahuasca experience, regardless of whether you have PTSD, you come out looking at people and recognizing that we are all connected and should strive to be kind and loving to each other.

“The whole experience has made me more tolerant. I acknowledge that a person may be showing me their surface, which isn’t always nice, but I realize there is deeper stuff to that person because we all have it. I understand now that there are many reasons people do what they do and act how they act. They may be acting like a jerk, but now I know they are in reactive mode.”

GETTING THERE

When people book their Ayahuasca experience, they submit to an intake process concentrating on general health like blood pressure, heart condition, etc. This process includes a screening to ensure there isn’t a presence of hard or psychotropic drugs that might interact with the medicine. Good Ayahuasca locations will also spend time with you before your visit to determine your intentions, knowledge of the medication and the practice, and what to expect from the experience.

“These questions made me think about why I was doing this. They helped clarify my intentions and expectations and understand how the experience would affect me and my life afterward,” Steve says. 

“So, you get past the screening, book your stay, and then book your transportation. In my case, it was a flight to Quito, Ecuador, and then a six-hour ride out into the jungle. It took two days to get there. We used a private guy, a sort of ‘jungle Uber’, to get there from the airport.”

The Rodericks arrived and were on location for a full seven days. There are options to stay for shorter periods of time, however.  For example, their location has a two-night, three-day offering.

BEING THERE

Steve had done enough research before his experience that he wasn’t fearful.

“To say I wasn’t anxious would be wrong,” he explains, “People don’t die doing Ayahuasca. If you drink too much of the stuff, your body will throw it back up. I wasn’t scared it would do something to me permanently. Still, even a rational person might be nervous the first time, perhaps even every time after that. You can’t go into this with a flippant attitude. The entire experience is very intentional. This ancient medicine dates back over 5,000 years. Suffice to say, you don’t approach this as you might when popping a few antidepressant pills.”

CEREMONY

The Rodericks participated in two Ayahuasca ceremonies during their retreat, each held at night because the native tribes believe the spiritual veil is much thinner at night. On the third night, they refrained from activity, followed by an afternoon magic mushroom experience on the fourth day to complete the Ayahuasca.

“They don’t perform the Ayahuasca ceremonies during the day, so you have your whole day to explore the tribal life. You go to the ceremonies in the late evening, usually about 9:30 p.m. You don’t partake in dinner, but you do eat breakfast. The type of food you consume is significant to the ceremony, with a concentration on very light, healthy, vegetarian fare. After the ceremony, you can relax right there or return to your cabin to rest. It is up to you.”

AFTERWARD

After the first ceremony, both Steve and Stacy felt highly energized. That changed after the second ceremony. The tension released from the experience left them feeling emotionally drained and very tired. They were grateful for their day of rest on the third day.

“The takeaway,” says Steve, “is that the experience was better than people had explained to me. After the second night, we spoke with an onsite psychologist to discuss and process the experience, like a debriefing. I remember looking at him and saying, ‘I don’t know how to be clearer than to say 100 years of therapy could not have gotten me this far.’”

Overall, 100 years of therapy could not have given Steve and Stacy the mental management tools they’ve acquired to deal with life’s obstacles. Now they face life with a profound new outlook and a general paradigm shift in their thinking. 

FOR VETERANS

One of the biggest beneficiaries of this ancient medicine is those who have PTSD. Within our culture, this tends to be the veteran community. Others within the civilian community have PTSD related to trauma such as child abuse, sexual abuse, etc. Veterans have signed up for service, gone into service in good health, and encountered anguish, anxiety, and many mental health challenges. So, something traumatic happens once they enter service, and the trauma is related to their experiences. While conventional medicine seeks to address depression and anxiety with prescription drugs, alternative treatments have become a proven option for veterans. 

“They (veterans) come back, and their doctor’s solution is, ‘Here, take this pill.’ This pill, and this pill on top of that pill, and so on. Is it a wonder so many of our veterans end up battling drug addiction, alcoholism, and homelessness? And yet, they are high-functioning and intelligent individuals whose minds have been derailed because of what they have seen or been asked to do. It’s not their fault. The trauma is not self-induced. They went in with noble intentions and came home damaged because of what they had to deal with.”

The question is, how do we fix this? Plant-based medicine is literally bullet-training veterans on where they are with their addictions. Some men and women enter an Ayahuasca experience, and they leave, and their alcoholism is gone; they never touch it again. Their addictions are gone; they don’t go back to it. Their feelings of well-being are there, and they don’t have another depressive episode.

Yet Steve is careful to point out, “Ayahuasca gives you the insight, the tools, and the boost, but there is still work for you to do. You still have to recognize and utilize the tools provided to help you identify the root cause of a problem so that the next time you begin to feel a certain way or react a certain way, you can stop and think about it. You now have these internal tools to help you deal with, process, and balance out your reactions.

“You can stop and say, Wait a minute, this isn’t that big a deal, and it’s not a big deal to anyone else, and I don’t need to deal with it. I don’t need to project it. It is just another life incident. It has nothing to do with me, where I was in the past, my problems in the past, or anything.

This is what Ayahuasca does in therapy: it allows you to disconnect where an experience might feel hurtful, but now you know what to do with it. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

“Ayahuasca is completely non-addictive,” Steve explains, “Honestly, once you do it, there is no compulsion to return and do it again. You may desire to go back to learn more or reinforce what you discovered the first time, but you don’t feel a need to. There are many documented cases where people go once or twice, then never do it again, and the benefits of their first experience remain with them.”

BENEFIT VERSUS COST

Many veterans choose to tap out of military service before retirement, leaving them without a steady income as they exit the military. They are left to depend on their military-provided medical care entirely. Without a medical referral, many veterans are financially unable to experience existing alternate therapies and methods — an Ayahusaca retreat costs between $3000-$7000, depending on location and venue. The retreat itself is relatively inexpensive. Most of that cost is travel. 

There are places in the United States operating legally, and it would only be a few hundred dollars to travel to them. Some churches, for example, offer the treatment as a sort of sacrament ceremony, as permitted under the First Amendment. However, when offered as a religious practice, churches are not allowed to profit from it; they cannot sell the experience, the medicine, or any related materials (although they can ask for a “suggested donation” which, if given, goes to the church and not the practitioner(s)).

Several non-profit organizations have missions that focus on psychedelic healing. The Hope Project (thehope-project.org) connects military spouses, female veterans, and gold star wives with counseling, support, and community around these psychedelic healing journeys. The Heroic Hearts Project, a 501(c)(3) out of Orlando, Florida, founded by former Army Ranger Jesse Gould, provides access to psychedelic programs, professional coaching, peer support, and other resources for veterans. It appears the veil may be lifting, and the benefits of plant medicines like psilocybin, Ayahuasca, and LSD are resurfacing as powerful alternative treatment methods for PTSD in America. 

“It appears the veil may be lifting, and the benefits of plant medicines like psilocybin, Ayahuasca, and LSD are resurfacing as powerful alternative treatment methods for PTSD in America.”

THE SPREAD OF TRUTH

Oregon has legalized the use of Psilocybin Mushrooms, with Texas not far behind with its passing of a law permitting Psilocybin medical research in the state.

“What is aggravating as hell is that the benefits of plant medicine have been known since the 1950s as a cure for addictions and PTSD-type illnesses. But, for some reason, in the 1970s, the federal government made this a class A drug, making them illegal. Why? If you go into one or two Ayahuasca ceremonies and buy a few mushrooms, you’re all good; there are no more pills to sell you. They aren’t able to keep you on the pill registry, which benefits the pharmaceutical companies and the FDA—interestingly, the head of the FDA is a former head of a pharmaceutical company. However, with Oregon, parts of Colorado, Texas, and Florida looking into this; we may finally be on the cusp of re-realizing the positive impacts of these therapies.”

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