Is Ayahuasca a Scam?

ayahuascascam-Misha Almira

Is Ayahuasca a Scam?

Danger! Danger! Health Concerns – Is it really Safe?

Ayahuasca can have negative impacts on health if combined with some prescriptions drugs, particularly antidepressants, for example, Prozac and other specific serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

The essential dangers of ayahuasca are the potential preexistence of MAOIs in the participant’s system and the wide variety of plants mixed with the vine including a wide assortment of psycho actives including Datura or Brugmansia.

MAOIs can be hazardous in that they hinder a protein critical in the metabolic breakdown of numerous nourishments and drugs.

The blend of MAOIs with specific medications, especially stimulants, can prompt unsafe or possibly lethal therapeutic circumstances.

The majority of ayahuasca retreats recommend a specific diet be followed prior to using ayahuasca.

In addition, most require a safe cessation of all pharmaceuticals before attending the retreat. This is usually handled individually so it can be approved by their Doctor when needed.

This is for the safety of the participants. Not all participants follow these rules which is unfortunate.




Although a small number of deaths have occurred immediately following the use of ayahuasca, ayahuasca as the direct pharmacological cause of death is extremely rare.

 Henry Miller, April 2014

Henry Miller reportedly took yage in Mocoa, Colombia along with a group and his body was later found abandoned by the side of the road.

“British backpacker dies after taking hallucinogenic brew in Colombia”. -McVeigh T., The Guardian, Apr 26, 2014.

 Anonymous male, 2004

Twenty-five year old man dies after taking homemade ayahuasca.

“A Fatal Intoxication Following the Ingestion of 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine in an Ayahuasca Preparation”. – Sklerov J, Levine B, Moore KA, King T, Fowler D. J. Analytical Toxicology, Vol. 29, Nov/Dec 2005.

A case of a 25-year-old white male who was found dead the morning after consuming herbal extracts containing Β-carbolines and hallucinogenic tryptamines is presented.

No anatomic cause of death was found at autopsy. The medical examiner ruled that the cause of death was hallucinogenic amine intoxication, and the manner of death was undetermined.


Some deaths associated with ayahuasca do not have a direct link to the use of ayahuasca. Actual cause of death is unknown.

Kyle Nolan travelled to Peru to take part in an ayahuasca ceremony, but died while there.

“Peruvian shaman confesses he buried body of U.S. teen who died from drinking hallucinogenic herbal brew at spiritual retreat”. -Snejana Farberov, DailyMail, Sep 12 & 18, 2012.

A Peruvian shaman admitted to police on Wednesday that he had buried the body of a U.S. teenager to cover up his death during a spiritual retreat in the Amazon last month.

Shaman Jose Pineda Vargas, 58, told the authorities that 18-year-old Kyle Joseph Nolan, from northern California, died on August 22 from exceeding the dosage of a medicinal brew called Ayahuasca while staying at the Shimbre Shamanic Center.

Vargas then buried Nolan’s body at his jungle retreat and said that the teenager disappeared. Nolan’s mother began searching for him after he failed to return from Peru as scheduled August 27. As of April 2013, no final information indicating Kyle died from ayahuasca ingestion has been published.

“2 die in north-Colombia ayahuasca ceremony”. – Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports. Aug 15, 2011.

Two men have died after consuming the drug ayahuasca in a massive “purification” ceremony in the north of Colombia, local authorities said Monday.

The victims passed out shortly after consuming the drug, but weren’t taken to a hospital until hours later. According to Caracol Radio, family members of the victims thought the two men were in

According to Caracol Radio, family members thought the two men were in a trance, but doctors established the men had died.

“Ayahuasca Sacrament Situation in Canada -The Case of Juan Uyunkar”. – D. Bolsanello, 2003.

On October 19, 2001, a 71-year-old Indian woman unexpectedly became sick and was hospitalized shortly after attending one of the ceremonies facilitated by Juan [Uyunkar] and his son, headquartered at the Naadwedidaa-based Health Center.

The autopsy indicated no link between the consumption of Natem (Ayahuasca) and the death of the woman. However, Juan and his son Edgar were charged with trafficking in drugs and negligence causing death.


None Known


A Canadian man killed a Briton after the two took a hallucinogenic plant brew known as ayahuasca together at a spiritual retreat in the Peruvian Amazon, authorities have said.

Witnesses told police the Canadian man, 29-year-old Joshua Andrew Freeman Stevens, killed the British man, Unais Gomes, 26, in self-defence after Gomes allegedly attacked him with a knife during an ayahuasca ceremony near the jungle city of Iquitos on Wednesday night, said Normando Marques, a police chief in the region. The Guardian, Dec. 17, 2015

Controversy around Fake Shamans, & US retreats


What is a Shaman? Is it safe to trust any Shaman?

“The Shaman is someone who has seen the world for what it is, someone who has fallen into it’s traps and its illusions, only to finally – triumph will and intent – heal herself of the madness by embracing and realizing the powers of the Whole Self. – Della Van Hise

A Shaman is simply a Healer. Ideally, we all wish to find a Shaman that has walked the path in integrity. We want to trust that they only want what is best for us, but I have heard some horror stories about fake Shamans.

We want to trust that they only want what is best for us, but I have heard some horror stories about fake Shamans.

There are stories of women being sexually abused, others being assaulted, and some just abandoned by the fake Shamans.

There is one in particular that shows up late for ceremonies and then leaves in the middle.

This might not be a major issue if it did not involve a plant medicine as strong as Ayahuasca, but this is a medicine that has been known to leave the participants in a high state of vulnerability.

Participants often describe being unaware of the body, needing help to walk to the bathroom, and states of extreme confusion.

To have the Shaman disappear at such a crucial time, has the potential to be tragic. Luckily, I have only heard of this happening at one retreat center.

Luckily, I have only heard of this happening at one retreat center.

Unfortunately, there are people without integrity in all areas of our lives.

They surface in schools, churches, hospitals, large corporations, big cities, small businesses and rural areas.

Often, people hear about Ayahuasca and think they can just go to the first retreat they see on google and be safe.

They may hunt for the least expensive one and fly down to South America without researching it at all.

Some of these retreats are deep in the jungle, miles away from civilization, leaving participants completely vulnerable. Some are hours from the nearest hospital.

It is essential to know what you are getting yourself into.

Not all Shamans are real, just like not all American businesses are legit. There are criminals all over, so do your due diligence.

There are sites that review reputable retreats for the safety of individuals that know nothing about them.

They give specifics on the safest and most respected retreats and feature actual reviews from others that have attended them.

It is not required to travel outside of the U.S. to attend an Ayahuasca retreat.

Although there has been controversy around the legality of ayahuasca in the states, there are some Native American churches that have the right to hold plant medicine ceremonies as a religious sacrament.

If you are limited on time or are uncomfortable traveling to South America, you have options.

They may not save you a ton of money, but are definitely more convenient to get to. A few have waiting lists so I’d recommend planning ahead.

There are many underground ceremonies held in the states that are usually by invite only, but there are a few known legal retreats in the United States that you can reserve online.

Here is one in Washington and one in Kentucky. I have not been to either one of these and cannot give a personal review.

Celebrities Doing Ayahuasca

Sting - Ayahuasca - Misha Almira

Ayahuasca also is known as plant medicine, “the vine of death,” the spirit vine and “yage” (which William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg described doing in their 1963 novel The Yage Letters).

The once secret “shamans brew” of the Amazon has slowly made its way into mainstream consciousness, including the entertainment industry with appearances in, “Nip/Tuck” “Weeds” “While We’re Young” and “Wanderlust.”

Then there was a BBC program called Extreme Celebrity Detox, on which three celebrity guests drank ayahuasca in the Peruvian Amazon.

“I thought it sounded like a very interesting thing to do.” –Tony Wilson, founder of Factory Records

“I was very keen on the idea of a spiritual odyssey and of finding myself.” – Mina Anwar, comedy actress

“I wanted to find out something more about myself.” –Jo Guest, former glamour model

“I laughed with wonder, I cried with an open heart, I wanted to do more” – Carina Cooper, Actress

“No. I took ayahuasca once. The only answer I got was ‘Keep following your hands.’ ” Terrence Howard, American actor and singer, Fox’s TV series Empire

“I did ayahuasca, it changed my life.” – Lindsay Lohan, Actress

On it, the star reportedly went to a shaman and in a hallucination that followed, apparently saw her own birth and death. And Lindsay admitted it helped her let go of the “wreckage of my past”.

“I realized for the first time that this is the only genuine religious experience I have ever had,” –Sting, Musician

Ten Celebrity Ayahuasca Users 

Transformation & Beauty of the Teacher

I decided to see for myself and scheduled a trip to Peru. I researched many retreats and ended up going to Sacred Spirit Journeys in Tarapoto, Peru.

I attended 8 Ayahuasca ceremonies in 14 days. It was the most beautiful and intense experience of my life so far.

I arrived at the airport and was met right away by a very kind Peruvian man. He spoke very little English but found someone to translate so I understood.

We were waiting on 2 other passengers going to the retreat. He asked if I’d like to wait at their sister resort since it would be about an hour and it would be more comfortable.

I agreed and within 5 minutes I was in the hotel lobby of a quaint but welcoming hotel.

Our driver arrived with 2 other retreat participants and we set off on our journey to the retreat.

The retreat is located on the Cordillera Escalera and overlooks the Blue Mountains, occupying a wonderful section of the Huallaga River.

We arrived after a bumpy but entertaining drive. I had already bonded with the other girls so felt relieved and safe.

When we arrived, we were greeted with smiles. They checked us into our rooms immediately and I was happy to learn that my new friends were my neighbors.

On the way up the hill to my room, I was in awe of the beautiful view. There was a pool overlooking a river down below and mountains surrounding the property. It truly was picturesque.


We had a meeting to introduce ourselves and talked about the schedule for the retreat.  We walked down a million stone stairs to the Maloka, (Ceremonial meeting place).

It was a circular hut with a cone thatched roof, open aired windows and it was right on the river which made the jungle seem even more alive.

We could already hear the birds and frogs making their presence known.

We were instructed that we would be attending our first ceremony the following night at 8 p.m. and would not have dinner on the ceremony nights because it is better on a fairly empty stomach.

We all shared our concerns about the following night.

A few of us were newcomers but about half of the group had already experienced Ayahuasca.  I felt excited and nervous.

That night dinner was incredible. We were unable to eat salt or seasoning and somehow they managed to make delicious food for every meal.


The next day we met the Shamans which were a husband and wife team of Shipibo Shamans with over twenty years of experience.

We got up at 6 a.m. and drank our tea in pairs which I was uncomfortable with for about a minute.

We were introduced to Anita and Diogenes and I instantly felt at ease. They were warm, joyful, and loving.

Anita gave us our vomitivo tea at, which was just a type of Lemongrass tea meant to cleanse the stomach and bowels.

This was an essential preparation for the ayahuasca ceremony we would be participating in that night.

I was shy about throwing up in front of other people. Then, I decided I better get used to it considering I’d probably be puking my guts out in front of the entire group in a few hours.

Once Anita decided we had cleaned out enough, they would call the next two. I vomited about 5 times, mostly water, and went back to my room.

I tried to meditate as much as possible between breakfast and lunch.

We met for a discussion and meditation before the ceremony. The facilitators thoroughly explained what to expect and how to handle any challenging experiences during

The facilitators thoroughly explained what to expect and how to handle any challenging experiences during ceremony.

After that, we learned a basic meditation technique and meditated for 20 minutes. It changed the energy of the room and set the perfect mood for ceremony.


The Maloka

There was a thick stillness that blanketed the Maloka as we braced ourselves for the mysterious unknown.

We each went up one by one to receive our shot glass of ayahuasca. Then we waited for it to kick in.

The first time, it tasted like a slightly sour molasses syrup but got progressively worse each time.

By the last ceremony, I could barely hold it down. Even the thought of it now makes my gag reflex respond.

The Shamans were like superheroes.

During the day, they were just little laughing joyful people from Peru. When the ceremony began they transformed into giants full of the most immense power. It was beyond belief how much power they actually embodied.

It was beyond belief how much power they actually embodied.

They fearlessly conducted the energy in the room and were our protectors. I trusted them with my life.

The closest word I can find to describe it is Magic but not the kind we have been taught to fear.

It was true magic based in love and service to us and the planet. It was magnificent and otherworldly.

I was forced to look at myself and how my choices would affect my life. I was shown mind-blowing events and truth of our existence.

Each ceremony was entirely different and the experience was life changing. I walked away from Peru as a different person.

My views of the world, my life, and other people were  drastically altered in a positive way.

Everyone at the retreat was supportive, generous, and in integrity. I trusted them on the same level as I trust my own family.

My conclusion is there are some scams out there and fake Shamans. There are also very real Shaman healers doing work for the highest good of humanity.

Do I think there are Ayahuasca scams? Yes, I do.

Do I think all Shamans are scam artists? Absolutely not.

Do I think Ayahuasca is just a bogus concoction meant to rob tourists of their money? No, I do not. The experience was more real than my life at times. It definitely felt guided by a higher being with a knowledge far surpassing what I’ve known. It was all knowing and came from a place of profound love. There is no way I could doubt its validity.

After the experience of seeing how vulnerable one is after taking ayahuasca, I could see how easy it would be fall victim to a dishonest Shaman or facilitator.

Do your research, ask others, read reviews, and follow your gut.

This is not something to take lightly. It can be life threatening depending on the choices you make.

More Ayahuasca Experiences

If you are considering going to Peru, I recommend Sacred Spirit Journeys, or Temple of the Way of Light. You can also research more here.

Misha Almira

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1 thought on “Is Ayahuasca a Scam?”

  1. Thank you for the article.

    I also want to say that I have worked with Juan Uyunkar and he did not killed the lady in Canada.

    What happened is that the lady had too much tobacco. Tobacco is a very powerful plant to work with but only to be worked with in its natural(not cigarretes) and organic forms and low doses.

    The lady had some form of nicotine or other compounds toxicity crisis, thats what killed her. When I was sick and went for Juan for healing he did not even allowed smoked tobacco he said its bad for the lungs in general. He told me he did not want the people at the ceremony where the lady died to smoke like that (A LOT) but since it was such a huge ceremony he could not control everything.

    Also Juan was basically working pro-bono there, he received a small stipend for his work, he did work at that reservation out of compassion, to help the people of the place, not to kill them.

    So yeah just wanted to make that clear, if you look at the court he never received charges or anything for the death simply because he did not kill her. He only received punishment because he was working with an “ilegal plant” even though he had permits for traditional healing ceremonies from Canada and all….

    I am saying this because this has misunderstood as Juan being the person who did it with Ayahuasca. The concecuences are that Ayahuasca received a bad name, and Juan ruined a lot of reputation and potential work, he has a huge family to take care for but articles that lead to believe that he is a murderer its harder for him to work with a tremendous amount of experience in traditional healing.

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