For our our humanities project at University we were given the task of researching any topic and relating it somehow to the idea of ‘Post Truth’ and ‘Fake News’. Myself and my friend thought it would be interesting to explore the use of Psychoactive drugs, focusing mainly on LSD, Psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and DMT. Our goal was to compare case studies alongside the current UK drug laws and highlight as many instances of ‘fake news’ as we could in the hopes of educating people. Along the way we were lucky enough to have interviews with various people from Criminology lecturers to a psychedelic scientist (I will upload these interviews too) . One interview which stood out particularly was with Neil Kirwan – a healer who works with Shamanic techniques. We asked him about his experiences and here’s what he had to say
Link to our psychedelic project blog – https://apsychedelicdiscussion.wordpress.com/interviews/
Can you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?
I host plant medicine retreats in Portugal. I work with entheogenic plants and non entheogenic plants so it’s not just the ones will take you on a journey that I look at. I’ve been doing this now for seven years and I went through learning with a traditional Quechua woman. I also learnt from a guy in the UK who was hosting retreats and I apprenticed with him for a short time. Now I continue to work through doing a dieta with the plants – I’m currently doing a dieta with a tree called chuchuhuasi. The purposes of these dietas is to connect with the spirit of that tree or plant and learn from it and conceive its healing power and connect with its energy. So then if I have a client come to me with a specific problem, the more plants that I’ve got as allies the more I can help solve the issue. That’s how a lot of it in in the amazon is done. The shaman drinks the ayahuasca and it tells him which plants the person needs to help their healing.
How were you first introduced to this topic?
I was travelling and I’d started to read a book called ‘Wild’ by Jay Griffiths and she’s been around lots of different tribes and one of them was about when she drank ayahuasca and I read all about it. I felt it was calling to me big time. I didn’t quite get to Peru, I went to Costa Rica. But I found a Quechua woman from Peru and drank with her and it was the most intense, incredible experience of my life. It put into place a lot of thoughts and feelings I’d had about life since being a little child. It all made sense to me. I didn’t think I’d drink again that first time but as I was coming back into my body it just grabbed hold of me and said ‘no, you’re definitely going to be doing this again!” I didn’t really figure out that this was what I wanted to do with my life until three years ago and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.
Would you say it’s recreational or spiritual?
I would say there’s always the strong element of spirit with everything. Even the term ‘psychedelic’ has a lot of connotations to it for me – it’s often used to reference to if you see loads of crazy colours so in that sense it can diminish the experience a bit subconsciously to it just being about colours and shapes and patterns. Also psychedelics, psychology, psychiatry. I appreciate it all working with the mind but from me and my work and the experiences I’ve had I’d say I’m working with souls and spirit. It’s the entheogen, which means ‘to contact’ that which is divine. People get in touch with who they really are and it’s such a massive break through experience for a lot of people.
Do you think that all this knowledge could be beneficial to the medical world?
Absolutely. I’ve had a doctor on one of my retreats and she didn’t really know what she was getting into but by the end she said “If only I could refer patients to you.” The world would be much different if there was more access to this. If you look at Gabor Mate(1), his work with addiction and ayahuasca and various other plants. Even mushrooms and their work with depression. There’s a lot of research coming together that’s showing it’s definitely there and can help but there is this real stigma that we need to get over for that to happen. I do also feel like, although they are very beneficial, they need to be handled with care and people working with them need to be well assessed and they need to be given the right after care. It can bring up very challenging things for people so having support before, during and after the process is vital.
Do you think that gap between the 1970s and now of there being barely any research into psychedelics was needed? And is there a resurgence of research?
I think for me there’s a deeper happening here whereby the plants that I work with ( and ayahuasca in particular being the main one) seems to be reaching out and gaining more popularity than ever and is practiced now around the globe. If you look at it the Amazon is being destroyed, the planet is being destroyed. We are out of control in a way with our destructive patterns and behaviours. We’re all in pain for some reason and that’s why we’re doing that. What happened in the 1970’s was the LSD phenomena blew up and it frightened the government. It frightened control mechanism. It frightened industries – petrochemical industries and more. Industries that make money from destroying the planet. It also frightened a lot of people what it could mean for their power and it also started to be weaponised – if you look at MK ultra and things like that. A lot of things went wrong when they did that. It comes back to that they definitely have a use but can be used either way. What I do think they (psychedelics) can do is take us to levels of deeper consciousness where the effect of any healing and harm is greater than it is at our normal awake level of consciousness.
Is ayahuasca legal in the UK?
There’s two countries in Europe where it is not legal and that is France and the UK. This is why you’ll see ayahuasca retreats in places like Portugal, Germany, Holland etc. Legality is an interesting one. There was a court case in 2007 where they tried to prosecute someone with a katsam pedro cactus – so that’s a another plant I work with. These cacti are legal to own and possess so why would the chips and the powder made from it not be legal. I think the pot materials for ayahuasca are legal but once it’s mixed together it becomes illegal. It’s not so much ayahuasca as a substance that’s illegal but rather DMT. There’s a guy called Adrian Freedman who’s still being prosecuted for ayahuasca and he still practices all over Europe. It’s such a tricky area for the authorities. There was a psychoactive substances act brought out in the uK last year saying that anything that has an effect on the humans brain is banned. The legal high’s is what started happening so I think that’s the main reason it got brought in. To be honest with you I don’t think the majority of policemen don’t have a clue what it is. What’s more is that for picking a mushroom, you can go to prison for longer than a child molester/pedophile which is crazy. You’ve got the contradiction of the government saying that marijuana has no medical benefit but then the UK is the biggest exporter of cannabis in the world . There’s even an MP who condemns cannabis but her husband makes money from a cannabis farm. It’s a mess.
Do you see any significant changes taking place in the coming years in terms of how psychedelics are perceived?
I think it’s changed hugely already. I’m seeing all kinds of people come to drink ayahuasca with me. I had a woman who was 78 years old come and I’ve had my own mum come and drink too. People are seeing the benefits it can have and it’s quite inspiring for people who may have had a misconception about these plants. When you look in the media, there’s still so many scare stories and any opportunity but that’s a bigger problem. If anything is going to change it it will be through education and the internet and people being able to find the information for themselves. Right now you’ve got so many people doing research on these plants, mushrooms and their therapeutic benefits. There are people making documentaries too so I think the tide of opinion will change. There’s only so long that a government can ignore scientific evidence for.
Do you think there’s a stigma on who takes psychedelics? Is it often young, white, middle class liberals?
In the 70’s psychedelics were associated with hippies. The new kind of “hippy” in this time is the new ager which is quite young, liberal, doesn’t have a job etc. But the truth is that I get engineers, doctors, nurses, psychologists, builders. I had a guy come who had just been in remission from cancer and he was really smart about it for he understood that his disease manifested from something emotional within him. Even though the symptoms of cancer had gone he knew that he had to deal with the emotional side of it or else it would come back. It’s a massive range of people from all ages and backgrounds. I have former gangsters, drug dealers who have started to find a new path in life and want to change their ways. Nobody gets turned away and the only people that would potentially be turned would be those who have real strong mental health issues and working with antidepressants because it reacts quite badly with the medicine. There is still a route for them with ayahuasca but it just needs to be very carefully managed. I think that’s part of the problem. Because it’s not socially accepted and legal there will be people doing it underground without proper care and knowledge. Bad things will start happening if we don’t start having honest conversations about it and making it legal. As you can tell I’m very pro legalisation.
How would you define shamanism?
Shamanism comes from Siberia. The term itself means ‘one who knows’. It’s been used by anthropologists as a catch on term. Anybody engaging in spiritual practice in a tribal setting is labelled a shaman. The term changes and varies depending where you are. For me, it rests on the belief that unseen forces are driving the world that we see physically. Shamanism allows you to connect with those unseen forces and work with them. If you look at a cactus and you just see the plant but you don’t see the spirit of it. Shamanism allows you to interact and understand those unseen forces which is why it’s not something that belongs to only certain people. It belongs to everyone. It’s your birthright to explore this stuff and be able to work with these plants. They grow on the ground you were born on. But then you get the people that say if you do that we will put you in a cage. Even if you cause no harm to anybody and it’s a really positive outcome for society it gets dismissed. A lot really has to change.
Do you think that this interest in ayahuasca is also emerging from a more secular society? Do people want something to believe in?
These plants certainly connect us to some kind of truth that when we see and feel it we know is real. What’s hit me the most is that everything is inside of me, it’s not outside. So divinity, God or any title you want to put on it comes from inside me and every one of us. We’re all connected to that. Whether we’ve all come from that place and are all that one single intelligence that was alone in the darkness and decided it needs to do something and create. We’re now living on this planet and we’re all the same but we’re all different and this is our experience. If we’re all in the darkness we’re not going to experience anything and these plants have taken me to that place, they’ve taken me to the start. It’s scary and lonely and we created and made this existence come to life. Everything serves a purpose but in a sense it also has no purpose. It’s a dance and everything is part of it. Everything we experience in reality is like that and the only thing that transcends duality is love. Love is everything. It’s all of it, even the bad stuff. People are searching for meaning and that’s what these plants do. And unlike a religion, I often say, priests are in the business in telling and I’m in the business of showing. You don’t need to believe a thing that comes out of my mouth but you can experience it. Terrence McKenna had a theory that mushrooms are the reason we evolved. He called it the food of the God’s. It is a massive subject.
What advice would you offer to young people who are curious about psychedelics?
My advice would be don’t overdo it on research. Don’t allow your head to be filled with too much second hand opinion on what’s out there. Let your own first hand experience be the truth of the matter rather than what others are saying. I’d also say find a safe place where you can work with these plants and show them respect. Don’t, for instance, do them in a bad environment and make sure you go in there with a sense of an open heart and respect for what they’re about to give to you as a gift. If it doesn’t feel right in your gut it probably isn’t. Don’t rush into anything. Be with the right people or person and don’t ever do it alone. Always have someone there who isn’t in that world to look after you if anything goes wrong. And if you think you can fly, take off from the ground!