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Just eight years ago, she weighed eighty pounds and was missing her two front teeth.

Yeo’s father gave her her first alcoholic drink at age six, and she was drinking alone by age eleven. As a teen, she developed a cocaine addiction, and in her early twenties, she set out on a path that would take her to heroin, crack and prostitution.

On August 11, 2005, as cops walked her out of a hotel where they had found her shooting up, Yeo realized she was finally ready to change.

In a greenhouse at the University of Minnesota, Dennis McKenna tends to one of two key plants used to prepare ayahuasca
Emily Utne
In a greenhouse at the University of Minnesota, Dennis McKenna tends to one of two key plants used to prepare ayahuasca

She went to rehab for a year, then a recovery house for another two years. But she still wasn’t totally sober: For eighteen years, she’d been receiving a court-ordered dose of the opiate substitute methadone. Now, she wanted off all drugs, once and for all.

As Yeo reduced her dose, her body started breaking down. Doctors told her that quitting the methadone was dangerous, and advised her to just accept it as a fact of her life. To Yeo, the thought of staying on methadone was unbearable, and she began contemplating suicide.

Then she heard of a famous Canadian addiction specialist, Dr. Gabor Mate. Yeo set up a meeting.

“I told him this big, long story, and at the end of it, he said, ‘Lisa, I think I can offer you a potential way out of this,’” Yeo remembers. “It was just like, really?”

First, Yeo spent a summer at a treatment clinic in Mexico, where she used other traditional plant medicines, iboga and ibogaine, to help wean her body off opiates. By October 2012, Yeo was ready for step two, and boarded another plane to Mexico, this time for a week-long ayahuasca retreat.

The night of her first ceremony, Yeo walked onto a round platform with a roof open to the jungle around it. Not long after she drank ― “it tasted bitter, but it didn’t taste as bad as some of the things I’d ingested in my life” ― Yeo began to feel something prodding at her liver, damaged by hepatitis C.

“I felt what I thought of as a vine going into the area where I had the pain, and circle, circle, circle,” Yeo remembers. “Then there would be this release, and the pain would be gone.”

The night of the second ceremony, Yeo’s experience shifted: This time, she saw a slide show of people who had shown her kindness, “babysitters to social workers to prison guards,” Yeo remembers. “It was like flash cards, and at the very end was my mom.”

Yeo has since done a second ayahuasca retreat with Mate, and credits the vine with helping her discover who she is without substances.

“It has given me a go-to place of safety, and a knowing of how to be gentle with myself when any tormenting thoughts creep in,” Yeo says. “It just lifts the trauma, it lifts the pain.”

Treatment for addiction disorders is one of the most promising areas of therapeutic ayahuasca use, in part because doctors still don’t have many other good options.

“Someone walks in your office today, you’re going to basically say the same thing your predecessor might have said fifty or sixty years ago, which is, ‘Find a twelve-step group, and if you’re lucky and it’s a good fit, maybe it will help,’” explains Grob. “Otherwise, we don’t have a whole hell of a lot to offer.”

The psycho-spiritual experiences that ayahuasca provides ― “like a mystical-level state,” Grob says ― seem to offer an effect similar to that of certain faith-based aspects of twelve-step groups: showing addicts that there is a power greater than themselves.

When Mate first heard of ayahuasca, he had recently published his book on addictions, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. People kept writing to him, asking if he knew about “this weird plant,” Mate remembers. Eventually, he decided to try it himself.

During his first retreat, Mate saw the connection to treating addiction right away. “The ayahuasca experience just dissolved my defenses,” he says. “I experienced a deep sense of love, tears of joy racing down my face.”

Mate began organizing retreats of his own. He brought in shamans to lead the ceremonies, and used his own training to help participants prepare for, process and integrate what they experienced.

”It’s not a question of, ‘Here’s a drug that’s going to fix you,’” Mate explains. “It’s, ‘Here’s a substance under the effect of which you’ll be able to do a kind of self-exploration that otherwise might not be available to you, or otherwise might take you years to get to.’”

In 2011, a Canadian First Nations community contacted Mate to treat some tribe members with chronic substance-dependence problems. Mate agreed, and, in June, arrived at a remote village for the first of two retreats. A team of researchers led by the addiction specialist Dr. Gerald Thomas came along.

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15 comments
Sid Quintana
Sid Quintana

It causes mental illnes, cant belive you people promote this bullshit about time to delete westword

Mane Rok
Mane Rok

Ryan InkLine Howell Clint Edwards Matt Deca Kenney Koichi Ichiban Ninomiya

Jordan Snyder
Jordan Snyder

@Sid- you forgot the other half of that nugget of info - only for people who were predisposed already. And that goes for most psychoactive substances including caffeine.

Tianna Crowell
Tianna Crowell

Ibogaine blocks the physical symptoms of withdrawal. It's not a cure... You can only successfully quit if you are mentally ready... But it sure is a damn good starting point. It's a shame these types of medicines aren't mainstream.

Tianna Crowell
Tianna Crowell

Yes.... Ibogaine.. My friend was a heroin addict and he was on methadone for years... Flooded Ibogaine and it was a complete turn around

Jøsh Kåmm
Jøsh Kåmm

Actually it is used among the tribes in South America and another similar substance that has actually successfully cured heroin addiction is ibogaine no first hand experience tho

Oi'Ram Arejan
Oi'Ram Arejan

Ayahuasca has helped millions of people in south Africa nonetheless around the world, it would be dumb not to take it into consideration as a healing medicine in the states. But then again why in the world would our government want a medicine that spiritually awakens and shows hope in this distraught world we live in. O and don't forget all the antidepressant companies, they would no longer be needed. Can't have that happen

Oi'Ram Arejan
Oi'Ram Arejan

Only if people would actually read this with an open mind, makes me happy though the Denver Westword atleast tries to shine a lil light on this subject. Namaste

Rhine
Rhine

Had a bad trip friend ? 

 
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