Don Ron on CNN with Lisa Ling



Ron Wheelock on This Is Life with Lisa Ling’s on CNN:
Ayahuasca: Could it be the next medicinal marijuana?
Is ayahuasca a natural remedy for anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder or just another drug fad?

Lisa Ling goes inside an ayahuasca ceremony in the Amazon on this week’s episode.



This Is Life With Lisa Ling: Jungle Fix” Sunday, October 26, at 10 p.m. ET/PT. THIS IS LIFE WITH LISA LING



Excerpts from the program with Don Ron Wheelock:

LISA LING, CNN NARRATOR: Psychedelics, alternate realities, mind expansion. If you think that sounds like the ’60s, take a closer look. These American tourists are under the spell of a hallucinogenic plant mixture called Ayahuasca. It’s made from a jungle vine, and its proponents claim it’s transforming their lives.

LING: We’re off to Peru, where we’re going to meet Stan. He’s someone who has just had this tortured soul for the last 30 years. And he’s hoping that this substance, that’s illegal here in the U.S., is going to heal him. We’ll see.

Stan’s journey will take him to South America, to the frontier town of Iquitos, located deep in the Peruvian Amazon. This tropical outpost has become the epicenter of a growing industry of Ayahuasca tourism. I’m on my way to a jungle retreat, one of many run by ex-pat

Americans. These forests produce many of our modern medicines, and I want to find out if Ayahuasca could someday become one of them.

This is El Purgero or the Purger, a collection of simple huts tucked away in the forest. It’s amazing to me there are over a hundred of these Ayahuasca centers in this part of Peru, almost all of them are run by foreigners and most of them don’t have electricity or even running waters. But yet, people are coming. They are coming and they are staying in little huts like this one, because they say they’re not finding what they need back home.

Here, Stan hopes to find solace. And he’s seeking it from this man. Ron Wheelock, aka, the Gringo Shaman. He’s a former mechanic and pot dealer from Kansas, who spent two decades in Peru, cooking up psychedelic teas in his role as Shaman or traditional healer.

I meet up with Stan and Ron at Elpugero as the Gringo Shaman breaks down the mix used in Ayahuasca brew, acclaimed as the most powerful in the region.

RON WHEELOCK: These are the leaves of the huambisa, the Chaliponga, that contain 5-MEO-DMT. This is chacruna, this contains N,N-DMT. And these are from the Chiricsanango.

LING: For millennia, native Shaman in the Amazon has tapped this jungle pharmacy for all types of cures. But in the past decade, thousands of American tourists have flocked here, seeking help from local medicine men, including a new wave of Gringo healers like Ron.

A ten-day retreat at Elpugero costs about a thousand dollars and attracts a wide range of seekers from across the globe. A father and daughter from Canada, an online entrepreneur, the son of a successful CEO, and a professor from Belgium. Like Stan, these travelers are serious. They want healing for mind, body, and soul.

STAN: So what’s the strongest part in the Ayahuasca, is it the bark or the whole thing?

WHEELOCK: Actually, when you harvest the whole plant, best you take the root. The root is the strongest part.

Each one of you, tear it open, and put one in.

LING: To produce this powerful potion, this mixture of leaves and vines is combined with water, then simmered for hours over an open flame. In Peru, this psychedelic mixture, which locals call “the medicine” is legal in the U.S., but in the U.S. it’s a schedule one drug, carrying serious jail time.

What do you say to people who call Ayahuasca a drug?

WHEELOCK: My definition of a drug is pills, and the stuff that the pharmacy sells. These are natural plants. This is medicine.

LING: The myth surrounding Ayahuasca and its miraculous powers are spread by psychedelic travelers, like this 33-year-old artist named Roman. How many times have you done Ayahuasca?

ROMAN, ARTIST: Tonight will be my 32nd Ayahuasca ceremony and fifth trip here to the jungle.

LING: So what has Ayahuasca done for you?

ROMAN: Everything. It has helped evolve my consciousness, raise my level of vibration, raise my self-awareness. It becomes a part of you. It speaks to you. I always allow it to flow through me and together we kind of do this healing dance, in a way, this trance. And we’re both in that trance.

LING: Ron says he’s worked with thousands of seekers like Roman, who is recovering from an accident that’s left him with headaches, depression, and insomnia.

People come here with real serious issues, and deeply rooted.

WHEELOCK: Very deeply rooted.

LING: How does Ayahuasca help heal those wounds?

WHEELOCK: By showing people where they came from. Maybe a childhood trauma and even deeper, it is a healing process. I’ve had several times people who have seen psychiatrists for over a year. One Ayahuasca session, and never go back. I tell them, you can read all there is about this, and there’s no way to prepare yourself until you actually go there.

LING: Night falls. Stan’s psychedelic journey begins. Ron blesses the hut, using rituals he’s learned from local indigenous healers.

This is where the ceremony is going to take place. In a little while, it’s going to be pitch black in here and Ron will be presiding from his altar. The first part of the ceremony is called the purge. And so you’ll see a lot of basins in front of the chairs. That’s because it’s inevitable that people will start to vomit profusely or even have to defecate. But many people have said that this one experience can be life-changing.

As I watch Ron’s guests file in, it’s clear there’s more to Ayahuasca than just the promise of a hallucinogenic experience. Stan’s quest is steeped in playing tribute to plants of the forest and a spirit being called Mother Ayahuasca.

WHEELOCK: Thank you for all the plants in the world, who gives us light, who teach us, who hear us, for without them, no one would live.

LING: You said an interesting phrase you said, we prostitute Ayahuasca.


LING: There are some who might say that you prostitute Ayahuasca. You’re this white guy from Kansas out here making money off of Ayahuasca. How do you respond to that?

WHEELOCK: I tell all the foreigners that I know here, we’re all guilty of exploiting people here. All of us, myself included. I could make a lot more money if I wanted to. But I’m not about making money. I do all I can to look after people and to take good care of them. But there’s the ones that don’t take the precautions with the antidepressants, that’s the real danger.

LING: Tens of thousands of people use Ayahuasca worldwide today, and the ranks of the newly converted now appears to include Stan, who’d just done a day time dose of Ron’s mighty brew.

WHEELOCK: How are you doing?

STAN: Just out here in the jungle, wrestling with my demons.

WHEELOCK: It’s probably about as good a place as any to wrestle with them. And a good place to leave them. Want a little smoke blown on you?

STAN: Sure.

LING: A journey of change, a modern pilgrimage. Call it what you like, Americans are traveling to the Amazon, hoping to expand their minds and soothe their souls. The question is, what happens when they get home?

STAN: Hey, it’s Stan, back from Peru. It’s been a couple months now, and with the family, I feel more patient and everything is going good.

BEERGIT: Since he’s back, I don’t see him acting weird. Seems he’s let that baggage go, like his weight just went down. I see him transformed. But he still needs to figure out how to integrate that into our family.

STAN: Ayahuasca isn’t any kind of silver bullet. It’s not like you can just go and do Ayahuasca and your life’s perfect. You get out of it what you put into it.

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