Pubdate: Sat, 19 Dec 2015
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2015 The Toronto Star
Authors: Jillian Kestler-D'Amours, and Marina Jimenez
Page: A1


Fight Breaks Out After Pair Who Were 'Like Brothers' Reportedly Took 
Psychedelic Drug Ayahuasca

A spiritual retreat in Peru turned deadly when a 29-year-old Canadian 
allegedly stabbed a British man after the pair took a hallucinogenic brew.

Local police allege Canadian Joshua Andrew Freeman Stevens killed 
Unais Gomes, 26, after Gomes attacked him with a knife Wednesday night.

The incident occurred during a retreat near the city of Iquitos in 
the Peruvian jungle where the pair - who were reportedly "like 
brothers" - both ingested ayahuasca, a powerful psychedelic drug also 
known as "the vine of the soul."

Witnesses described a fight breaking out between Gomes and Stevens, 
during which Gomes allegedly tried to stab Stevens with a knife taken 
from the kitchen. Stevens, from Winnipeg, then used the same knife to 
stab Gomes in the chest and stomach, according to local police chief 
Normando Marques.

A Reuters video shows Stevens being handcuffed and later taken out of 
a police vehicle. He is wearing an open shirt with what looks like 
blood stains on his right shoulder.

Stevens' fiancee, Sarah-Anne Allen, told the CBC that he was waiting 
for authorities to return his stuff so he could come home. She said 
he acted only in self-defence and that the two were friends.

"He really loved Unais. He has told me they became much like 
brothers," Allen said from Winnipeg. "He never would have done 
anything that was not completely necessary."

Both Gomes and Stevens had been staying at the Phoenix Ayahuasca, a 
retreat run by a brother-and-sister team from Australia that promises 
to help visitors "let go of the past and be reborn into our true 
nature, that of spiritual beings having a human experience."

Staff from the retreat did not return the Star's request for comment 
on Friday. On its website, the centre says it focuses "on offering a 
safe and supportive place to experience plant medicines and explore 
the true nature of the self." A 10-day retreat, which includes four 
ayahuasca ceremonies, costs $1,200.

The plant-based brew, also known as yage, induces vomiting, as well 
as prolonged visions that users describe as telepathic. It is not 
normally known to lead to violence, although is not recommended for 
people with heart conditions or mental health conditions.

In recent years, a growing number of westerners have travelled to 
Peru to ingest ayahuasca, in the belief it will expand their 
spiritual horizons and help with depression or addiction. Indigenous 
communities in the Peruvian Amazon and elsewhere in South America 
have used the drug for years, and several prominent writers have 
tried it and testified about its powerful effect.

Author William S. Burroughs, noted for his writings on drug use, 
tried it in 1953, and said it transported him to a "composite city" 
of all human potential. Wade Davis, a Canadian author and 
ethnobotanist, has also written about its power, describing it as "a 
sacred medicine and . . . a visual medium through which human beings 
orient themselves in the cosmos." He stressed the role of shamans in 
the experience and noted that indigenous people ingest the sacred 
plants in a ritualistic manner, and not out of boredom.

A spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada told the Star in an email 
that it was aware that a Canadian citizen was released from detention 
in Peru. The spokesperson did not identify that person by name.

"Canadian consular officials are in touch with local authorities and 
providing consular assistance," Amy Mills said in the email.

In Peru, there have been reports about a lack of monitoring of the 
lodges, and the shamans. "It might be folkloric, spiritual or 
whatever else, but that doesn't mean it isn't a drug that 
dramatically alters your state of mind," Marques told Reuters.

Iquitos is the world's largest city that cannot be reached by road; 
people get in and out by boat or by plane.

An official at the iPeru tourism office in Iquitos, who did not give 
the Star his name, said about 1,000 European tourists go on ayahuasca 
retreats every month.

Last February, a Canadian woman died following a medical reaction 
after drinking tea during a ceremony with a shaman in Peru.

- - with files from Associated Press
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom