Listening To Ayahuasca

with Rachel Harris Ph.D.

The Question

Ayahuasca – a psychedelic plant brew from the Amazon – is fast becoming a popular healing modality for Westerners looking to seek closure from past events and heal mental health ailments like anxiety and depression.

A relatively unknown substance until twenty years ago, it was popularised by a now-famous article in the National Geographic in 2003 which saw one of its writers – Kira Salak – heal herself in a matter of days from life-long treatment-resistant depression. Fifteen years on, she remains depression-free.

With miracle-healings on offer, Westerners have been fleeing to the Amazon to work with the medicine. Sometimes with great effects and often times with more than they bargained for.

I spoke with ayahuasca expert Rachel Harris Ph.D. who has conducted the largest study in North America to date on the plant, to see what is what when it comes to using this powerful medicine.

Our Guest


Rachel Harris Ph.D.

Psychologist and Author

Psychologist Rachel Harris, PhD is the author of Listening to Ayahuasca. She was in private practice for thirty-five years working with people interested in psychospiritual development.

During a decade working in research, Rachel received a National Institutes of Health New Investigator’s Award and published more than forty scientific studies in peer-reviewed journals. She has also consulted to Fortune 500 companies and the United Nations.

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The Talk

Ayahuasca is a brew from the Amazon that is traditional mixture of  the Chacruna plant (DMT) and Caapi (MAO Inhibitor). Used for over 5000 years by the shamans of Peru as a way to expand consciousness, the plant has become increasingly common in the West now for its incredibly powerful healing properties for treatment resistant mental health issues such as anxiety, PTSD and depression.

The drink that is formed from these two plants is the largest known source of DMT which is the most powerful psychedelic substance we know of and a chemical produced naturally in our brain from the pineal gland.

Ayahuasca causes the drinker to enter into a 4-8 hour on psychedelic experience which often includes dream-like visions that unearth deep-seated memories and unintegrated emotions and past trauma.  These experiences are usually associated with personal insights, intellectual idealisations, emotional reactions and profound spiritual and mystical experiences.

In 2005 Rachel traveled to a retreat center in Costa Rica and serendipitously found herself with the opportunity to drink ayahuasca with Ecuadorian shamans. The morning after her first ceremony, Rachel began asking questions about the therapeutic potential of this medicine.

She conducted a three-year research project with Lee Gurel, PhD that resulted in “A Study of Ayahuasca Use in North America,” published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs (Summer, 2012).

Dr. Rachel Harris’s research stands as the largest study to date of the ayahuasca underground in North America. The research – consolidated into her book – includes stories from her own journeys with ayahuasca and how she integrated those experiences into her daily life.

The research explores the shamanic ritual use of ayahuasca, mediumship in the ayahuasca churches from Brazil, the shadow side of the medicine, and the latest research on how the medicine opens the opportunity for therapeutic breakthroughs.

The book helps people thinking about exploring ayahuasca to make an informed decision and gives those who have experienced the medicine creative ways to work therapeutically with their experiences.

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The Questions

  • What was your first ayahuasca journey like back in 2005?
  • How did you hear about the medicine and what did you feel afterwards?
  • What were the questions you had outstanding after the experience?
  • What did you find from your research are the common benefits of working with ayahuasca?
  • How have your findings mapped over similar research in neuroscience?
  • How important do you think intention is to the ceremonial use of ayahuasca?
  • What is your perspective on the right set and setting?
  • Many people talk about developing a relationship with the plant, what have you observed with this?
  • How do the icaros work with the medicine?
  • What have you found is the best way to interpret the visuals and impressions left by the medicine?
  • How important do you think follow up therapy is after taking the medicine?
  • Do you believe all plants have consciousness that can affect us?
  • What do you think is the best and most conscious practice for integrating ayahuasca experiences?
  • What is the future for this medicine?

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