Ayahuasca Deaths!

by Captain Bill

By William Menech
Over the past year there have been two ayahuasca associated deaths at ayahuasca retreats within the healing community surrounding Iquitos, Peru. It is a very dire situation when a person comes for a measure of healing and enlightenment only to wind up in a wooden box or burned to ashes.
I began my journey to Iquitos back in 2005. I drank ayahuasca at one of the first ayahuasca retreats just outside of Iquitos. I felt the irresistible pull to the Amazon, to explore more deeply the meaning of life through the medium that ayahuasca offers. While in Iquitos that first time I saw and learned so much about the practices and community surrounding ayahuasca.
I arrived in Iquitos during June of 2013 and opened a retreat center with my Peruvian wife and family. During this time we met and befriended so many spiritual travelers, ayahuasca retreat center owners, and facilitators. I learned about their experiences and ideas while sitting and working at Dawn on the Amazon Cafe.
I have come across so many beautiful stories of healing and transformation during my time in Iquitos. Every one of these stories has been miraculous and inspiring even though there are a few I encounter from time to time that are difficult.
Caution began stirring as I noticed centers being opened by people who had only drank ayahuasca a handful of times. All of a sudden there was the first death associated with ayahuasca. Last year Matthew Dawson Clarke died and then there was a second death, Unais Gomes. 
These deaths sent shock-waves through the ayahuasca healing community as well as throughout the world. The media picked up on the stories, sensationalizing and distorting the facts. In an effort to bring more clarity to the situation, the first death, even though it was at an ayahuasca retreat center, happened half a day after a tobacco purge, not from ayahuasca. The second man who died was stabbed to death by another guest. This guest did not drink ayahuasca and claimed it was self defense. 
Looking further into these events a sense of urgency arose. Something needed to change. Being a part of a healing community, how could these things happen? Couldn’t they have been prevented? I am of the belief system that when one is a part of a community and these types of events happen the responsibility to analyze and find a solution lies at the feet of all within the community.
How could these things be prevented in the future? I decided to reach out to the healing centers from around Iquitos and other parts of Peru to discuss potential protocols for a new mode of operation. 
I am happy to announce that we are formulating an association. This association is in collaboration with the Peruvian Government, Medical Doctors, Psychiatrists, as well as owners and operators of Ayahuasca retreats and healing centers. This association came together to discuss and establish safety and ethical guidelines that will be instituted and enforced through proper regulation. It is our intention to avoid, to the best of our ability, more dreadful events, establishing a more safe and secure environment for those that have the desire to come to Iquitos and work with this incredible medicine.  
About the Author:
William Menech has over over 16 years of training in shamanic healing practices. William Menech founded Qhispikay Kawsay Ayhauasca Retreats, outside of Iquitos, Peru in 2013 with his Peruvian Wife and family. All of whom come from a shamanic lineage. William Menech is one of the Original Founders of the Ayahuasca Safety Association and is dedicated to helping people heal.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cliff May 14, 2016 at 9:54 pm

It is sad that there are any deaths from tourists and visitors to Iquitos. But the deaths are not Ayahuasca Deaths as the title says.
But not Ayahuasca.

2 starr May 15, 2016 at 4:14 am

What I find worrying are the facts in this article – there have been more than 2 deaths associated with ayahuasca retreats. What a shame you have not researched properly but then of course, you are wishing to promote ayahuasca tourism so naturally you would downplay as much as possible the dark side of ayahuasca tourism. That’s a big shame really. Why is Kyle Nolan;s death not on your list for starters?

3 christian May 16, 2016 at 4:39 am

It’s good that something is being done to try and prevent these terrible occurances. Retreat workers must always be aware that people are entrusting them with their lives.

4 Captain Bill May 16, 2016 at 8:59 am

Hello Christian, Thank you for reading, commenting, and caring. Yes, it is a good thing that the ayahuasca retreat owners are getting together to improve the safety and ethical practices in the Ayahuasca community.

Best regards,

5 John Cole May 16, 2016 at 10:39 pm

any industry in Peru is subject to people willing to work in informality and often illegality, more so than any other places I’ve lived or visited. I’m sure the real number of causalities is higher than we imagine, I have a close female friend who was raped at an Ayahuasca center by the shaman himself whilst she was under the influence and immobilized, but she was so traumatized she hasn’t reported it. But i wouldn’t blame that on anything in particular about traditional Ayahuasca practices themselves, just a warning to do your research and don’t let your wallet guide you… that’s always a bad idea in Peru.

6 Tom May 17, 2016 at 10:29 am

Hello Bill.
I hope you are well.
Here are two issues nobody seems to be addressing.
Firstly I think we need to remember that when people decide to ingest a drug / medicine such as Ayahuasca are taking a risk and that is their own choice. And if people choose to do such activities in the middle of a jungle where there are no emergency facilities available then this is also their choice.

Secondly, I worry that an inevitable outcome of all this will be restrictions put on the use of Ayahusca or the way in which Ayahusca should be used. The authorities may start demanding certain infrstructure present in order to be allowed to hold ceremonies, which is fine for rich gringo retreats, but what about the poorer locals who have been doing these things as part of their culture for 1000s of years quite happily without any interference from the outside world. It would be sad to see a situation where local people cannot run a center because they cannot afford to and the only way they will be able to work within their own culture legally will be if they do it with or employed by foreigners.

7 Captain Bill May 17, 2016 at 1:35 pm

Hello Starr, Thank you for reading this article and leaving your thought provoking comment.

Best regards,

8 Captain Bill May 17, 2016 at 1:40 pm

Hello Cliff, Thank you for reading this article and leaving your comment. You are right, the title is misleading.

Best regards,

9 Captain Bill May 17, 2016 at 1:50 pm

Hello John, Thank you for reading this article and leaving your comment. I am sure that you are correct. All the more reason to attempt to bring all of the retreats together to attempt to improve the safety, and ethical standards of the ayahuasca community around Iquitos, and beyond.

Best regards,

10 Captain Bill May 17, 2016 at 1:55 pm

Hello Tom, I am well, and hope the same for you. Thank you for reading this article and leaving your thoughtful comment.

Best regards,

11 Chris Baker May 19, 2016 at 3:21 am

So, here is what is going to happen eventually. Retreat centers who bribe politicians and bureaucrats will be deemed “safe.” Those who don’t pay the bribes will not be “safe” and be forced out of business. In other words, the ayahuasca community will become something like the American health care system. Quality will be very poor, and prices will be very high.

12 Captain Bill May 19, 2016 at 10:06 am

Hi Chris, Thank you for reading this article and for sharing your opinion in this comment. Hopefully your prediction will be wrong. What is your track record on predicting the future?

Best regards,

13 stuart clarke May 22, 2016 at 12:52 am

Well done for your efforts William. The title for this article that these helpful people like to tell you is incorrect is in fact 100% completely accurate in so far as these deaths would NOT have occurred had those who died not gone to an Aya retreat – pretty simple for anyone with an IQ to figure out I would have thought … Kapitari retreat in Iquitos advertises that client safety is paramount yet they have no first aid kit OR trained staff , that’s why my son died , lack of care by a supposed sharman / healer plain and simple. Matt went to Kapitari coz they said they cared and because he wanted to experience Ayahuasca – ON THAT BASIS IT IS MOST CERTAINLY AYAHUASCA TOUIRISM so stop splitting hairs and get on with taking care of paying punters …

14 Captain Bill May 22, 2016 at 7:42 am

Hi Stuart, Thank you for sharing your opinion. From what I can see and hear, big improvements are being made in the Ayahuasca Retreat community. For instance, many of the retreat owners and facilitators have recently taken and passed a CPR course given by The Ana Stahl Clinic.

Best regards,

15 William Menech May 22, 2016 at 10:53 am

Referring to Stars comment above. If you read the article it was addressing the Ayahuasca associated deaths close to Iquitos in the last year which were two, although they were not directly connected to drinking ayahuasca. In the space of time there were more with varying circumstances not only in Peru but elsewhere.

16 derek May 24, 2016 at 8:09 pm

The stabbing of the english man at an ayahuasca ceremony as not been reported in its true context on this site, both parties where in fact in an ayahuasca ceremony at the time of the stabbing ,yes it was self defense, but both parties wherei in fact on the medicine, but the english man had been taking other substances in between ceremonies, so please if you are gokng to write about these incidences get all the facts before hand

17 christian May 25, 2016 at 4:37 am

*Ayahuasca associated deaths close to Iquitos in the last year which were two, although they were not directly connected to drinking ayahuasca*

THIS, is what a lot of the issue is, the ‘total responsability’, that is a retreat owner’s duty: If retreat’s can’t stand the heat, they shouldn’t be cooks! This is people entrusting their life unto people whom they assume are ‘professionals’.

Whilst we can agree that Ayahuasca is very safe itself, that is only as long as the client respects a zero drugs/medication policy, and isn’t a mad nutter. But because retreats often treat people with all sorts of problems, it can be hard to suss out each individual personality type. In other words clients can lie, and these lies can contribute to their demise, and the rest is history.

Hopefully this new style of prevention will safeguard most future problems, and the longevity of the industry, and hopefully the number of deaths will greatly decline. The duty of care rests foremost on the shoulders of retreat owners, who will hopefully be airtight on the health and safety protocol because of this.

18 William Menech May 25, 2016 at 9:07 am


I was at the Dawn on the Amazon Cafe in the morning when the first lady who was freaked out and traumatized came looking for assistance and she gave me the first first hand account of the situation. Then the next day I met four other people that were there and heard their first hand accounts as well as the facilitator later that evening. The man who did the stabbing DID NOT drink ayahuasca as he opted out of the ceremony and was alone in his room. The two men had as one woman said a strange camaraderie and at the same time a pissing contest between the two. They over the several days were having discussions on religion and having very different viewpoint. They became entangled from several opposing stances with each other. There is much more to the story that will probably never be told but when you say that my information was inaccurate you would be sadly mistaken. I spoke to 6 eyewitnesses that were there as well as second hand information from the helpers that were in the kitchen at the time of the incidence. The second man that was in the bedroom and not participating in ceremony also being the one who did the stabbing, according to the people that were present DID NOT drink Ayahuasca. So Derek I do not know where you are getting your information from, but according to very reputable sources of the people that were present, again, the man who committed the killing with the knife stabbing another man several times mortally was not on the influence of ayahuasca. If you have better information that is possibly more accurate then please state your sources and the facts that you might have gathered.

19 John July 6, 2016 at 11:54 am

Exposing the money-grubbing and irresponsible practices of the predominantly foreign owned and operated Ayahuasca retreat centers around Iquitos is a service to the medicine, the native communities and humanity. Sadly, I suspect this new “association” is contrived to preserve the “cash-flow” of these businesses more than fix and un-fixable problem which is profit motive and exploitation, After all, this was how the West was won in the USA. The natives benefited from that era, right? I have been to Iquitos several times and participated in around 40 ceremonies. It’s not that many really, but this has given me some significant exposure and experience to what goes on in this Ayahuasca “industry” . In fairness, there are good places and bad. Unfortunately the bad ones have their supporters flood the review boards with glowing and misleading reviews in order to attempt to silence the dark realities that many have experienced and the irresponsible practices that have in recent events led to what I deem criminal negligence. Here is a link (I hope it’s okay to post it) regarding one of the places I visited and considered “bad”. It’s called Phoenix Ayahuasca; the scene of recent bloody violence in December of 2015. Here’s the link. It’s a good read and honest / unbiased journalism. http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/29599/1/a-story-of-drugs-darkness-and-death-deep-in-the-jungle

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