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Ayahuasca, Anxiety & Depression (podcast transcript)


Below is a transcript of our podcast titled Ayahuasca, Anxiety and Depression. If you would rather listen to the podcast, you can click here to listen via Soundcloud, or you can click here to listen on iTunes.

Transcript:

Zach:

Hi, this is Zach Poitra and I'm sitting here with my lovely wife, Jess Poitra.

Jess:

Hello.

Zach:

We want to first thank you for taking the time to listen to this podcast.

This podcast is something ... the subject is something near and dear to my heart. The title is “Anxiety, Depression, and Ayahuasca” and I want to first put forth a disclaimer. In this podcast we're going to talk about anxiety and depression and how Ayahuasca maybe helpful for some people, but it's important for you to know that we're not doctors, we're not therapists, we're not medical professions. This podcast is for informational purposes only, if you're considering Ayahuasca or some sort of other psychedelic therapy, please speak to your doctor or therapist about the subject.

Zach:

With that said, I'm going to hand this over to Jess. She's going to be the interviewer of sorts and I will be the interviewee, so Jess….

Jess:

Yeah. Well, it is a subject near and dear to your personal heart so why don't you tell us a little bit about that?

Zach:

For those of you who have not heard my story pre-Ayahuasca, I worked for many years in finance and business. I was somewhat successful. I wouldn't say I was crazy successful, but certainly doing well by most standards, in United States anyway.

Then in about 2005, 2007 timeframe, really started having a hard time just with happiness.

I didn't know what was going on. I had had checked all those proverbial boxes of externals: nice house or a nice condo, traveling, good income, and that sort of thing.

All that said, I was just really not happy. I had a lot of “not happy”. In addition to that, I had anxiety, social anxiety in particular.

Zach:

There were moments in my life, and this is, goes pre this job (leading Ayahuasca retreats) early on where, I would be going to a social event or already in a social event and I would start to freak out.

I would arrive to an event, get to the doorstep and I just became overwhelmed. My mind raced with with things like, “Ah! Ah! I can't do this! This is too much!”

This happened on many occasions throughout my early life. I would either just bail on the social event last minute and makeup some excuse later. If I absolutely had to go, I would end up doing a quick in and out.

It was a wave of of anxiety that came over me each time. For a long long time I had not ever really addressed it. I don’t even think I thought of it as a problem. Then I started doing personal work which then led me to discover Ayahuasca. To say Ayahuasca was very helpful is an understatement.

Zach:

At the same time, in full disclosure, and I think this is really important, the depression and anxiety (post Ayahuasca) was much subdued, much more manageable and yet it still would come up.

Recently, I think some of you have heard the podcast. That is, I have started working with a coach, a life coach. Also because of what I do (as a lead Ayahuasca retreat facilitator), he is my Ayahuasca preparation and integration coach as well.

Working with a life coach has brought forth the realization or understanding that there are some things that Ayahuasca, on its own, just does not address. This is particularly true if there is a lack of awareness around a subject, neurosis etc…

That said, working with a coach in combination with Ayahuasca the results can be quite, quite powerful and helpful.

In my case prior to working with a coach, Ayahuasca helped me immensely. I can not overstate this fact.

At the same time, there were some areas that I lacked awareness around. In addition these areas were not being addressed.

So that’s a quick explanation as to why this is (anxiety and depression)a big subject for me.

Zach:

The other thing is that we, in this culture and in our work (leading Ayahuasca retreats) we have found that pretty much everyone has a certain level of anxiety and some depression.

We work with a lot of those people (with low levels of anxiety and depression) and of course we also work with people who are working with a little bit more of a serious issue around these two things (anxiety and depression).

Jess:

Both of us read a book recently and it was one of the inspirations for this podcast, do you want to talk about that a little bit?

Zach:

Yeah. The book is Lost Connections by Johan Hari. Johan Hari.

I think is best known for his book on addiction, and this is his second book that just came out, I want to say in the last year. I heard him on some other podcasts. I am pretty sure he was on Joe Regan, and listening to him inspired me to in conjunction with my own personal work to read this newer book (“Lost Connections”), it's all about depression and anxiety.

There are a couple of things that were notable themes in this book.

There is a story, an idea in the medical world that depression…. and this is the story that he personally received cause he too was working with depression and so forth. He was on medications.

He (Johan Hari) was told that the wiring in his brain was broken or miss wired or what have you.

Zach:

The other story he heard was that his brain had a chemical imbalance.

So the current mainstream view on anxiety and depression is that it's biochemical, simply biochemical.

Through his research (he's not a doctor either nor a therapists or anything like that).

What he is able to do though, is look at the various “silos” in the medical and research world, the science world, combining psychology, and neuro science and comparing their own research to each other.

What came forth was that really the stories or the story that has been told in the mainstream is false to a very large extent.

There is a biochemical thing that goes on, but it's due to external stimuli and conditions that we're exposed to, that creates ... the biochemical response. It is our response to that external stimuli that causes anxiety and depression.

Jess:

A correct response.

Zach:

A correct and appropriate response....

Yeah, and that was one of the big like, “Whoa, it's so empowering seeing it (the causes of anxiety and depression) this way!”

This is because it's like, oh, there's not something physically wrong here in this body, this being this vehicle. Rather, through the cultural exposure and conditions both from childhood and also just our general way of life in the western world, it's external stimuli that creates anxiety and depression.

With that understanding, there is no longer a victim. There's nothing wrong with me.

Rather, if it's external stimuli, we can address that and adjust that. That's a big thing in his book, which was a gigantic realization that was actually healing in itself.

Jess:

If I can just jump in here for a minute…

I think that this is one of the reasons that a lot of people come to plant medicine in the first place.

It is realizing that they're actually not the victim of their physical circumstances.

This actually happened to me as well, but in a completely different medical area (rheumatoid arthritis).

When we come down with some kind of, what's considered by the medical community to be a chronic illness, it's assumed that something is broken in the person (physically) and it needs fixing with some kind of pharmaceutical.

When really, our bodies are just responding the way that they're designed to respond. If we go into the body and work with the body, then we actually have the power to overcome these things on our own, without the help of pharmaceuticals.

Zach:

I wanted to point out that it's helpful to have the help of medical professionals. At the same time we need to be really careful when we decided to take some sort of medications. Sometimes the use of medications are totally appropriate. Antibiotics save lives, no question.

It is important as we approach pharmaceuticals and choosing whether or not to use them to remember we have choices. We can look (research) at the efficacy and the side effects of the medications and we can keep in mind that the mainstream medical community does not always have all the answers.

This brings to the next big point that he, Johann, went on to research. He was on antidepressants for years and years. He came to realization that these (antidepressants)… particularly long term, they weren't working.

Zach:

What he did was a huge amount of research on antidepressants.

To do this, he used the pharmaceuticals companies own research. Through that research he found efficacy rates of antidepressants being extremely low, particularly long term.

I hope I'm not misquoting, I think that he points out that it’s (the efficacy rate) is largely a ... what's the word? It's a placebo effect, which is a real thing.

For the record we love the placebo effect.

Jess:

Self healing however you can get it (placebo effect), it's great.

Zach:

Exactly, exactly.

That was another gigantic thing because sometimes we have come across people who want to work with us and are on antidepressants. We have to tell them that it is dangerous to be on antidepressants with Ayahuasca. It is just a “no go”.

It is a very dangerous thing to mix antidepressants with Ayahuasca. There has to be at least, to be super safe, two weeks between the last, dosage of antidepressants and your first ceremony.

At least that amount of time because you don't want to mix those two together. If one mixes the two together, it can can create serotonin syndrome, which is deadly, or can be deadly.

With all that said, Johan goes further and starts looking at conditions and stimuli that for many people create anxiety and depression.

Zach:

If I remember correctly, there are nine of them (stimuli/conditions). We have the list that we'll read here in a second.

What we're going to do is go through the nine stimuli or conditions that create anxiety and depression.

We're not going to talk about each one because most of them are pretty self explanatory. If you really want to dive into it, I totally recommend you getting this book.

What we will do is point out where working with Ayahuasca in a group, particularly a group setting might be helpful for this process (of healing anxiety and depression).

We also want to highlight where Ayahuasca won't “hit”. These are areas where you can, on your own personal journey, can do practices or work with professionals (outside of an Ayahuasca retreat).

We're big fans of what is called an “integral approach”, integral meaning that there's no one single answer. There are many ways to go at/ address various issues and it's important to hit on them (issues) from multiple angles.

Zach:

If you're listening to this and you are working through anxiety and depression, some of these things you can address on your own before even considering Ayahuasca.

We have no problem with that, we are here to help, we're not here to sell Ayahuasca retreats. We do love it when people would come visit us. We love working with them and helping them. That said, we want to be clear that this is totally informational for you to help you.

Jess:

We also have some really interesting tips for preparing for a group Ayahuasca retreat, too that will also help work through depression and anxiety or at least bring some of the issues to the forefront before beginning the process.

Before we start, there’s this really beautiful quote by Krishnamurti, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a sick society.”

Johan in his book really brought this up within the framework of the nine conditions that give rise to ... the nine stimuli that give rise to depression. Our society really creates an environment for us all to be depressed or anxious on some level or other ... can you, can you speak to some of those stimuli?

Zach:

Do you want to go through the list?

Jess:

Yeah.

Zach:

Okay, let's do that.

Here is the list of stimuli or cause of anxiety and depression according to Johann Hari's research…

First is a disconnection from meaningful work.

We all have had those jobs that (are BS jobs) ... well most of us, some of us have figured it out early to listen to your heart.

Jess:

I think you and I have both had experiences with work that wasn't meaningful to us and I know that I really hit a wall with mine.

I used to practice law and while it was intellectually stimulating, there was nothing that resonated with me, there was nothing meaningful. For me and to spend so many hours of your waking life doing a job that means nothing to you just for money is ...

Zach:

It's tough.

Jess:

Yeah, it's really hard.

Zach:

This is one that Ayahuasca can help. Well, help one ...

Jess:

Prioritize.

Zach:

Prioritize, yeah.

Jess:

To come to the realization that that's a dead end.

Zach:

It may be a situation where financially someone has to do what they have to do and at same time, there are other things that they can do to offset that lack of meaning in their work. That's the first one is disconnection from meeting for work.

The next one (on the list) is disconnection from other people.

Jess:

Daily life has us doing that all the time too. We're working all the time and then when you come home from work, you're too tired to have any kind of interaction and then you're just sitting in front of the TV or maybe just even interacting with just a couple of other people.

We've lost that connection to tribe to community and it's a missing nutrient in our daily lives even.

Zach:

Yeah, absolutely. Particularly in the United States, there's a pervasive idea of individualism, which is great. To a certain extent.

It (individualism) has gotten our country to develop to where it has become developed thus far. At the same time as it's gotten to… I wanna say neuroses levels.

50 years ago people knew their neighbors, people interacted out in the world.

Now neighborhoods and say apartment buildings ... I don't remember the last time I knew my neighbor well or went and hung out with my neighbor. It's happened a few times in my life, but…

Jess:

Not until we moved here to Guatemala. We never knew our neighbors in Austin.

Zach:

That's right.

That's a big deal and I think a lot of people don't realize that is an issue.

This is one where a group, Ayahuasca retreat, maybe helpful. This is because people who come on retreat, they're in this shared container doing very powerful work.

I like to say that people come in, lovely people, so please don't get us wrong, and we all have this, we all have “masks”.

Jess:

Yes.

Zach:

And throughout the retreat as people go through their processes (with Ayahuasca), releasing and acknowledging and looking at various traumas or events in their past or ways of being.

During this process those “masks” start to dissolve.

Not only is that an experiential thing for the person going through the process, they get to see other people going through the process as well.

Everyone starts to get more and more open, more and more vulnerable through the retreat process.

This is, I think why so many people post-Ayahuasca retreats are like, “Yeah, my interactions with my family, with my friends, people out in public, they're different.”

Other people respond to the mask coming off. As the mask comes off, there's an authenticity that comes forth and…

Jess:

There's nothing more beautiful than that.

Zach:

There's nothing more beautiful than that.

Jess:

It's very shiny.

Zach:

Yeah, very shiny.

That's one of the conditions (connection with other people) that ... or stimuli that Ayahuasca may be quite helpful.

The other part of addressing that condition is post-retreat