Ayahuasca Leaves in the Pot. Photo by Chris Kilham

Finding Healing Through an Ancient Amazonian Brew
Fox News
by Chris Kilham
Nihue RaoThe Nihue Rao Shamanic Healing Center operates as a lodge in the Amazon rainforest, 90 minutes outside of Iquitos, Peru near the small village of Llanchama along the Nanay River. Traditional medicine services include traditional healing diets, plant medicine, and traditional Shipibo ayahuasca ceremony.

For several months each year, Dr. Joe Tafur works in a family medical clinic in Arizona, practicing conventional medicine. The rest of the year, he’s south of the border in Peru at Nihue Rao shamanic healing center, witnessing healings and advising people undergoing the use of plant medicines and shamanic ceremonies.

The medicine at Nihue Rao is an entirely different category of healing, coming from centuries of traditional native plant medicine and the ritual use of the psychoactive brew ayahuasca – a hallucinogenic potion made from two Amazonian rainforest plants.

At Nihue Rao outside of Iquitos, Peru, Tafur, Canadian artist Cvita Mamic, and shaman Ricardo Amaringo have joined forces to form a center based on a unique blend of native healing and visionary art. People travel from around the world to receive herbal therapies under the expert guidance of Amaringo, and to participate in ayahuasca ceremonies, in which conditions that often do not respond to conventional medicine are often healed and resolved.

“Many complex psychological and idiopathic conditions respond very well,” said Tafur, referring to conditions of seemingly unknown origins - including traumatic stress disorders, chronic coughs and other health problems for which modern medicine seems to have no effective solutions.

Tafur graduated from the University of California San Diego and finished up his family medicine studies at UCLA. Today, he is developing a medical education program at Nihue Rao that will bridge the world of conventional medicine with traditional healing knowledge.

Amaringo comes from a traditional background in shamanism. His father was a shaman, so he first experienced traditional ceremonies utilizing ayahuasca when he was young. Today he is widely regarded as a maestro shaman – a master of the ceremonial use of ayahuasca. The healing that occurs in ayahuasca ceremonies at Nihue Rao bears little resemblance to any conventional forms of medical practice, yet physicians worldwide are now studying the efficacy of this seemingly unorthodox modality.

One of the first cases that caught Tafur’s attention was that of a 64-year-old Vietnam War veteran who had been through a long line of treatments, including decades of drugs for depression and post traumatic stress disorder.

“It was a war zone around this guy,” Tafur said. “He had been through so much and had such a hard time for many years. The experience he had was visions of all these dark forms coming out of his body and tremendous detoxification from all the drugs he had taken. He was able to get off all the psychiatric drugs and got into an integrative therapy program at the University of Arizona. His anxiety, his depression, are over.”

As a result of the shamanic treatment, the veteran now lives a happier life.

An especially remarkable case of recovery concerned a French woman from a wealthy family, who was suffering from debilitating multiple sclerosis.

“She had a highly advanced form of MS, was blind in one eye, and was in a wheelchair,” Tafur said. “She underwent treatment with herbs and ayahuasca, and went through a remarkable turnaround. Today she’s normal, and shows no signs of MS.”

Tafur has seen people with lingering depression, anxiety, skin disorders and other unexplained symptoms find resolution in the shamanic healing regimen offered by Amaringo. The shaman’s repertoire of herbs is an assortment of plants with which he has worked for decades. Daily use of medicinal plant preparations, in addition to participation in ayahuasca ceremonies, has proven a highly beneficial course of treatment for many disorders.

Native traditions, including India’s ayurveda, China’s Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Shamanic healing modalities from the Amazon, offer remedies and treatments that lie wholly outside of what is taught in modern medical schools. But often they can help in cases that otherwise do not respond to conventional treatment. Understanding these traditional forms of medicine can help physicians like Tafur to develop a more comprehensive approach to health care. Working together with Amaringo, Tafur is helping to chart a course that just might be the future of medicine.

April 2012