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Ayahuasca
Fatalities / Deaths
by Erowid
NOTES #
Ayahuasca can have extreme negative health effects if taken with some presciptions drugs, especially antidepressants such as Prozac and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. A few deaths have been attributed to the use of ayahuacsa, although the causes of the deaths have not all been conclusively determined. In at least some cases ayahuasca use might have directly resulted in the fatality.

The primary risks associated with ayahuasca are the inclusion of a MAOI as a definitional component of the brew and the fact that there is no single recipe for ayahuasca and admixture plants can include any of a wide variety of psychoactives including Datura or Brugmansia. MAOIs can be dangerous because they inhibit an enzyme important in the metabolic breakdown of many foods and drugs. The combination of MAOIs with certain drugs, particularly stimulants, can lead to dangerous or potentially fatal medical situations.
Traditional ayahuasca use involves a complex set of pre-ceremony dietary guidelines that exclude many foods and modern shamans require that participants stop using most pharmaceuticals (even anti-malarial and anti-diarrhea drugs) in order to take ayahuasca with them. Additionally, the strength/potency of ayahuasca brews varies from batch to batch, which can impact the risks related to contraindicated combinations.

Finally, the term "ayahuasca" is sometimes used for "pharmahuasca" or blends of pure or extracted chemicals combined to mimic the effects of the traditional ayahuasca brews. The health risks associated with all drugs are dose-dependent and pharmahuasca-type ayahuascas can easily include much higher dose levels than plant-based ayahuascas and are often consumed by less experienced self-experimenters and often without experienced sitter/guide.

If you know of a confirmed fatality that is not listed on this page, please let us know.

PHARMACOLOGICAL FATALITIES #
Although a small number of deaths have occurred immediately following the use of ayahuasca, ayahuasca as the direct pharmacological cause of death is extremely rare.

Incident: Henry Miller, April 2014 #
Henry Miller reportedly took yage in Mocoa, Colombia along with a group and his body was later found abandoned by the side of the road. Exact circumstances not known.
McVeigh T. "British backpacker dies after taking hallucinogenic brew in Colombia". The Observer, 26 Apr 2014.
The body of a British teenager has been found by the road in a Colombian forest, after he took part in a "shaman experience" advertised for tourists. His family have said that Henry Miller, 19, from Kingsdown in Bristol, took part in a local tribal ritual, drinking a herbal concoction known as yagé and apparently suffering a fatal reaction to the hallucinogenic infusion.

Reports suggest that Miller was with a group of foreign tourists -- all of whom had paid $50 (£36) for the experience and who drank the brew together -- but who were ushered back to their lodgings when Miller took ill with the assurance that the tribespeople were looking after him. His body was found dumped by a road near the southern city of Mocoa, close to the border with Ecuador and on the edge of the Amazonian basin.
Incident: Anonymous male, 2004? #
Twenty-five year old man dies after taking homemade ayahuasca.

Sklerov J, Levine B, Moore KA, King T, Fowler D. "A Fatal Intoxication Following the Ingestion of 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine in an Ayahuasca Preparation". J. Analytical Toxicology, Vol. 29, Nov/Dec 2005.
A case of a 25-year-old white male who was found dead the morning after consuming herbal extracts containing Β-carbolines and hallucinogenic tryptamines is presented. No anatomic cause of death was found at autopsy. Toxicologic analysis of the heart blood identified N,N-dimethyltryptamine (0.02 mg/L), 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine (1.88 mg/L), tetrahydroharmine (0.38 mg/L), harmaline (0.07 mg/L), and harmine (0.17 mg/L). All substances were extracted by a single-step n-butyl chloride extraction following alkalinization with borate buffer. Detection and quantitation was performed using liquid chromatography-electrospray mass spectrometry. The medical examiner ruled that the cause of death was hallucinogenic amine intoxication, and the manner of death was undetermined.
UNKNOWN CAUSE #
Some deaths associated with ayahuasca have no clear causal link to the use of ayahuasca. Actual cause of death is unknown.
Famous Case: Kyle Nolan - September 2012
Very widely reported ayahuasca-related fatality of an 18-year-old young man. Kyle Nolan travelled to Peru to take part in an ayahuasca ceremony, but died while there. The shaman, Jose Manuel Pineda, buried Mr. Nolan's body and later told his family Kyle had simply gone missing. On further investigation, the shaman admitted that Kyle had died during the ceremony, and said he had taken an excessive dose. Nolan's family was suspicious and his father stated, "I believe my son was murdered because people don't die from ingesting ayahuasca". As of April 2013, no final information indicating Kyle died from ayahuasca ingestion has been published.

Andean Air Mail & Peruvian Times. "American Found Dead After Taking Ayahuasca". Andean Air Mail & Peruvian Times. Sep 14, 2012.
His family reported him missing at the end of August when they had not heard from him for about 10 days. Information was sought not only in Puerto Maldonado, but also in Cusco and Pucallpa, two cities that are also popular for ayahuasca rituals and where Kyle could have gone after his sessions at Shimbre. ¶ This week, however, the shaman from the Shimbre center, Jose Manuel Pineda, 58, known as Master Mancoluto, confessed to police that Kyle had died from an excessive dose of ayahuasca, taken on August 22, according to daily El Comercio. Pineda said that he had found Kyle dead the following morning. Pineda, his German assistant Florian Schmatz, and the center's carpenter buried the young man in a nearby field to avoid bad publicity for the center. All three men are now in police custody.
Farberov S. "Peruvian shaman confesses he buried body of U.S. teen who died from drinking hallucinogenic herbal brew at spiritual retreat". MailOnline. Sep 12 & 18, 2012.
A Peruvian shaman admitted to police on Wednesday that he had buried the body of a U.S. teenager to cover up his death during a spiritual retreat in the Amazon last month. ¶ Shaman Jose Pineda Vargas, 58, told the authorities that 18-year-old Kyle Joseph Nolan, from northern California, died on August 22 from exceeding the dosage of a medicinal brew called Ayahuasca while staying at the Shimbre Shamanic Center. ¶ Vargas then buried Nolan's body at his jungle retreat and said that the teenager disappeared. Nolan's mother began searching for him after he failed to return from Peru as scheduled August 27.
Nolan SB. "Thread: My 18 Year Old Son's Death...A Cautionary Tale". Erowid.org / The Café Watchuseek. Jan 30, 2013.
My 18 year old son, Kyle Nolan, died late August 2012. [...] ¶ He started reading about ayahuasca, a South American plant that supposedly has profound transformative powers. He latched on to it because he was desperate to know what to do with his life. Over and over he watched a professionally done 90 minute documentary about the Shimbre Center in Peru, "Stepping Into the Fire," where ayahuasca was the central experience. Kyle worked odd jobs Summer 2012, mainly weeding, mowing, to pay the $1200 Shimbre ten day program fee, plus the flight to Lima, Peru. It's what he wanted to do. [...] ¶ Kyle's mother and sister went to Peru [...]. They were told by the Shimbre Center that Kyle had wandered away, disconsolate, walking down the dirt road out, pulling his wheeled luggage. Then the Peruvian police got involved, shaman Mancoluto confessed he had found Kyle dead the day after the ceremony in a ditch. Mancoluto wanted to protect his business, so he carried or dragged my son's body further into the jungle and secretly buried him, and lied to the face of Kyle's mother and sister that he had simply wandered off. ¶ Kyle was sent out into the night jungle alone after taking ayahuasca. Shimbre didn't mention this, nor that the shaman Mancoluto believes himself a 5th generation Martian who can protect those wandering in the jungle high on ayahuasca with his Martian telepathy and ESP, while he sits in his hut at the center, on a bank of batteries watching Peruvian soap operas.
Alsema A. "2 die in north-Colombia ayahuasca ceremony". Colombia Reports. Aug 15, 2011.
Two men have died after consuming the drug ayahuasca in a massive "purification" ceremony in the north of Colombia, local authorities said Monday. ¶ According to prosecutors who talked to media, the two victims were part of a group of at least 80 who had gathered at a farm close to the city of Bucaramanga Sunday to consume the drug. ¶ The victims passed out shortly after consuming the drug, but weren't taken to a hospital until hours later. According to Caracol Radio, family members of the victims thought the two men were in trance, but doctors established the men had died.
Pérez LR. "Who is authorized to be a Shaman in Colombia? Reflections after Deaths in a Hybrid Ayahuasca Ceremony". BiaLabate.net. 2011.
As it is reported, although Elias Cortés offered Ayahuasca, he did not make the brew but bought Yage (the name Ayahuasca receives in Colombia) from "cookers" in the Putumayo region. [...] ¶ After the ceremony held on 14 August the autopsies of dead men were carried out with delay, as relatives hoped men were still in trance and their souls would return to their bodies. It seems that Elias Cortes have moved to Venezuela in order to escape from Colombian justice. [...] ¶ Editorial note from [BiaLabate.net]: There is no evidence that these people died from drinking ayahuasca. The article above is a comment on media reports; the details are still under investigation, and the results of the autopsies have not been published.
Famous Case: Jane Maiangowi - October 2001
A 71-year-old Canadian woman of Native American descent took ayahuasca with a group in Ontario, Canada and died soon after. The ayahuasca brew used contained high amounts of nicotine, Maiangowi was diabetic, and reportedly had stopped taking her medication to prepare for a three-day ayahuasca ceremony. The autopsy reportedly did not identify a causal link between ayahuasca and the woman's death.

Dubé F. ""Shaman Barred From Using Ayahuasca Following Woman's Death". National Post (Canada). April 26, 2003.
A diabetic, Ms. Maiangowi went off her medication as instructed by the Uyunkars before and during a three-day ceremony in October, 2001. She, along with about 50 other participants, drank copious amounts of a mixture of ayahuasca and nicotine, designed to induce vomiting. Some participants agreed to receive enemas.
Bolsanello D. ""Ayahuasca Sacrament Situation in Canada - The Case of Juan Uyunkar". SantoDaime.org. 2003.
On October 19, 2001, a 71-year-old Indian woman unexpectedly became sick and was hospitalized shortly after attending one of the ceremonies facilitated by Juan [Uyunkar] and his son, headquartered at the Naadwedidaa-based Health Center. The autopsy indicated no link between the consumption of Natem (Ayahuasca) and the death of the woman. However, Juan and his son Edgar were charged with trafficking in drugs and negligence causing death.
BEHAVIORAL FATALITIES #
None known. (unconfirmed)

SUICIDES #
None known. (unconfirmed)

MURDERS / HOMICIDES #
One documented killing classified as self-defense by Canadian authorities involved ayahuasca.

Incident: Unais Gomes, December 2015 #
Joshua Stevens stabbed and killed Unais Gomes in self defense while Gomes was under the influence of ayahuasca. Earlier media reports stated both men had taken ayahuasca, a claim laid to rest after toxicology report results were released.
Dubé F. ""Late last year, 26-year-old British man Unais Gomes was killed in a Peruvian ayahuasca retreat - still nobody really knows why". Dazed (Canada). Feb 2016.
The toxicology tests confirm Stevens had not been under the influence of any drugs, nor ayahuasca.
Coubrough J. "Winnipegger who killed British man in Peru fears possible trial". CBC News | Manitoba, 15 Jan 2016.
A Winnipeg man who admits to killing a British man in self-defence at a retreat in Peru says he's scared to leave his home and is concerned about a possible trial. [...] Joshua Stevens, 29, was taken into Peruvian police custody in December 2015 for stabbing a British tourist to death, who allegedly attacked him after drinking ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic plant brew. The pair were at Phoenix Ayahuasca retreat -- branded as a "safe place to experience plant medicines." Stevens said the British man, 26-year-old Unais Gomes, became violent after drinking a double dose of ayahuasca and mixing it with pure cacao, which he said enhances the high.
LD50 #
There is no known lethal dose or therapeutic index for ayahuasca. Because ayahuasca is a term for a customized mixture of plants (or sometimes chemicals) that has no single recipe, there is no standardized ayahuasca to test for toxicity.