Ayahuasca, MDMA, and Epigenetic Research – Dr. Joe Tafur – HPP 98
Psychedelics have been used to heal people for thousands of years in traditional indigenous ceremonial contexts. Psychiatric research is showing very promising results for psychedelic therapy. But can psychiatry address the spiritual dimensions of healing with psychedelics?
In today’s episode, we are joined by Dr. Joe Tafur, author, speaker and an integrative medicine doctor at the Ocotillo Center for Integrative Medicine. Dr. Tafur discusses the role of spirituality in psychedelic healing, shamanism, and his exciting new research on epigenetic findings in people who recovered from PTSD with MDMA therapy in MAPS trials.
Dr. Joe Tafur’s background – 03:16
“I had major experiences with peyote in Arizona, like in my own personal healing from a depressive episode that really made me interested in psychedelic plant medicine, spiritual plant medicine, sacred plant medicine. And so my family’s from Colombia. So I had the opportunity, I knew about the Ayahuasca world down there and eventually went down and got very involved. I ended up helping start a healing center there, Nihue Rao Centro Espiritual, and worked there”
Offering another lens of proof – 05:41
“So when people have PTSD, let’s say from Vietnam, they have this altered physiology after such a trauma that no one would deny at this point, that altered physiology. However, the mechanism of how that physiology got altered, at least molecularly, is a mystery. That’s just something people just gloss over, and we widely accept. So we kind of deny that this emotional energy is real”
All about epigenetics – 16:10
“So you have your red blood cell and your neuron, and they have the same DNA right, as far as we know. So then each one is imprinted in a differentiation process, and programmed to express its genes differently to the favor the expression of certain proteins over others, and all the rest of the magical alchemy involved”
A profound healing – 17:32
“So then he had, I think it was a two week experience at Nihue Rao and like a complete resolution. I mean, we’re talking bloody diarrhea daily with severe pain. So it’s like an objective measure, as I say, is the bloody diarrhea, you know, there we go. Whoever doesn’t believe them, there it is. And now it’s not there anymore, in two weeks from this profound process”
A Historical Connection With Old Trauma – 24:54
“I think that, you know, some of these things, you have to experience it yourself, you know, to be more open to it. And so a lot of people coming from whatever background they’re from, you know, they may have a lot of resistance or fear about some of this stuff”
Opening up to mystical experiences – 26:30
“It’s actually everybody that I’ve ever met has had some weird stuff happen to them. And with their intimate people, they’ll say all kinds of stuff. But then, it’s this idea that that’s unprofessional. And so then I would say that lack of professionalism, that attitude, which we can understand where they’re trying to clear out some charlatanism, or things like that. But it runs a little deeper, in my experience, back to the little bit of the mystical”
An inability to process grief – 31:45
“So it’s like, it’s not really honest. There’s that element. So then the grief, it’s like, well, there’s the grief. And we can tough it out. And there’s situations where you have to tough it out. So you’ve got America coming out of World War I and the Depression and World War II. So this long period, and maybe there was a little pop up of like, ‘Whoa, we got a lot of emotional baggage’”
Keith Kurlander, Dr. Will Van Derveer, Dr. Joe Tafur
Dr. Joe Tafur 00:00
They turned themselves on to Eastern practices, you know, meditative practices and then got connected to some indigenous shamanic practices and got exposed to mushroom culture from the Mazatecs. And now we have the Ayahuasca and other forms of that, because the culture within their culture, as I say, you know, there’s the problem is, you’re not acknowledging the emotional, and spiritual dimensions of illness. And by spirituality, we want to come up with a more comfortable topic like your belief system, how you believe your place in this life like that affects your health.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 00:36
Thank you for joining us for The Higher Practice Podcast. I’m Dr. Will Van Derveer with Keith Kurlander. And this is the podcast where we explore what it takes to achieve optimal mental health. I’m delighted to introduce today’s guest, Dr. Joe Tafur. Joe is an unusual fellow who had the traditional North American training as a medical doctor, and then through his self healing exploration, ended up receiving formal, full current diesmal training in the shipibo tradition in Peru. And he’s written a really interesting book that was one of my favorite books on the topic of Ayahuasca healing, which we’ll talk a little bit about in this episode, but I think the highlight of this episode for me is getting into what’s actually happening in a psychedelic healing session? What’s happening in MDMA, psychotherapy sessions and Ayahuasca traditional healing ceremonies in South America. Dr. Tafur has some really interesting perspectives on that. And he’s got a fascinating research project going on that we’re going to talk about in this episode around the epigenetic changes that happen with profound healing from trauma. Dr. Joe Tafur has been an integrative medicine activist throughout his medical career beginning in medical school. After residency in family medicine, Dr. Tafur completed a two year postdoctoral research fellowship at the UCSD Department of Psychiatry after this research fellowship, Dr. Tafur continued his work as a family physician in the United States and then eventually started his work in the Peruvian Amazon. In 2011, he helped to found the Nihue Rao Centro Espiritual, a traditional Healing Center in the Peruvian upper Amazon. And at this center, Dr. Tafur underwent traditional apprenticeship in the traditional Amazonian plant medicine and shipibo current diesmal tradition. In March of 2017, he published his book, The Fellowship of the river, A medical doctor’s exploration into traditional Amazonian plant medicine about his unique journey into spiritual healing work. And with his colleagues, he also started the nonprofit modern spirit, which currently focuses on supporting the modern spirit epigenetics project, a groundbreaking sub study of the MAPS – MDMA assisted psychotherapy research trial. Let’s welcome Dr. Tafur to the show.
Keith Kurlander 03:11
Hi, Joe, welcome to the show.
Dr. Joe Tafur 03:13
Thank you. Hi. Thank you for having me on the show.
Keith Kurlander 03:16
It’s great to have you and we’re really excited to dive in with you just with your experiences that really cross so many different fields in a way that when we think about just like indigenous healing methods and spirituality and modern science and modern medicine. And so we’re excited to dive in with you. I think a good launchpad here is why didn’t give us a quick kind of explanation of just a little bit of charting your journey here of learning, maybe take five minutes to just talk through, like, where you came from and what you got to today and maybe could also pull in a little bit of the epigenetic research stuff in that too. So yeah, give us a kind of quick summary of your life.
Dr. Joe Tafur 03:59
Yeah, yeah. Um, you know, Family Medicine, Doctor of Family Medicine. I was interested in integrative medicine. I did a research fellowship at UCSD Department of Psychiatry, under Dr. Paul Mills, who’s now the research director for Deepak Chopra, Who’s a psychoneuroimmunology, you know, focused researcher. So I was exposed to that world. And around that time was around the time that I started getting more interested in going down to Peru. I had major experiences with pod in Arizona, like in my own personal healing from a depressive episode that really made me interested in psychedelic plant medicine, spiritual plant medicine, sacred plant medicine, and so my family’s from Colombia. So I had the opportunity that I knew about the Ayahuasca Yaki world down there and eventually went down and got very involved and ended up helping start a healing center there and you would. I was in Centro Espiritual and worked there. Went through the training and apprenticeship and traditional Shipibo kind of format under Ricardo Maringo, and became Ayahuaskero to run the ceremony. And I wrote a book about it called the fellowship of the river, in which one of the ideas was the integration of biology, emotion and spirituality and the difference between the shamanic and the western style. And that came out of that one of the big ideas that came out of that, for me was the possibility that epigenetics would be a way to focus on trying to capture profound spiritual and emotional healing that I was witnessing down there. And we were looking for a way to do that. I was inspired, you know, through Ayahuasca visions and my training to pursue that, and through my experiences, and so I wanted to pursue that. And, you know, I talked about this in 2013, at the MAPS conference, I was invited, and this is the idea I propose, you know, hey, I think we should look at this.
Keith Kurlander 05:41
Just clarifying the question here. So you were thinking about epigenetics. Was it about that you wanted to offer another lens on proof of what was happening to people? Is that what you meant when you started thinking?
Dr. Joe Tafur 05:54
Yes, you know, yeah, another lens on proof. So it’s also another avenue in our understanding of biology. So in other words, there’s this element of, you know, for example, emotional trauma, that is, something people will accept that that’s some kind of energy, you know, if I just go ahead and use that term, you know, just to be more thorough, in fact, and so when people have PTSD, let’s say from Vietnam, they have this altered physiology after such a trauma that no one would deny at this point, that altered physiology. However, the mechanism of how that physiology got altered, at least, you know, molecularly is a mystery. That’s just something people just gloss over, and we widely accept. So we kind of deny that this emotional energy is real. Meanwhile, we know that this person was fine before. Now they’re different since that time, and something stayed with them. So then we can accept this possibility that they were imprinted somehow by this trauma or condition, their biology somehow conditioned by this trauma, and then this might stay with them for some period of time. And then we see this alternate experience where people in the case of the work that we were doing, like shamanic work, whether or not you know, there’s so many different lenses to look at this stuff. But we were working through that lens and approaching people in a spiritual context and in a traditional shipibo context, and we were seeing these transformational healings happen around this trauma and the shipibos are talking about cleansing this energy, you know, helping people release this energy, people transform this energy. And now we hear about that maybe, again, more with somatic experience and the idea of like, kind of cathartic release, or whatever that is, but this idea that there’s this transformation that happens that the Shipibos would discuss in a very spiritual context, the way such things have been discussed for 1000s of years across the planet Earth, but then, you know, more kind of clearly, I guess, to everyone more universally, is this reality of the deep emotional healing that person went through. So then this transformation that we’re witnessing, in some cases, their implications with my background in psychoneuroimmunology, are exposed to that field cases of not just mental health resolving, but physical symptoms, you know, resolving. And so it’s like, okay, something’s happening in biology, like something happened. So where did that energy come in and shift biology? Or Where’s one place, we might be able to, and see that capture that? And where does it leave? So the implications are for spiritual healing across the board, for psychotherapy, for all non material modes of healing, that we are, you know, of course, widely aware of. And so then the idea that, could some of that be facilitated by, let’s say, psychedelics, or sacred plant medicines? Like, what is their role in I don’t know, like, somehow deconditioning, as Terence McKenna put it, you know, deconditioning agents that could facilitate transformation at that level? And where would that happen in biochemistry because I think that would be really important. For me, like down there to show the Peruvian government and the Colombian government and the world, the planet earth that has kind of scoffed at these indigenous healers from the Amazon. And now people are coming from all over the world to receive healing from them. And I, you know, was a witness to a medical doctor from the United States with research experience, seeing powerful transformations. So I thought that was, you know, a really big deal to capture there was difficult with a laboratory or refrigerators or saliva, shipping was just a mess. And so we talked with friends and talked to MAPS, and said, Why don’t we try to get the MDMA assisted psychotherapy, they’re seeing that kind of transformation that we’ve seen down there, where somebody who had this PTSD, chronic treatment resistant, average 18 years or of chronic illness. So this is somebody that me as a family medicine doctor would just shine on. And as they’ve been shined on by their entire experience with the healthcare system that these people, we don’t know how to help them. They’re just chronically ill, that’s it, like they’re not going to get better. And so then again, you know, last resort, they make it into psychedelic psychotherapy, and then you see close to 70%, or in the high 60s. At the end of a 12 week intervention. You’re seeing people no longer meeting criteria for PTSD. So to me, that indicates like something biological happened, because and then if you talk to the people while they’re having profound emotional healing experiences, and in some cases, you know, it’s bordering into the mystical or at least spiritual or I mean, we are open to listen to them and what happens to them during those sessions. We’re honest about that. We asked that question, you know, we got some support, and we’re continuing to raise money, we need more money to complete the study, but we have our first set of results. And yeah, it does seem to be the case, we it looks like we’re going to publish hopefully, soon, there are genes that are known to be affected in PTSD, by trauma that are, you know, in his corner, correlated fashion to that trauma. And then there’s subsequent modification, that from the healing process that correlates to their clinical improvement to their cap score, For me, it’s a really, really big deal. Like, I don’t think a lot of people really appreciate the biological significance of capturing profound healing and what it opens up. In other words, what’s going on in those sessions, what’s the role of intuitive talent and skill that comm brings to the table to move that kind of stuff to help facilitate that the caliber of the therapist that they’ve hand picked for the study, you know, this isn’t just people from whatever, because they read the protocols, right? They’re talented individuals, and so gifted with working with this, and then we start opening the doors to talking about what are those placebo effects or conditioning or all these other factors that influence the process, and then augmented perhaps, by the medicines. So I think it’s a really big deal that’s gonna open doors for integrative medicine across the board to take a look at whether it’s prayer or Reiki or energy healing, or, you know, whatever it is that somebody is able to achieve something and see these shifts, spontaneous remission of cancer, etc, etc. Yeah, it’s probably related. So to see that upswing, that this epigenetic programming that is underlying so many illnesses, now more and more, we’re learning that at least there, whether it’s not the cause, but it’s there as a symptom or as present, and to see that that software could be reprogrammed. Well,
Dr. Will Van Derveer 10:50
Wow, that’s really exciting. I just want to reiterate, I think you already said it Joe. But I just want for emphasize, I want to reiterate how big this is. Because we haven’t had, I mean, even a caps rating scale, which is you have to get a lot of training to perform a caps evaluation. But it’s still subjective. It’s still based on what the person endorses and what they don’t endorse on the questions. And so what you’re doing is taking it to the next level of actually what is happening in the cells.
Dr. Joe Tafur 12:37
We’re entertaining. We’re opening the culture to ultimately I mean, I understand the hesitancy around this, but ultimately, we’re reopening metaphysics. Was this where the discussion is headed? Why does it matter? So we know this epigenetic imprinting happens? And you know, like a horse parenting situation? Sure, that goes on. How does that happen? How does harsh parenting turn into these methylation patterns, that’s real, we know that’s real. And so the love, the reality of love, and the lack of love, and the way the system responds to that starting to find little spots, which is extremely important, because so many people are so materialistic, they dig their heels in there, in my opinion, no, it’s, it’s fine, you know, that that became their belief system that could be their comfort zone, but it is really a, unfortunately, sadly, it’s kind of a hiding place from vulnerability to close your mind to do this, when you’re talking about, well, they’re gonna say they kept score, just subjective. So that’s nothing. I don’t need that, I don’t need that. And so then that person, unfortunately, or fortunately, you know, they need to see something in the flesh. And well, why shouldn’t there be something, you know, we just didn’t have the means to perceive it. You know, so, so right? There should be something there.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 13:47
Right? The materialist argument is, you can measure it, it doesn’t exist. Now, one thing maybe I’m going way out of, you know, putting the cart way in front of the horse here. But you’ve seen and corrected me if I’m wrong, that with Ayahuasca healing, you know, some of it is you could say there’s trauma that can be healed there. There’s depression that can be healed there, what we might call up here psychological issues that may be a shipibo healer would think of as more of a spiritual condition. But I’ve also heard stories of cancer and other kinds of things that we would up here call physical illnesses, right. And
Dr. Joe Tafur 14:19
Well, in the book, I present a few physical cases that may know where there wasn’t a cancer case, but there are reports of that for sure. And just briefly in the book, you know, there’s a psoriasis case and Crohn’s disease case, idiopathic chronic cough case and a migraine headache case. That’s maybe there’s a little gray area there and this chronic pain and chronic fatigue and those kinds of syndromes, then eventually the potential for something like when you see these radical remission, like this book, radical remission about people coming out of stage four cancer or beyond, I talked to the head of UCSD integrative oncology because I had a family friend in that situation and we’re trying to learn about what’s the right direction and what radical remission reports and what he reported and in his experience, dealing with late stage cancer is just the radical remission. Like the psycho spiritual element is crucial every time. Like the people that have overcome at that level, like in his experience, they always had to do that work
Dr. Will Van Derveer 15:09
has to be that component
Dr. Joe Tafur 15:11
That was a radical remission. That woman, that’s pulled all these cases that you studied, like eight of the 10, you know, factors that were consistent across the board,
Dr. Will Van Derveer 15:20
Would you expect to see changes and epigenetic changes in oncological genes? Or are that.
Dr. Joe Tafur 15:27
Cancer is an epigenetic problem like I think that’s one of the major areas of focus as of epigenetics, because you’re seeing this idea of like, okay, we’re talking about modulation of the expression of genes. So why is this oncogene being expressed? If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be in this cancer situation, because somehow epigenetics has been modified in such a way for the expression to be altered. So cancer is largely epigenetic. And autoimmune disease is like a huge body of research on epigenetic related causes. And then, you know, mental health, right? Like that’s right up there competitive, but I would say cancer is one of the fields that they’re saying, Yeah, we need to put a lot more energy and understanding into this.
Keith Kurlander 16:10
You said something really interesting to me of sort of looking at epigenetics is software, I mean, are you thinking of as sort of software switches where it can change the code of like the software, basically, that the program what
Dr. Joe Tafur 16:25
It changed the way the DNA code has been expressed. So the simplest example, like the most obvious example, is two different cell types. So you have the cells, your red blood cell and your neuron, and they have the same DNA exactly right, as far as we know. So then each one is imprinted in a differentiation process, and programmed to express genes differently to the favorite expression of certain proteins over others and all the rest of the magical alchemy involved. So that’s the first one, another big example for people to kind of see how, this has just been a totally underappreciated part of biology, we just weren’t aware like this, but that this is actually how the DNA based life form works. That it’s integral, there is no DNA based life without epigenetic apparatus. So the software is the programmable part. The hardware is the DNA code. Yeah. So you have the that’s why I use those terms, you know, so the reprogramming of the expression the way somebody like Bruce Lipton, you know, biology, he talks about it, like the contractor, the DNA code is the blueprint, but then you have a contractor that reads that blueprint to adjust it to the environment as needed.
Keith Kurlander 17:32
Yeah. How would you frame your understanding now of, I mean, we know a lot more Now, obviously, about epigenetics than we ever did. And, you know, we’re in a very new conversation right now. Right, right, in the last even last 10 to 15 years really different information and so curious, like, just talking about human beings and mental health and wellness and resiliency, and where are you at now in the conversation of kind of the nature and nurture conversation with your now your knowledge of epigenetic expression? And you know, all this stuff, like, how do you now frame that conversation?
Dr. Joe Tafur 18:11
The nature element is there, you know, so that’s kind of like the DNA code destiny of your genes, etc, etc. So there is that element and on top of whatever, like inescapable genetic stuff or tendencies, vulnerabilities, and then there’s this whole new in between zone that we thought was, it looks like it was genetic, like this, but it could have been epigenetic. And we didn’t realize like To what degree that epigenetics could be modified to reduce such vulnerability. So an example and I don’t have any epigenetic data on this. I just like an example of like a profound healing, you know, was a guy that came to that I talked about in the book, Crohn’s disease case, lifelong history of severe Crohn’s disease, bowel perforation, and all this at least two surgeries with bowel resection, severe disease. And then here we are in integrative psychiatry, like as a family medicine doctor, we never really dig that much into Crohn’s disease, they go to the gastroenterologist, but you know, that all this data around the comorbidity of Crohn’s disease with psychiatric, right mental health disorder, like, in his case, major depression and suicidality alongside it. So then he had, I think it was a two week experience and a Nihue Raw and like a complete resolution. I mean, we’re talking bloody diarrhea daily with severe pain. So it’s like an objective measure, as I say, is the bloody diarrhea, you know, there we go. Whoever doesn’t believe them. There it is. And now it’s not there anymore in two weeks from this profound process. And so then I talked about in the book, like as I dig around into Crohn’s disease, and you see, oh, there’s this thing. First of all, there’s this comorbidity you know, with mental health problems. And then yeah, we all know there’s exacerbations with stress. So sure, we all accept that. How do we explain that, you know, there’s this energetic strain on the system. And then there’s this neurogenic inflammation-like process. But I discovered that okay, this is where the autonomic nervous system in some kind of psychological disturbance could, in the absence of any external environmental insult or infection, generate an inflammatory response, as it does in many cases of Crohn’s disease. And how that could be, I guess, turned off by the nerve activity was different. And so there’s some kind of biological shift. And all the mechanisms are there to describe that possibility, including, like very well articulated mechanisms around the generation of neurogenic inflammation of the intestines. And so somewhere in that system, something changed in the way things were expressed. And so that’s an example of this biological shift, and he doesn’t need surgery anymore. He doesn’t need that kind of stuff. So there’s an example of how it happens at a level that people may being it’s more visceral for them. So I kind of went too far. And I think I forgot where we started with that question.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 20:55
There’s an extension here, Joe. This is a great example to build off of it brings up for me, the work of intergenerational trauma, and the epigenetics of, for example, Rachel Yehuda’s work, who’s she’s now involved with MDMA therapy and studying Holocaust survivors and their offspring and their offspring. And I’m wondering, in your work and ceremony in Peru, what is your sense of that, as far as like are people often working in Ayahuasca ceremony with trauma from previous in the lineage, previous generations sometimes.
Dr. Joe Tafur 21:25
So okay, we can accept that the epigenetics, that there’ll be like Rachel Yehuda, you know, has been a big proponent and explore of like, hey, let’s just start looking at epigenetics with PTSD. You know, she said a long time ago and paper 2009. And then, since that time, your evidence keeps building, sound argument. So the ideas, okay, these concentration camp descendant, consecration survivor descendants that have higher prevalence of anxiety and depression, that, you know, people would say, Oh, you know, maybe it’s the parenting because their concentration camp survivors, and then she’s claiming that, hey, there’s this evidence that like, there’s this epigenetic imprinting that they correlate to the trauma way back when, and that’s still there, it’s conditioning. And so and there’s other examples of the road and studies and like that, what does that look like in iOS good ceremony. So as we start exploring in psychedelic psychotherapy, like this bigger potential, and the opening of this space in this portal, you know, which is just at the beginning stages, because we’re trying to FDA approved, etc, etc. And we get back to what’s going on in those sessions, like that pivot. So then for us, and I asked the world, well, what goes on in those sessions is everything we talked about. That’s the focus. And so when somebody is doing like, ancestral healing, ancestral line healing, like there’s so many versions of that, so one of them could be as simple as, like, you know, at a recent experience that I had, they had a lot of trauma with their father, father was a PTSD from war. This is somebody from Asia, and, you know, a really tough situation, a lot of bad turns in his life and becomes this very controlling, abusive parent. And then the mom is kind of out of the picture when she grows up like that, and she just has so much pain and difficulty and resentment with her father, on top of the trauma of that experience growing up that way, kind of a PTSD of sorts and constant repression emotionally of can’t cry, can’t laugh, can’t do this, and the way that blunts so many of her experiences, and then are healing around that ends up being about with Iosco, something that happens sometimes. And something that happens with other experiences, too, is that she gets to walk in his shoes, she gets to feel his experience. Somehow she enters his experience and becomes aware and conscious of all the conditioning and trauma and everything that made him into this thing that she didn’t understand why, why would you ever treat me like that, and now all of a sudden, she gets some kind of glimpse of that. And then that is some kind of acceptance and forgiveness is made possible. Now she understands this bloodline that she is the daughter of a father that she’s afraid of becoming a father, I don’t want to have anything to do with my father. I want to reject that energy. And now, there’s a new opportunity, and a whole openness and a love and a warmth that comes across the dimensions and makes her feel totally shifted in her experience of self love. So yeah, I mean, those are the kinds of experiences that I’m saying, yeah, that probably has some epigenetic implications. Right. You know, I understand why people don’t want to hear that or they’re uncomfortable with that. But they already know that love. Like I said, parenting, love and the lack of love, meditation can shift its altered states of consciousness. It’s a very subtle part of our biochemistry that is impacted by profound emotional experiences. Like I don’t think we would deny that. What I think people haven’t really considered as much is profound, positive emotional experiences, potentially as well.
Keith Kurlander 24:54
You’re reminding me it was quite funny. It was like my second LSD experience. And I’m Jewish as the background here, and I spent an hour just seeing swastikas everywhere for an hour. And they weren’t there. Obviously, I was just seeing them everywhere. And at that time I didn’t have people to process with. I mean, this was 25 years ago. And I wasn’t in a situation to process that but of course, you could just say, oh, I’ve been exposed to that in this lifetime, and this and that, like just being Jewish. But there was something I knew in that moment that something was more old, about the experience, then just how old I was, at 20 years old, I knew that it was a lot older than me, what you’re speaking about here is about this kind of mystical realm that actually has science catching up. It’s not that mystical. In some ways, it’s actually very explainable. And I think over time, it’ll become a lot more explainable about how time is very connected over time, like history is connected to the present, and there’s connection in us and that it’s magical. But it’s also, I think, we’re starting to get a language to make this a lot more understandable. And it’s kind of like using that word to understand epigenetics. So, I’d love to hear about just your experience of the mystical component of the medicines and for talking about Moscow or other things, and it doesn’t have to be so far out and allegorical and so maybe there’s other dimensions, like maybe just talking about it in an understandable way?
Dr. Joe Tafur 26:30
Sure, well, I think that, you know, some of these things, you have to experience it yourself, you know, to be more open to it. And so a lot of people coming from whatever background they’re from, you know, they may have a lot of resistance or fear about some of this stuff. Whereas like somebody from another culture, maybe they wouldn’t, you know, they grow up talking about mystical things all the time, my family is Colombian, you know, I was very common to talk about mystical experiences and the role of our dreams, and, you know, all that kind of stuff is just was so welcome and real, as well as emotional energy.
Keith Kurlander 27:04
That was a part of the conversation growing up, like, every so often people would just be talking about that in your community, and people would just start speaking that way about the mystical and dreams?
Dr. Joe Tafur 27:14
Yes, yeah, yeah, I would say that’s part of like, a lot of the planet Earth conversation. Yeah, this is a, you know, it’s a little different version, where that’s been closed off. And my experience, like with the mystical and like, you know, having ultimately compassion for people, when you realize, well, they’ve never had a mystical experience, or they’ve never been, you know, this understandable thing we were just talking about, or whether we’re gonna explain it or not, or really, it’s like, for the culture, especially the academic culture, to feel comfortable bore enough to open up about this. Because actually, everybody that I’ve ever met has had some weird stuff happen to them. And with their intimate people, they’ll say all kinds of stuff. But then it’s, it’s this idea that that’s unprofessional. And so then I would say that lack of professionalism, that attitude, which, you know, we can understand where they’re trying to clear out some charlatanism, or things like that. But it runs a little deeper, in my experience, back to the little bit of the mystical, taking somebody from medical school faculty that decided to come down to Peru, to Nihue Rao, and you know, didn’t want to tell us that. And then they go through their experience, and they’re very, you know, closed. And, you know, they don’t know if it’s working or whatever, but then you, you get them into a situation. And I don’t know anything. This is just what I was, I’m saying, This is like, across the board of real, I would say spiritual healing, ceremonial healing, where they’re going to be safe, you’re gonna allow them to be vulnerable. Like really vulnerable, not like this academic what I just talked about, like, that doesn’t get anywhere in the ballpark. That’s nothing. Okay. Yeah, that’s not honest. You can’t talk about your family, or you can’t talk about your kids who can’t, you know, your life. So anyways, yeah, so get them vulnerable. And then there’s no judgement. So their spiritual practice involves helping people to get past that part of themselves, whether that’s in psychedelic psychotherapy and therapy as well, to not judge. And when you hold the person in that space, to me, like some of the most rational, logical, you know, materialists, I would say, a very high percentage, by the end of their time are starting to ask questions about the mystical experience. So, and I’m suggesting that there’s a little more universality to it, you know, and so what we’re trying to do and and we understand, we’re not we don’t want to be sloppy, and we want to be careful and professional, but you know, it’s to say that you can’t talk about love and mental health. As I’ve said before, that is profound ignorance. There is a role for wisdom in our field.
Keith Kurlander 29:48
Yeah, I mean, you’re also pointing out is sort of like this modern era where this kind of mindset that’s happening in different parts of the world where the mystical The spiritual, the vulnerable, the deeply intimate has become labeled as crazy. And everything else is sane.
Dr. Joe Tafur 30:08
And meanwhile, that same voice is driving everybody off a cliff.
Keith Kurlander 30:12
I mean, we’re seeing that, right. I mean, the mental health of the planet is not looking pretty right now in terms of where we’re headed.
Dr. Joe Tafur 30:20
Yeah, especially, let’s say like if we just focus on the United States, where they supposedly like consuming more psychiatric medication than anybody else in the world, by apparently a large margin. So you know, that’s the Achilles heel. And so then what we see is, this broken heartedness, that’s behind what we’re talking about, this resistance to get vulnerable. So it’s like, there’s hurt and there’s pain and there’s trauma, and then doesn’t want to get vulnerable, doesn’t want to feel more pain. And so we’re not going to go there. But then it just gets worse. And so then, that’s the situation we’re in right now. It’s starting to bleed over the body says no, like our motto says, you know, the collective flesh is saying, whoa, that’s why people went to psychedelics, you know, in the 60s and started part of it, you know, that was an exploration was they I need to go beyond my culture. Because of my cultures, there’s a conditioning process that’s making me sick, because when they turn themselves on to Eastern practices, you know, meditative practices, and then got connected to some indigenous shamanic practices and get exposed to mushroom culture from the mazatec. And now we have that I was going in other forms of that, because the culture within their culture, as I say, you know, there’s the problem is, you’re not acknowledging the emotional, and spiritual dimensions of illness. And by spirituality, we want to come up with a more comfortable topic, like your belief system, how you believe your place in this life like that affects your health.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 31:45
There’s something that you said a minute ago, Joe, that really got my attention around the broken heartedness underneath it. And it reminded me of a shaman by the name of Martine Bechtel, who has written a lot about our failure to grieve or our inability to actually feel grief. And it brings up for me this, what you were saying about North American culture, for lack of a better way to talk about it as sort of like the wrong view about that grief is or vulnerability, whatever you want to call it is actually not healthy. It’s not normal. It’s not part of every moment of every day, to feel the intensity of what it means to be human.
Dr. Joe Tafur 32:24
Well, we traded. You know, there was this risky thing. And you know, culture has many, many positives and so many wonderful things. But one of these concerns is materialism to replace that pain. So now, if you don’t like it, you don’t feel good. Well, then we’re just doing it for the money. Right? Hey, nobody likes it. Hey, oh, Monday sucks. Okay, nobody likes it. But we’re all getting paid. Right? That’s really like, growing up from Columbia, that was the criticism, like, well, you know how it is up there. All they care about is one thing, you know, money. And so the idea that materialism is going to solve that stuff, right? You know, so then we have these heroes of these billionaires and all these people, that’s where we’re all striving for, and they got to do it. So maybe we’ll get our chance and blah, blah, blah. But then what do we do, who’s telling me about how many pills they take to sleep? How many pills they take the wake up, when he pills a due to you know, to have sex, etc, etc. So it’s like, it’s not really honest. There’s that element. So then the grief, it’s like, well, there’s the grief. And we you know, we can tough it out. And there’s situations where you have to tough it out. So you’ve got America coming out of world war one and the Depression and World War Two. So this long period, and maybe there was a little pop up of like, Whoa, we got a lot of emotional baggage, the 60s happens, like we need to deal with this. And then it kind of like we didn’t quite gain enough traction to say, you know, what we want to integrate this goes to integrate like this grief. So there was a research study at Temple of the way of light and for grief and loss of a loved one with a white skinned traditional should people ceremony and they had significant results. This is it in melanoma. So being an African shaman does the same thing that you’re talking about running a grieving ritual as a West African, like, this is what these people need. They don’t know how to grieve. So this idea of grief and grieving, you know, again, if we dismiss it as nothing, but then if we talk about like, this is an energy like, this is a real thing. Like we process this, and we don’t release this, transform this, it weighs people down. And you know, we know that and we’re learning about that. But since we didn’t know, we didn’t learn in medical school how to help them grieve. So then who’s going to help them grieve? Like if we’re, you know, in other words, it’s not really part of the healthcare system, right. So what they don’t know they’re where they’re supposed to go to do that really, like back in church. That’s where they were supposed to learn about that kind of stuff or in their culture somewhere from their family. You know, that’s where you people learn how to grieve. And so we’ve handed over our education to the institutions and they’re not really prepared to help people grieve in some kind of scale up system. Right? When I talk about more humaneness
Dr. Will Van Derveer 35:06
when I start thinking about these tools that are maybe going to get approved MDMA, psilocybin, maybe other psychedelic therapies, in the context of this conversation, it’s having me pause about this much bigger, much deeper contextual challenge, which isn’t about just okay, we need better tools for dealing with depression or PTSD, we need actually a huge shift in our consciousness. You know what I mean?
Dr. Joe Tafur 35:32
Yeah, you do and I would say, like, okay, now back to the demonic and the mystical, and I know, we drifted off that, but it’s like, here’s that side. And so then I’m on that side a little bit. And then everyone’s like, why are you dealing with the psychedelic psychotherapists, they’re the Big Pharma is gonna just, they’re just want to destroy everything, you know, there’s nothing. And I’m like, Well, people involved in this movement, or people like, you know, will and Keith. And that’s who’s there like the people who are like on the leading edge of the psychedelic psychotherapy or part of them? Well, one camp, influential camp, is the ones asking all these questions. Why? Because they see that’s what’s going on in their sessions. They see what’s going on in the healing that they’re observing. So they’re reporting back, hey, I had this patient that they weren’t getting better, you know, there’s this thing I have, and then we did this, and oh, my God, then this happened. And then they talked to their deceased loved ones. And we allowed a little magic to happen, you know, don’t tell anybody. And this beautiful thing happened, they’re gonna come out. So for me, like the ad, the map study, you know, with their publication, and in New York Times and us are piggybacking with the epigenetic study. To me, it’s great, because there’s so many cultures that aren’t totally corrupt. The other set is the culture is totally corrupt. Don’t let the culture take it. And it’s like, well, what about these people, those therapists? What’s going on in there is this message to everybody, you know, what I think we’re gonna need, we need to grieve more, maybe we can figure out how to grieve more. So there’s all that research coming up the pike, grief research and gratitude research, and you know, all these interesting kinds of, it’s opening up so much more. And so this consciousness shift that you’re talking about, we do need is happening, like, maybe not enough, but it has begun.
Keith Kurlander 37:09
Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely the train that has left the station for sure. In terms Yeah, just this shift. There’s no doubt about that. And there’s something new happening. If we’re talking specifically about psychedelic medicine. This is a new type of consciousness about psychedelics right now that’s happening in terms of thinking about it in a new way. I’m curious for you about in terms of ushering this if we just talk about even Western society for the moment, in terms of ushering this in, do you think it’s very important that it’s really ushered in through medicine practices, like medical practices, and and ushered in through the psychotherapy field? Or do you think that the culture can handle it through decriminalization and ushered in that way?
Dr. Joe Tafur 37:58
Yeah, so I’m coming from training in Peru, you know, my family’s from Colombia, these things are legal there. So that’s why I’m from that background. We’re from a background where the war on drugs is the amount of suffering that that has created, and is immense and horrific and terrible, and apparently a sham. Like there’s no change in the consumption. So in other words, I’m ultimately like I’m for legalization of these substances, and maps with their discussion of moving forward with MDMA. They were following the marijuana model, which was that medicalization is the pathway to legalization, they’ve expressed that you know, explicitly that they’re open to that, and they’re encouraging that. And so, that being said, with a walker, for example, which is coming in my tradition, like I’m part of a church, right, and the Church of the eagle in the corner in Arizona, United States that’s asking for legal permission for religious reasons, as a spiritual practice as spiritual healing practice. That way we don’t feel like we need to be just as peyote is treated, and the udv in the center damy. So that these things are sacred medicines in the traditional indigenous culture, where medicine is a term we use to talk about tools for spiritual healing. So where the, in that culture, they provide that context where the path of healing is about coming into realignment with our essence, and that involves spirituality with the mystery. And so, that being said, there are more advanced possibilities, you know, with advanced practitioners, so the people doing MDMA at the raves are a burning man, you know, they’re not getting the results that maps are getting. So there’s an educational process around harm reduction, you know, that needs to happen just like with alcohol, or it is alcohol, we want to attack this terribly destructive thing going on all over the place, harm reduction, you know, whatever everything we can do to educate people about safety. And then you know, the reality of the mature understanding of this thing is like, yeah, just doing it on your do it yourself and all that is Some of it may be safe for that, you know, and that’s going on, you know, I don’t really know Common in the case of Iosco would say that there’s, you know, there’s definitely risks involved, that people should be made aware of, and be warned about, it’s not something to be taken lightly. So just because it’s legal over there doesn’t mean they take it lightly, or that they should be taken lightly, you know. So right now, there’s still a degree of regulation involved, that we’re trying to come under. And that being said, then there’s so much further you can go with advanced practitioners. And I write, it’s like, little like homemade, whatever’s going on out there. They’re not doing 20 years of chronic treatment, resistant PTSD, you know, yeah, they’re patting each other on the back, and having nice experience, but then there’s that there’s a reality around the dedication, the discipline, even like, you know, they’re always gonna, they’re gonna come after me, the FDA, da, oh, you’re talking about medicine, medicine, medicine, this is therapy. Come on, you can’t say this is a spiritual practice. And for me, that’s none of their business. Because we’re in the Americas. And for us, that’s medicine, they always call it medicine, that means spiritual healing tool, that’s like prayer, that’s like dance, that’s like song is the same love. So for us, it’s a spiritual practice, and it’s for spiritual healing. And so we feel like that’s an avenue, you know, there’s a de krim Avenue. And then there’s the research Avenue. Ultimately, there’ll be maybe legalization of a lot of these things, and then there’ll be a cultural issue. And I really think that that is the wisest way to deal with it. And it’s also the reality, because I don’t see any limitation on these substances. Currently, you know, I’m not doing my whilst I’m talking about mushrooms, for example, or MDMA, it seems pretty widely available for the people that are seeking it. And so I don’t know what is actually being controlled.
Keith Kurlander 41:47
I would totally agree in terms of it’s sort of a political conversation, we get into decriminalization, because you can access the substances right now, if you want them, you can go find them. To me, that’s, I really like what you’re saying there. You know, to me, there’s also because there’s a lack of holding contextually around these substances. And at least, in the United States for the moment, there’s a lack of holding about the spiritual, transformative nature of these substances. It does open up when it’s not held. Well, there’s different risks involved when you engage with these medicines when it’s not held? Well, I think that’s the best way to say no, no, that’s
Dr. Joe Tafur 42:31
very true. And so perhaps it’s best that there’s this transitional period, you know, before we go to full legalization, where we can learn about it through the medical model, through the spiritual model, let’s say in this case, where you know, I’m gonna have to apply, you know, to show myself and know that we’re doing everything as safe and as sincerely as these other paths that have been given the DEA exemption, you know, that you have to answer to some degree of scrutiny in order to at this stage, right. And then D cram, you know, that loosens that, but again, you know, I support it, because I think that there’s still we can still educate people about these risks that you’re talking about. There’s a shift around personal responsibility, like, just everybody, you know, it’s tough, there’s young people, and they’re, you know, everyone makes mistakes and does crazy things. But still, we have to be careful with ourselves and encourage each other. And so the more we educate, and if people say, bring it in the case of I was like coming out in the open, as we have people come at me, and they’re like, Joe, why aren’t you speaking out against these people that are, you know, running ceremony, bad leaving people messed up? You know, like, Keith is talking about, you know, really screwing them up? Or do I want him to go to jail? Is that what it is? Are they going to put me in jail? Because I go out there and say that, there’s no way to have the dialogue right, unless I come forward, and put myself out there and say, Okay, here we are, we want to do it the right way. So let’s start talking about it. So unless it comes out of the closet, it’s in the shadows, where so many dark things happen around this stuff. You know, that’s a whole other risk.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 44:04
Here’s the whole nother dimension, Joe, and I think you’re well positioned to answer this question, and not many people are but the question about the shift in traditional ceremony? No way. I mean, it sounds like your training is very traditional in Peru. And I have huge respect for that. And as I wassa comes to North America, inevitably, their shifts, even in people like you who have been trained very traditionally, you bring your own experience. You have a Western, you have a North American point of view to some degree. Yeah. Yes. So what is your thought about like, is there sometimes I’ve heard more traditionally oriented people say, Well, you know, if the ritual isn’t held in the traditional way, then the medicine is weaker, or there’s something else happening, it seems inevitable that as these rituals would get updated over time, and they have to have us correct.
Dr. Joe Tafur 44:55
And they have been for 1000s of years. Yeah. Yeah. So that story is a written record of, like, the great grandparents of the great Greek grammar, you know, you know, yeah, they told you they did this. So there’s a mystery on the other side of that, that’s the real. And when you get into like, for me, and tradition and your view kind of become part of a lineage, you realize that it’s like, of course, it’s modified in the generations, right? This is an apprenticeship program, an apprenticeship system, like karate, or Kung Fu, or, you know, I mean, these things evolve, or yoga, there’s all these different perspectives. And so, you know, there’s issues around like, this was a big hot topic, I don’t know, if you’re aware of and then sacred plants conference with Bill abaci. In Corona, you know, I was the moderator for this, too, you know, the FDA trial, versus or in discussion with, you know, indigenous activists, from Colombia, Brazil, who were from, you know, in bs questions, we’re challenging them, like, we’re very this orthodoxy, that you’re preaching that nobody else from outside of the culture should do this. It’s like, okay, that’s one perspective. So then the reality is, though, that the indigenous perspective is quite diverse across the Amazon. So just within the Amazon, you have from Brazil, all the way into Colombia, Peru, etc, all these different tribes with very different styles. Yeah, it’s not consistent, like Colombian yahi ceremony versus shipibo ceremony, big differences are known, they’re gonna tell you this is wrong. And if you do this, you know this, you’re gonna go to hell. And the other one’s gonna say the same thing. And so you have to weigh that, you know, and learn. And when people come to me with some of that, like, you know, cultural appropriation, or you’re doing this, or you’re doing that, and then they’ll tell me, well, they told me, you know, my teacher told me, you’re not supposed to do that. I’m sorry, I heard that guy speak. You know, he spoke at this conference. And I also stood up and said, No women. So are you, are you on board with that one, too. That’s a part of their orthodoxy. And you’re telling me it is the divine plan, right? That’s the divine plan. You’re the one that knows. So there’s room. I’m saying there’s room and so I’m open, I’ve come under fire for being part of iwoca tourism and you know, being part of that whole thing, and then for coming here. And so for me, the way to try to address that stuff is through this acknowledgement. As soon as real people discussion and human discussion, so like I talked about there, you know, people they criticize me some of the people that were there talking, you know, they were telling you’re off, I brought this medicine, Ricardo, I’m an English people, healer, he’s people, whether you like it or not. And he tells me Yeah, Joe, I want you to do this, go there, bring it, it’s gonna help if they need it. My goal, I share my medicine, practice spiritual healing practice with some Navajos, know some DNA, and receive great benefit. And then they want to go and see their culture, then they feel inspired. I want to go down there and thank them for teaching you and bringing it to us. So then, that’s the old way. That’s the indigenous way to like, how do you close this loop? How do we deal with this stuff? You know, we have to have dialogue, we have to have consensus. And so you know, that was the beauty of that event, because they did end up having to talk to each other came to the end of the conversation, you have the the white ladies from America saying, you know, we don’t we’re not trying to violate you, you know, please, we want to keep talking to you. And then the other side of it. Well, we don’t, it’s not that we want you to go away. Just talk, but come on, like hear us. Yeah, no, you’re not, you don’t hear us. You’re just rolling over again. And so there’s so much more possibility to deal with these delicate topics, even though some people will be very, you know, the yoga or whatever it is the Chinese medicine. Yeah, Bruce Lee, bringing kung fu to America. These are different things. But there’s just so much more possibility when all the voices are at the table.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 48:39
Right on. Right on.
Dr. Joe Tafur 48:41
That’s the way to deal with that. It’s like yeah, they did no one’s, they say no one’s listening to us. That’s why we’re angry. And the proof is, you’re not listening to us, if you’re listening to them, and they’re there to talk about their opinion about what’s going on. Whether that’s the inclusion of pod and declare movement from the North American Native Americans, or whatever it is these people’s perspective from their tribe in Colombia, they want to be heard about FDA research with iwoca. Once you have the voices there, then it’s a little different than Yes, like easy for people to criticize and throw stones and all that,
Dr. Will Van Derveer 49:16
but it’s really helpful to hear your point of view there, Joan? Yeah, I mean, it makes sense. I mean, there’s like a lot of different perspectives, and if some are not included, then we’re headed for trouble. I mean,
Dr. Joe Tafur 49:28
and then ultimately, it’s like, what’s the motivation like you’re saying if we’re bringing medicine and healing over Yeah, you know, well, they’re criticizing me You shouldn’t be doing that and you know, you’re out of line then oh, and then what all other things and then then I got these people I just helped them. It’s like, well, beautiful. Other ones talking and over here we’re doing here’s what we’re dealing with. So it’s you know, some of that ideological stuff is political once again and right doesn’t always hold water when it comes down to the heart of the matter, which is trying to share Some healing and some spiritual connection and growth.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 50:04
Right. As we begin to wrap up, Joe will make sure that we get the links from you for the research and how to support you in what you’re doing. And we have a question that we always like to ask as we wrap up. And so here’s how it goes. If you had a billboard that everyone on the planet would see one time in their lifetime, and you could put a couple paragraphs on it, a few sentences, what would you like for them to see?
Dr. Joe Tafur 50:27
Hmm, my message right now is first, the path of healing is coming back into alignment with our spiritual being. Next one is spiritual healing. You know, this whole way I get hit on a lot because it’s going to come into my world is therapy versus virtual practice. spiritual healing is spiritual practice. spiritual practice is spiritual healing, that’s the entire purpose of spiritual practice is to nourish our spiritual will. So our ethical understanding of what is bonafide spiritual practice should be measured by its implications for our will be. So once we bring back together, that spirituality and health are the same thing, and that is actually important for the sustainability of our Earth, because all the sustainable cultures recognize that that’s a crucial part of their consciousness that somehow allows them to live in harmony with nature. Love it.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 51:30
Keith Kurlander 51:30
Joe. Thanks so much for being on. Yeah,
Dr. Joe Tafur 51:32
Thank you both. It’s a lot of fun. Great to see you guys.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 51:36
Wonderful having you. Well, I hope you enjoyed that conversation with pioneer Joe too, for as much as we did, really fascinated with the conversation that Joe’s in the middle of around using biomarkers from epigenetics to track changes from psychedelic Healing Sessions, and I really look forward to the results of his epigenetics study to come out soon. And you can see in the show notes, where you can learn more about his work and support his work in epigenetics as well. I wanted to let you know if you’re a psychotherapist in the audience, and you’re getting interested in this emergence of psychedelic therapy, and you are thinking about how do I get trained? Where do I learn about this? The integrative psychiatry Institute is hosting a year long, psychedelic assisted therapy program starting this summer, July 2021, which will go until May of 2022. entirely online psychedelic assisted therapy program to cover MDMA assisted therapy, psilocybin assisted therapy and ketamine assisted therapy. The only component that’s not online is an optional in person, ketamine experiential training retreat. So if you are eager to get trained, and be ready for the emergence of new therapy techniques, which seem to be on the way and psilocybin and MDMA, or if you’re interested in getting trained in ketamine assisted therapy, which is currently legal and available can be provided all over the world. You can learn more about our program by going to the website of psychiatry institute.com Ford slash psychedelic, that’s psychiatry institute.com for slash psychedelic, we’re delighted to have some of the world’s leading experts in psychedelic therapy on the faculty, some of the leading researchers and excited to provide a lot of different kinds of educational opportunities in this program, so check it out if you’re interested. We look forward to connecting with you again on the next episode of the higher practice podcast where we explore what it takes to achieve optimal mental health.