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Dr. Gabor Maté: Ayahuasca and the Treatment of Addiction

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"A taste of victory..." We come into the world whole and perfect although, with our potential completely unrealized. And to the extent that the world does not see us for that whole and perfect beings that we are we cover up and we lose our connection to ourselves. That’s where the addictions come in. Because whatever we can't do for ourselves we want to see something from the outside to complete ourselves. I’m a medical doctor, for the last twelve years I’ve worked here in Vancouver’s downtown eastside with the heavily addicted population; people at the extreme margins of society in the highest throes of drug use. I define addiction as any behavior that has negative consequences; that when it’s compelled to persist in and relapse into and crave despite of negative consequences. So the addictive personality is somebody with a sense of deficient emptiness, with a sense of inchoate distress, without the capacity to soothe themselves and to regulate themselves without that external source of relief whether that be sex, gambling, or heroin. What did the heroin do for you? Patient: (Laughs) - Well, somebody said to me one time, 'What does heroin feel like?' and the closest I could explain it was when you were a young child and you were really sick and your mom come into the room, put a nice warm blanket around you - ...gave you a bowl of chicken noodle soup and held you... - Yeah. That’s basically what heroin made me feel like. Maté: Do you know how close you are to the scientific truth there? - I don’t know. The heroin addict does a substance, injects a substance that goes to a part of the brain whose job it is to provide pain relief, a sense of pleasure and reward and also a sense of human connection. Now, if you've never had that from other sources and you do heroin for the first time you feel normal for the first time in your life. You feel that life is worth living for the first time in your life. So, it’s very difficult for people to give it up when some essential brain circuits become trained that only through that substance will they get those essential human experiences. Interviewer: So, this seems to follow but why do you think ayahuasca medicine may be able to help some of your patients then? Well, I'm not at the point where I'm prepared to say that ayahuasca is going to help some of my patients because the medication by itself wouldn't help them. Okay? If there was a context in which the medication was used appropiately, ayahuasca then I can see it being of great potential help. But the context would have to be prepared first and we are far away from that. So, it's not a question of people coming to this office and me giving them a drink and saying, "go out and heal", you know. But I'll tell you what I think ayahuasca could potentially do. And having experienced it myself, here's what I've found. It's that ayahuasca shows you very clearly the psychological baggage that you carried all your life. When you see this baggage you no longer see it as an inevitable and an inextricable part of yourself. If you see this baggage, then you can put it down. So all the pain and all the meanings that you've created from that pain and all the ways you see yourself and all the interpretations you've made of the world because of early experience can drop away and you can just be in the present. That's very powerful. Now, the other thing that ayahuasca does it shows you your full potential as a loving connected human being. And I experienced that, I mean, I had tears of love. That's all it was, I was like an infant, there was no sadness there were just tears of pure joy. Why? Cause I felt loved. And I didn't feel loved by any one particular person. I just felt myself as love, as what it really was. And that's... By god, that's who we all are. Now, that's the posibility side. So, imagine then, an experience that can, on one hand shows you the baggage as baggage, so that you have the choice of putting it down on the one hand, and on the other hand, gives you a sense of yourself as being connected and being deeper than who you thought you were. Well, that is a potential to heal addictions. So, I'm not surprised to know that some people are working with ayahuasca in a context of healing addictions and that they are having some success. It's precisely what I predict, just from my own limited experience. Thomas Merton, the catholic monk, wrote that what people need in orden to heal is a sense of the possibility of success. If people have a taste of victory, then they know that victory is possible. The people I work with have never had victory. All they've had is defeat after defeat after defeat. At first they were defeated by the world the moment they were conceived and they've been defeated ever since by the world but also by patterns that they generated themselves without knowing that they're generating it themselves. If you give people a taste of victory that, in other words, that joy, connection, love is possible, now they have something to live towards. And that loving possibility that I've experienced with ayahuasca, and many other people have, is not a hallucination, it's just a state of being. It's that taste of victory, then, that one does not forget.

Video Details

Duration: 6 minutes and 21 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Views: 430
Posted by: cdf83 on Jul 10, 2011 -- Now available on DVD and as download.

Dr. Gabor Maté has worked for several years in Vancouver's downtown east side with people suffering from severe drug addictions. Based on his own experiences with ayahuasca, Dr. Maté is convinced that the Amazonian shamanic medicine, if taken in the proper context, can help people cure their addictions. Visit

This clip is taken from bonus materials included in the DVD.
(Reposted Nov 6/10 with improved audio tracking.)

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