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13. Update: The Cure

"The truth is, I’m petrified. But with shamanism—and with the drinking of ayahuasca in particular—I’ve learned that, for me, the worse the experience, the better the payoff."—"Hell and Back," by Kira Salak, ADVENTURE March 2006

Even though contributing editor Salak has voyaged down the Niger River and deep into Congo, it was an encounter in Peru with the herbal potion ayahuasca (Quechua for "vine of the soul") that transported her to another realm. Adherents claim ayahuasca frees the mind and vanquishes psychic ailments by realigning one’s essence with the cosmos. Others (including, ahem, the DEA) note ayahuasca’s likeness to LSD. Salak was initially tormented by a flood of ghoulish hallucinations, unable to do much but scream, vomit, and writhe in agony. But with help from a shaman who guided her through a series of visions—including apparitions of herself at various life stages and even a manifestation of God—she was cured of her crippling, lifelong depression. In the years since, Salak says, dozens of readers have shared tales of similar recoveries. "I have tremendous gratitude to ayahuasca for giving me my life back," she says.

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