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A Canadian Allegedly Killed a British Guy During an Ayahuasca Trip in Peru

According to Peruvian police, witnesses said Joshua Andrew Freeman Stevens killed Unais Gomes in self defense during a ceremony at a spiritual retreat near the jungle city of Iquitos.
December 18, 2015, 7:15pm
Photo by Rodrigo Abd

A British man has allegedly been stabbed to death by a Canadian man who was reportedly acting in self-defense during an ayahuasca ceremony at a retreat deep in the Peruvian Amazon.

Witnesses said Unais Gomes, 26, was killed by Joshua Andrew Freeman Stevens, 29, with a kitchen knife, regional police chief Normando Marques told Reuters. Freeman Stevens was taken into custody.

Another source close to the case, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that it appeared that Gomes had first attacked Freeman Stevens with the same knife.


The two men had reportedly taken part in the ceremony at the Phoenix Ayahuasca health center run by Australian couple Mark and Tracie Thornberry.

Phoenix Ayahuasca's Facebook page describes it as a safe place to "experience plant medicines and explore the true nature of the self." Phone calls to the center went unanswered.

The center features a couple of wooden shacks beside a duck pond in a small clearing in dense forest and welcomes ayahuasca tourists from around the world. It typically carries out several ceremonies a week for groups of up to around eight people.

The center is a two-hour drive from the jungle city of Iquitos, in northeastern Peru, along an unpaved road that turns to deep mud and becomes impossible to pass during the area's frequent torrential downpours.

Related: British Teen Dies After Indigenous Yagé Ritual in Colombia

Many tourists seek out ayahuasca because of its reputation for alleviating depression and other mental troubles, including addictions. Amazonian indigenous groups have used ayahuasca — also known as yage — for millennia as an important spiritual and medicinal tool.

Users experience high-definition visions, often of wild animals, and talk of a profound metaphysical awakening, including the humbling experience of realizing how small a role they play in the vast universe.

Ayahuasca is a combination of an Amazonian vine and another plant containing the naturally occurring hallucinogen dimethyltryptamine (DMT). When they are  boiled together on a low heat for several hours, they produce a pungent black liquid with powerful psychedelic effects. It is not normally associated with violence.


The liquid is so acrid that those taking part in ayahuasca ceremonies often gag when they drink it, or throw up shortly afterwards, leading to a risk of trippers choking on their own vomit.

Ayahuasca tourism in Peru has surged in recent years, with dozens of jungle retreats offering the traditional indigenous brew to visitors under the supervision of a guide or shaman.

In 2012, 18-year-old Californian native Kyle Nolan died at another ayahuasca retreat in a different part of the vast Peruvian jungle, after allegedly being left on his own by the shaman leading the ceremony, and falling unconscious and asphyxiating.

The shaman buried Nolan's body in an attempt to cover up the death. A missing person's report was issued and the shaman was eventually convicted of manslaughter.

Related: A Shaman, an Exile, and a Rapper Are Bringing a Hallucinogenic Heroin Cure to Afghanistan

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