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Renowned Doctor Gabor Mate on Psychedelics and Unlocking the Unconscious, From Cancer to Addiction

Drug addiction expert speaks on the mind-body connection and the medical and emotional potentials of psychedelics.

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Like a person with cancer recently—two weeks after she signed up she became diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ve told you my view of breast cancer, or cancer in general: it’s a repression of anger as one of the major dynamics in it. The shaman sits there in the dark and feels the blocked anger in that woman’s breast, and then works with it to unblock that energy. So, it’s not just the chemical effect of the plant, and I’m sure other people have emphasized the same point. ... It’s the context, it’s the responsiveness and supportive interaction of the environment.

Remember what I said when I was quoting from that Harvard article about how the brain develops in response to the mutual responsiveness of child and adult? In the same way the healing benefit of something like ayahuasca is not simply the chemical effect of the plant, although that of course is inseparable from its other effects. It's also the responsiveness of the environment in which people experience the ayahuasca. So, the experience has to be in a safe context, in a context where there’s guidance.

People sometimes have negative experiences, or they think they do because they had an experience they didn't like, and so they resist the experience. And also, the personality has a way of invalidating our essential self. 

I’ll give you a quick example of that. There was a woman in a recent retreat who wanted to experience what was blocking her from engaging with life and herself in a full and passionate way. Next she reports with great disappointment and even resentment what she experienced during the ayahuasca ceremony.

“I just got psychedelic colors, for example, there was a psychedelic Indian elephant. I didn't come here to get a trip with Indian elephants.”

The Indian elephant is Ganesh, the god-figure who unblocks difficulties. That’s what she experienced. And in some part of her brain she knew that. But because she was resisting the experience rather than being open to it, she actually missed the point. Now, that’s okay. If you go through it that way you’ll still learn what you need to learn, so I’m not negating her experience. In fact, it turned out to be a beautiful experience for her. But people sometimes need the guidance to understand the experience. It’s not enough, the experience. We have to find the meaning of the experience, and that’s where my role comes in. That’s what I help people with. But that wouldn’t be possible without the astonishing work of the ayahuasceros, the ayahuasceras, that I work with.

So it’s an overall gestalt; the plant, the ceremony, the chanting, the energetic work, and the psychological-emotional preparation beforehand, integration afterwards, and the joint exploration and the identification of meaning.

[applause]

Well, thank you.

Gabor Mate is a Canadian physician, speaker and author of four books. He teaches and leads seminars internationally. He has worked in family practice and palliative care and for 12 years worked on Vancouver's downtown eastside, notorious as North America’s most concentrated area of drug use. For more information visit DrGaborMate.com.