Expedition Unknown exclusive: Gates trips on ayahuasca in his quest for afterlife answers

On tonight’s Expedition Unknown, Josh Gates reflects on the effects of ayahuasca, a tea type brew that is also a powerful hallucinogenic that people take for spiritual enlightenment.

Not only does he reflect, he actually takes part in an ayahuasca ritual and they film it.

In the Amazon rainforest of Peru, Josh studies the effects of ayahuasca, a powerful hallucinogenic tea that the indigenous people allege allows its user to experience his/her own death and afterlife.

During the event, he looks a bit uncomfortable to downright miserable at times as the drug kicks in and he starts to get clammy and his color changes visibly on camera.

“It’s insanity,” he says while lying prone and looking like the trip is taking a toll on him physically.

Gates lays fireside in the dark, tripping on ayahuasca. Pic credit: Discovery
Gates lays fireside in the dark, tripping on ayahuasca. Pic credit: Discovery

A quick primer on ayahuasca:

This is a serious botanical drug that has been around for many hundreds of years and is used medicinally by some indigenous South American peoples for spiritual and ceremonial purposes too.

Ayahuasca translates to ‘vine of death’ or ‘vine of souls’.  Ayahuasca is also called grandmother, or the truth vine, and is prepared in a brew that combines the leaves of the Psychotria viridis plant boiled along with the Banisteriopsis caapi vine.

Alone, neither botanical ingredient has much power, but together they are a potent psychedelic.

Specifically, they make DMT, a psychedelic chemical structurally similar to serotonin, and which also occurs endogenously in the human brain. Genuine academic studies reveal it has anti-cancer benefits, can help cure depression and addiction and has other health benefits, but bad ayahuasca prepared by less than ethical shamans in the region has also killed people too.

Journalist Tony Balbin of Warrior.Do described it in excruciating detail:

Many of the stories I’ve read paint it as as this blissful journey whisking you off to lands of love and compassion, as the doors of enlightenment are opened before you. Sure that could be the case. But it also couldn’t. First and foremost, ayahuasca is a medicine. Like any other medicine, it removes gunk inside you that shouldn’t be there. Enter La Purga.

Half my trips were spent in intense nausea, drenched in sweat, hovered over my puke bucket. To my right, a girl sobbing uncontrollably. To my left, a guy lying in fetal position in excruciating pain.

Across the room you’d hear violent vomits from one person, giggles from another, all the while the Shaman sings his Icaroos. This is all happening in complete darkness. As beads of sweat poured down my face, puke down my mouth, I’d think to myself “What the hell did I sign up for?”

Along with this heavy segment, Josh also travels to the island of Java for the annual festival of Vesak, a celebration of the death and rebirth of the Buddha.

Josh goes from Peru to Massachusetts in tonight's afterlife roundup. Pic credit: Discovery
Josh goes from Peru to Massachusetts in tonight’s afterlife roundup. Pic credit: Discovery

Vesak combines both a religious and cultural festival in Sri Lanka on the first day of the full moon in May. It’s sort of Buddha’s birthday party as Buddhists worship by lighting lamps – a ceremony that Gates takes part in – as they burn incense.

Other than the exclusive religious aspects of the festival, the Buddhists of Sri Lanka, decorate their houses with lanterns and lights and vegetarian dishes are part of the feasting.

Then back in the states, Josh heads to the West Coast as he joins a team of ghost hunters in Long Beach, California to search the Queen Mary, a known haunted locale, for paranormal spirits.  The Queen Mary reportedly has a ghostly engineer who died in the ship’s engine room, a famous “lady in white,” and boasts many twilight tours and séances.

Finally, Josh returns to his hometown church in Massachusetts to reflect on his quest and travels, and in a satisfying culmination of all his adventures he concludes that he may have in fact have the answer to the mystery of the afterlife.

Expedition Unknown airs Sunday, October 28 at 10/9c on Discovery followed by Expedition Unknown: After the Search at 11/10c. Watch live or catch up on the Discovery Go app.

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