Healing Ankylosing Spondylitis with Ayahuasca and Kambo.
Since sitting with the plant medicine of Daime ( a pure form of Ayahuasca as administered by the Church of Santo Daime) and the frog medicine of Kambo , I have had extraordinary physiological, emotional, mental and spiritual results.
Today I wanted to write about the impact these medicines have had on my physiology which is nothing short of astounding, I will forever be grateful for the life changing impact that Daime (Ayahuasca) and Kambo have had.
In 2019 I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, an extremely debilitating, exhausting and painful disease in which my immune system attacks my spine. I am extremely lucky in that it was caught in early stages before too much structural damage, but a few years of biologic and multiple prescriptions was making little improvement in the overwhelming fatigue and daily chronic pain that I lived with. On top of the disease itself, I also have thoracic spine and spinal chord injuries from a car accident in my 20s. Like many auto-immune patients, I have had trauma in childhood and in adulthood, some significant, challenging life events — as do we all.
Like many autoimmune patients, my journey to healing began with a deep self examination. It is my believe that our own conditioning plays a role in dis-ease. In my case, I was a “repress it” type —experience big life events, ignore them, deny the emotions, swallow them down, and get on with it. Depending on our culture, society, families of origin, education, profession and own personalities, we each have a particular way of dealing with adversity. I believe there is much progress to be made in understanding and healing auto-immune disease from this bio-psycho-social perspective. Trauma & healing experts such as Gabor Mate, author of When the Body Says No are blazing trails in this domain. I strongly recommend this book for anyone on the same journey.
Walking into plant medicine ceremony, I was a few months out from a 4th pregnancy (ended in miscarriage) and had spent the previous 8 years building 3 healthy children back-to-back. To say my system was run down and tired was an understatement. I was carrying extra weight from the lost pregnancy that wouldn’t shift, exhaustion, pain and system overwhelm from a misaligned, over-functioning in every domain, and blasting out a fast-paced life trying to do all of the things, and be everything to everyone.
I was fresh out of trying to manage the impact of Covid, up and down health (in the good spurts, I was accomplishing things like ultra marathons and strength training regularly), 3 young children, working part time in teaching and consulting in the security industry and a few entrepreneurial side projects. I knew instinctively I was running at a pace my body couldn’t keep up with, and Covid was like a vice grip, squeezing, creating more pressure, but I just didn’t know how to get off the runaway train.
On a daily basis I lived with crippling fatigue as well as constant, chronic pain and mobility limitations. I would experience frequent flares in which the pain, mobility restrictions and fatigue would render me barely able to function. Shortly before ceremony I had experienced massive sciatica and spinal spasms that resulted in an ambulance call in the middle of the night which was a frightening wakeup call to the realities of the disease, whose root cause I had not addressed. The pharmaceuticals were managing AS symptoms to a certain degree, but creating other problematic symptoms.
I began a deeper journey into addressing trauma, healing, personal growth and spiritual growth. I have been meditating daily for 7 years now, and made many adjustments to my life before engaging with plant medicine. I had been making incremental adjustments to lifestyle and habits including a process of ‘rewilding’ — more closely aligning my body rhythms, circadian clock and activities with nature. I found a number of podcasts extremely helpful to dive into the science and research, which helped me dial in lifestyle and nutritional habits, chief among them have been the Huberman Lab Podcast and the work of Dr. Will Bulsiewicz.
Shortly before ceremony I had also begun to research more on functional medicine and alternative approaches to treating Anklylosing Spondylitis, seeking to supplement my approach with western medicine and clinical approaches such as therapy, physiotherapy and clinical pilates.
There is an emerging body of research around the role of the microbiome in diseases such as AS and after sequencing my own microbiome (I used Biomesight which also harnesses the power of data analytics and its growing database) I was entirely unsurprised to see a profile that was typical of many inflamed AS patients. I had low amounts of pro-bionts and off-the-chart levels of patho-bionts such as Klebsiella and Methane-producing bacteria. I tried tackling two problematic SIBO strains with heavy antibiotics and the help of my GP to no effect. I modified my diet (and suffered through) auto immune protocols, low fodmap and SIBO meal plans, again with little effect.
But let’s talk about frog and plant medicine….
During the Kambo ceremony, the medicine, once in the system, shot around and explored my body like heat-seeking missile. In every ceremony, my spine and guts seemed to be ground zero. I understand why people describe these medicines as intelligent. I could viscerally feel it travelling through my body, landing in my problem areas and intensifying with this burning, concentrated energy.
During the purging stage, it was not just purge rising up from my empty stomach into the bowl, but the most foul, metallic-smelling liquids that smelt like a bowl of copper pennies, strange colours, yellow bits, and most surprisingly for me…BIG emotions.
As I laid over my bowl, overwhelming sadness and anxiety, images of my childhood flashed through my mind. I used to get stomach aches and foot cramps as a child simultaneously and as the sadness I felt as a child washed over me, my foot cramped and my stomach hurt, and I felt the heat of the medicine swirl around it and almost encapsulate it in a bubble, and then push it up and through my esophagus.
As the purge released, I cried the tears of my child-like self, curled up in a ball, and collapsed to the ground, my entire body shaking. The shaman rubbed my back, and supported me through this big release of pain (and purge) and it was in this first Kambo ceremony that I began to understand that it’s all connected.
Mind, body, emotion, soul. In a Kambo purge, I was not just purging stomach contents, but deeply held emotions, traumas, pain surpressed in my body. All of it. Each one of the Kambo ceremonies had a similarly powerful effect that rendered me unable to move, and in need of rest. And rest I did, shaking under a blanket for what felt like an enternity, but of course, time alters completely in sacred medicine.
In the hours following ceremony I felt clearer, and lighter, like something been removed. Days later, as I began journalling and really reflecting as part of my integration process, I began to notice that I didn’t walk around with the same baseline of ever-present sadness, I didn’t walk around with the same ever-present aching in my body and guts, the same deeply embodied “off” feeling of an unhappy digestive system. I wasn’t squirming in my chair as much while I was teaching, the pain at a manageable level that was just there at a low buzz, instead of a palpable, uncomfortable block in my spine.
The work continued in the evening as I took the Daime (Ayahuasca) — My first few Daime ceremonies have involved deep ancestral, past life and trauma healing, many of which seemed to focused on injuries back and energy held in my spine. This type of medicine is described as both a teacher and a healer.
I distinctly remember each ceremony experiencing a stage of writing around on the ground as the pain in my spine built to a crescendo, I remember crying out that I couldn’t handle that level of pain and as I curled up and rolled around, the journey was accompanied by flashing images and experiences of adversity, in this life and others. The shaman supported me through it as I was shown images, as the medicine talked to me, saying “this has been held in here a long time, it is time to release it.” Each time, it led to a purge and what felt like a release… not just of pain, but of massive, red hot, intense energy and constriction. Of pain, sadness, frustration, disappointment, let downs, betrayals. It showed me the role of the spine, to stay strong, to stay upright, when others fall apart and it showed me how I had done that over and over and over again in this life time. Standing up tall, staying strong, carrying the loads, burdens and emotions of others. It gently admonished me, telling me it’s time to stop doing that. It would loop over and over again, as if to land the lesson home: Your compassion is a double edged sword. Stop carrying others’ burdens. You can’t fight their battles. Let others help you. Let others hold you. Even the strong ones need to take a knee and let others support them. Will you allow yourself to be held by someone?
And each time, as I surrendered, and said yes, I will, a pain release would follow, and I’d collapse into tears, or purging, or yawning or yelling. Then.. the release — a great wash over me of peace and calm.
The real magic, and real integration began upon landing back home. I noticed upon my return for the first two weeks, a noticeable absence of the daily aching pain in my joints, lumbar and thoracic spine.
I am a huge advocate in plant medicine integration of journalling, to unpack the lessons and experiences. Just as important as getting the journey & lessons down, is taking the time to read back and reflect on previous entries, because the integration journey takes time.
A lesson in a ceremony may come to fruition (or realization) 5 weeks down the line, when something in your life changes, you go back and read the journal, and realize that one particular thing that happened in the 5d of ceremony, was directly related to this shift that has just occurred in 3d.
A big component of integration coaching is helping clients connect the dots. It’s like moving from seeing stars, to seeing a constellation.
The individual clusters of stars that you experience in a ceremony, all of those fantastical journeys, images, feelings, energetics and lessons… they may seem like one-offs. Magical things that are nice to note down.
But as time passes, those stars begin to connect together into a greater constellation, a greater story, a greater lesson and a significant shift for you.
But… you must record the stars, take time to gaze back at them, and sit with the entries. You must take time to contemplate.
Then, as time passes, magic unfolds in your life, and synchronicities begin (because oh, they will, after ceremony)…the stars connect. Some are obvious, but others are more subtle.
Coming back from ceremony, over the weeks, I noticed that I slept better. I didn’t wake up as much to shift my aching hips and shoulders (AS can, and does flare up many of the big joints.) My lumbar spine injections at the advanced spinal care centre extended out to 3–4 months at a time. In order to sit with plant medicine, I had spent a number of weeks working with my rheumatologist to titrate off of my medications. Following ceremony, my symptoms didn’t warrant going back onto the big interventions typically used in AS. I have since experienced a few flares, but have not had to titrate back up onto multiple medications or biologics so far, to manage it. I haven’t discounted the power of western medicine or pharmaceuticals at all, in fact I think they are vitally important with nasty diseases like this — but my blood work, gut sequencing and symptoms have presented at a much lower, more manageable level than they ever did. Though my flares still happen, they are less frequent and I feel more able to move through them with compassion and by slowing down. The flares didn’t change but my mindset, my paradigms, the way I see my disease did. I became more compassionate and loving towards AS and looked at it as gift, and a barometer for the pace of my life. It was no longer an enemy to fight and destroy.
This…after a week of sitting with sacred medicines at 1/2 of the cost of 1 month of biologic therapy. 9 months later I sit here with the same improvements, if not more, than I would on biweekly self injecting.
The sacred medicines also left me craving healthy foods. Since returning, I have ingested minimal alcohol, feel much less cravings for things like caffeine and a greater desire to eat plant based foods. To date, 9 months after ceremony, I am 40 lb lighter, free of all medications except the occasional anti inflammatories and lumbar injections.
When I returned from ceremony, I had another microbiome sequence, because I was curious. Admittedly there is about a 6 month window between scans, but I was astounded to see a dramatic improvement (reduction) of the two strains of pathobionts that were off-the-charts high before ceremony: Klebsiella and Methane-producing bacteria. Following ceremony, both had returned to a completely normal, healthy range. These were numbers that I had treated — and failed to improve — with some of the heaviest antibiotics, and hundreds of dollars spent on nutritionists, supplements and food protocols, the previous year.
I also noticed improved pro-bionts, and reductions in other patho-bionts. Biomesight also provides analytics on gut microbiota that are known to contribute to healthy neurotransmitter ranges. Again, astounding double digit improvements that moved my profile closer to healthy ranges, based on Dr Jason Hawrelak’s recommended ranges for a subset of key bacteria (Probiotics, Commensals and Pathobionts.)
It has all had a dramatic compound effect. Better sleep = better recovery. Better cravings = better nutrition= Less inflammation. At my last blood test, I had all of the blood markers of a healthy person. More movement and time outside in the places = more joy. It’s a positively reinforcing cycle. Indeed, these sacred medicines taught me the interconnectedness of it all. AS isn’t a physiological situation. You need to treat it as an emotional, mental, physiological and spiritual situation, and develop protocols in each of those areas in order to truly heal.
Though I am certainly not free of AS, and still have lifestyle modifications such as using a ridiculous reacher-grabber stick to minimize spine flexion and aggravating my spinal chord injury, and have to offload my schedule when the flares do hit, my inner world, my inner experience of life and the paradigm with which I view AS has dramatically shifted. In it is a gift, and an opportunity. And I am eternally thankful for these ancient medicines. As I continue my journey with Ankylosing Spondylitis, I know that my own lived experience with this medicine leaves me in no doubt it was an effective approach to managing the disease.
This post is absolutely not to be taken as medical information, recommendations or advice. Please seek out the advice of a professional and work closely with your specialists — AS is no joke. In my journey, I worked closely with my GP and Rheumatologist and engaged in a heck of a lot of research and self-reflection when I decided to take the plant medicine approach.
As a personal reflection though, I will continue to choose these medicines as one of the best ways of treating and managing my symptoms and leaning into the gifts that adversity can bring, as a route to growth and ascension of our human condition.