Dr. Manny, The Medicine Hunter, and a wild, psychoactive trip on network TV

We could subtitle this:  Ayahuasca And The Anaconda.

For about 8 minutes on Fox News the other day, Dr. Manny Alvarez, the network’s Senior Managing Editor for Health News, turned over the tube to Chris Kilham, the self-proclaimed Medicine Hunter, to promote his new book and to share 8 minutes of data-free psychedelic drug hype.

If my former co-worker Bill O’Reilly has declared a No Spin Zone at Fox, Dr. Manny introduced a No Evidence Zone forum with this segment.

Kilham and Dr. Manny at one point were shouting at viewers “Get The Book!” – meaning Kilham’s book,  The Ayahuasca Test Pilots Handbook: The Essential Guide to Ayahuasca Journeying, which he describes on his website as providing “a practical guide to ayahuasca use, aiding seekers in making right—and safe—decisions about where to go, who to drink with, and what to expect.”

Ayahuasca, Kilham explains, is illegal in the US.  But that didn’t stop Fox and Dr. Manny from giving him the run of the network for 8 minutes.

He describes it as a “powerfully psychoactive brew” with “extraordinary healing powers” – which must be so extraordinary that no data could be captured, because none were presented.

No independent perspective was presented.  Fox’s Senior Managing Editor for Health News certainly didn’t evaluate any of the claims.

Potential harms were waved off as “it might be scary for some people…but for the most part it’s safe.”

But Kilham, who says he’s used the stuff 85 times (!) and has, in his ayahuasca-enhanced state of mind, been “swallowed by an anaconda,” also says that people should be prepared to have very “unusual visions” that will have you “travel to places…or be visited by animals.”

Kilham claims that using ayahuasca helped him resolve longstanding trauma from his childhood and recover from his mother’s death – in addition to the anaconda experience. And, in other people, he says he has seen it:

  • help soldiers recover from PTSD when nothing else worked
  • help women who were sexually abused when young

We would have done a systematic, criteria-driven story review on this piece, but it would have been sentencing it to a 0-star score. 

Costs:  no discussion of what it would cost to fly to South America to pursue this stuff legally, for example – UNSATISFACTORY

Quantifying benefits:  the plural of anecdote is not data –  UNSATISFACTORY

Quantifying harms:  “for the most part safe”= UNSATISFACTORY

Independent sources: none –  UNSATISFACTORY

Conflict of interest in source:  Kilham is promoting his own book, his own TV appearances and website –  UNSATISFACTORY

Evaluate quality of evidence: not done –  UNSATISFACTORY

And with 8 minutes of network airtime, you can’t say they didn’t have time to squeeze some of this instead of screaming, “GET THE BOOK!”

And, at the end, Dr. Manny fantasized with Kilham about making the trip to South America – “Can you imagine me tripping on this stuff?” the Senior Managing Editor for Health News asked.

Yes, after watching this segment, I can.  I have visions of you and the anaconda.

Addendum on March 25:  And now I have visions of “booming, bellowing barfs” that are “part of the healing process” – after reading a Newsweek story on ayahuasca.


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Comments (1)

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Chris Kilham

February 19, 2015 at 12:31 pm

Hi – thanks for reviewing my segment with Dr Manny even if you panned it. If you (a) read the book, or (b) investigate the current medical info on ayahuasca, you will find plenty of data. But you will have to do at least 20 minutes of work to accomplish that. Just as Johns Hopkins Uni ersity Zmedical Center has done some breakthrough work with psilocybin, the psychoactive agent in magic mushrooms, so too numerous medical doctors are tracking patient results with ayahuasca, and noting significant benefits for various idiopathic disorders. As I say plainly in the segment, ayahuasca is not for everyone. Neither is tetracycline. But it does help many people, and help is the entire point.
Again, thanks for the coverage. Crack open the book sometime too. It is loaded with botanical, anthropological, medical and biological info-data- which hopefully will prove satisfying. Take care.
Happy trails
Chris Kilham
Medicine Hunter