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Sebastopol teen died in Peru trying ‘to further open his mind’

Saturday, September 15th, 2012 | Posted by

By GUY KOVNER / The Press Democrat

Kyle Josef Nolan and his parents knew exactly why the 18-year-old Sebastopol man traveled to a retreat center in the Peruvian jungle: to participate in an “ayahuasca ritual,” ingesting a psychoactive concoction used by Amazonian people for centuries and popular with westerners, including the musician Sting.

Kyle Nolan of Sebastopol, right, pictured with his triplet siblings Marion, left, and Kevin. Kyle died Aug. 22 at a jungle retreat in Peru. (Family photo)

But the 10-day program at the Shimbre Shamanic Center went tragically wrong, and the operator, a shaman named Jose Manuel Pineda Vargas, attempted to cover up Nolan’s death and lied to his mother when she first arrived in Peru, according to Sean Nolan of Petaluma, Kyle’s father.

Peruvian National Police said they arrested Pineda, 58, who called himself “Master Mancoluto,” and two men who allegedly helped bury Nolan’s body on the shamanic center’s property outside the city of Puerto Maldonado in southeastern Peru near the Bolivian border.

A YouTube video depicts Pineda leading authorities to the spot where Nolan’s body was unearthed.

Ingeborg Oswald of Sebastopol, Nolan’s mother, and his sister, Marion Nolan, were in Peru Friday waiting to bring Nolan’s body home and also obtain official reports on his death, Sean Nolan said.

“This is what he wanted to do,” Sean Nolan said. “This was not to be a vacation for him, but rather an experience to further open his mind.”

Nolan, a 2011 graduate from Analy High School, had taken a year off from school and worked odd jobs to save money for the trip to Peru and the shamanic retreat, where ayahuasca is the “centerpiece” of a 10-day program, Sean Nolan said.

“It does have inherent risks,” he said.

Sean Nolan said he was concerned about his son’s use of ayahuasca, a psychoactive brew widely used by indigenous Amazonian people that contains dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a psychedelic substance that is illegal in the United States.

Nolan said he had researched ayahuasca and found no reports of “bad experiences” with it. He disputed a media report that his son had taken an excessive dose in an Aug. 22 ritual at the shamanic center.

On the program’s seventh day, the shaman made a specific “preparation” for each of the participants, who had fasted and taken other steps prior to the ritual.

“Kyle drank what he was given,” his father said, then found his way to a tent on a wooden platform on the center grounds. No one checked on him, and he was found dead the following day, Aug. 23, his father said.

After Kyle Nolan failed to return home on Aug. 26, his mother and sister made the first of two trips to Peru to find him. Sean Nolan said that Pineda “looked them right in the eye” and told them Kyle had seemed “despondent” and “just walked off with his suitcase.”

Pineda’s account apparently did not hold up under police questioning, Sean Nolan said.

Roberto Velez, the owner of the Shimbre Center, told Oswald what had really happened, prompting her second trip to Peru, Nolan said. Oswald is a veterinarian who runs a clinic in Rohnert Park.

On Friday, the Shimbre Shamanic Center’s website had only two photographs: a man identified as “Master Mancoluto” and a round, unoccupied building. All other information on the site had been deleted.

More than 30 YouTube videos depict people describing their “ayahuasca experience,” including Sting, who said he drank it at a big church in the jungle outside Rio de Janeiro about 20 years ago. In four minutes, Sting said, he experienced a sensation of being “wired to the entire cosmos.”

“It is communion, this direct access to the Godhead or whatever you think that is,” Sting said, calling it “the only genuine religious experience I’ve ever had.”

Charles Grob, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine who has studied ayahuasca, said in a YouTube video that it can cause “a very painful ordeal, it can be an eternity in a hell realm, as it were.”

Grob said the substance can be harmful when used along with certain anti-depressants, but he had heard of only one ayahuasca-related death. That involved an elderly Native Canadian woman whose body was overloaded with nicotine.

Kyle and Marion Nolan and their brother, Kevin Nolan, were triplets, born on Sept. 23, 1993. Kevin and Marion are sophomores at UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis, respectively.

Cesar Inda of Sebastopol said he knew the brothers at Analy High, describing them as a “dynamic duo” who looked a lot alike and were “almost inseparable.”

Inda, 19, said he had seen Kyle Nolan at Santa Rosa Junior College early last month and was shocked to learn on Facebook of his death .

“It really made me think how short life can be,” he said.

Sam Watkins, 19, of Sebastopol said he and Nolan were good friends at Twin Hills Middle School years ago. They played video games and listened to classic rock, including “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” by both Bob Dylan and Guns N’ Roses.

Watkins recalled that Nolan would come to his birthday party in the middle of summer when “everybody else was gone.”

  • John Humphrey

    I feel very sad for Kyle’s family. I’d just like to point out that Ayahuasca itself is not known to be life threatening. See: Dr. Charles Grob: Study of adverse effects of ayahusaca http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWQm_l1xv9w What seems far more likely is that Ayahuasca is being used to hide foul play.

    • http://efherne.wordpress.com EFHerne

      How can you believe this story carte blanche? I used to work for mainstream media–THEY LIE… or are fed stories by the UPI never bothering to check their sources. The doctor you refer to, Dr. Charles Grob, is a U.S.Gov FLUNKY bought and paid for by them(just like all their ‘research studies’) to feed you bogus intell. It happens all the time. So in THOUSANDS OF YEARS Ayahuasca has killed one person(IF this is true). How many people have been killed by radiation and poorly prescribed pharmaceuticals? I’ll tell you….MILLIONS. My son was almost one of them. The boys own father doesn’t even believe this bulls*t: “”I believe my son was murdered,” he told the newspaper, “because people don’t die from ingesting ayahuasca.” Read Edward L. Bernays(Freud’s nephew) PROPAGANDA; the USGov still use his and Hermann Goering’s strategies to this day in ALL their ‘public affairs.’ These tactics are meant to “provoke specific emotional responses among the masses.” And I can see by this article, these strategies are working.

  • Rachele Ketchem

    It is pathetic to me that any religions would use drugs to alter people’s minds. I suppose contributing to their brain damage is a way to control them. Sounds like Sting is a junkie in search of new drugs and a poor example to youth on a quest for religion that supports drug addiction. The mere fact that he had a reaction and died, and the shaman (witch doctor) covered it up like a crime, shows those false religious beliefs and practices do not promote spiritual purity, honesty and integrity. Only a devil would put their name on that religion.

    • http://roamingthemind.com Robert Tindall

      Dear Rachele, as a previous resident of Sebastopol, now living in Peru and working at a center for the treatment of addiction, Takiwasi, that utilizes ayahuasca among other plants to heal, I want to assure you that Kyle’s death is an anomaly. It is unfortunate in this day and age that people have to seek information about medicinal traditions on YouTube.

      I do not know what happened at the shamanic center he visited. Unfortunately, as ayahuasca has become more popular among Westerners many pseudo-shamans have set themselves up, and it may be that there was an additive, perhaps a member of the deadly nightshade family like datura, in Kyle’s medicine. Again, this is speculation. Certainly, the concealing of his body is a crime from the perspective of the medicine people here as well.

      Ayahuasca has been used for thousands of years in the rainforest, and Western science has already established it cannot be given at a “lethal” dose.

      I would ask you to consider this, before rendering your judgment. How many people die in Western hospitals everyday out of bad diagnoses, neglect, error, etc.? How many in a year?

      Please, don’t tar an entire tradition with a single swipe of a brush. I invite you to consult legitimate writings upon the shamanic tradition of the rainforest and educate yourself before rendering judgment.

      Yours, Robert Tindall

      • Matt

        Thanks Robert. I feel like you were very generous in your response to Rachele’s close-minded judgement. It is clear that Rachele has no direct experience of either addiction or ayahuasca. I am blessed to have had both and I can assure everyone that ayahuasca does not lend itself to addiction AT ALL. In fact as you point out Robert, it is actually a useful tool in recovering from drug addiction.

        As far as religion and spirituality that uses drugs all I can say is that spiritual traditions the world over have used a large variety of mind-altering practices (fasting, inflictions of pain, sleep deprivation, drumming, and dancing to name a few) for thousands and thousands of years to stimulate religious experience. Anyone who claims to know the full extent of the ways in which God works in the lives of human beings is wrong.

        I agree that the covering up of the death is sure sign of a lack if integrity. But what religion can claim that none of their spiritual leaders has ever exhibited a lack of integrity. Also, as Robert points out, when it comes to providing ayahuasca retreats in South America, anyone can set themselves up as a shaman. Just as everywhere else in the world, there will always be those who will try and profit from the spiritual seeking of others.

      • Carol Christoffel

        Dear Rachele and others, First there are many psuedo shamen out there and it is more than possible that is what happened. I am no expert on this drug and I know the media is not always accurate in reporting so I must say who knows what really happened when an innocent and “rich” by Peruvian standards white guy shows up wanting to experience more of life? Most herbalists are not open to doctoring people outside their own group, and do not charge huge amounts for religouse ceremonies with or without sacred plants.Fact is when crossing cultures Europeans put themselves at great risk as others may easly tell us baloney and fool us. You never know if you are getting a good healer or a bad one or a fake.However, calling those who try to help their own people with herbs to heal a “witchdoctor” is very racist. Consider most of our drugs are plant derived and much of our modern knowledge was helped along by friendly healers….Just a thought to encourage you towards tolerance.

    • Tom

      Rachele, it is indeed a tragedy that a young man died. The way the shaman attempted to cover up the death is also despicable, but…
      Ayahuasca is both powerful and helpful and you shouldn’t be so quick to make judgments of something you know little if anything about. Ayahuasca does not create brain damage or lend oneself to be controlled by another. Sting is certainly no “junkie” and in fact he is an excellent example for youth in this troubled world. Most people who drink Ayahuasca will strongly attest that the experience does promote spirituality, honesty and integrity – Myself included. If you really care to learn about Ayahuasca, do some research, watch some documentary films and/or read a book on the subject. Many are available in each format. If however you prefer to remain uninformed, you should also keep your comments to yourself.

    • Michael

      Rachele I think you should do your research before badmouthing the “spirit vine,” or ayahuasca. Its a beautiful entheogenic plant and not associated with religion, but a more spiritual connection. that actually treats drug addicts and opens up access to the mind and the cosmos that you could never achieve otherwise. Its actually called “the little death” because your brain is releasing dimethyltriptomine which is the same drug that is released the 49th day of conception, and when you die. This must have been a false “shaman” and and an unethical retreat center trying to just make profit. There has been no records of deaths experiences with Ayahuasca alone because everyone takes the precautions. This must have been from other factors. Im sure there will be investigations. My condolences and prayers to the family.

      • Donna

        Wonder why it is the 49th day of conception… :-)

    • Barry

      How many people have died in various religious exercises such as exorcism?
      Your devil is always there, in every nook and cranny, waiting to jump out an hurt you.
      How does it feel to live with such fear? And then kill the ones you love when you attach it to them.
      Look up nocebo effect and get back to me.

    • motoMonk

      @Rachele Ketchem: haahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahhahaaaaaaaa! Pityful judgment..typical of the ‘righteous’ who from a far judge what they do not know. I do hope u get to partake, if not in this life, then the next, in this divine sacrament. Perhaps he now is an ayahuasca vine in the jungle enjoying divine and blissful balance.

    • dimitri

      dear rachele, i hate to break it to you, but drugs are probably a lot more responsible for ´religion´ than you think. search a little in this world.

    • Jacob Karlsson

      Mind control and religion are two terms I’ve never heard in the same sentence, Rachele. You know, real religions don’t use substances to control their followers’ behavior. They just use social ostracization from the community for prohibited thoughts, beliefs and behaviors like doing what people have been doing since the dawn of recorded history, mind and mood alteration. Another popular tactic that real religions don’t use is repetition and the exclusion of contrary information, including using substances that open your mind to the realm of possibilities. No, the only person suggesting mind control is you.

    • dave

      false religious beliefs???

    • Chris71098732

      Wow, such ignorance. Where do you even begin with that?
      It’s like she is from a totally different conceptual frame of refference.

    • Chantelle

      Ayahuasca is a sacred medicinal plant. Do a little research first. More people die chewing gum then from this herb

    • Jesse Reno

      You sound very judgemental, you must be christian

      • Cal

        Must be? I’m afraid you’re quite immature in your ability to assign cause. They may be Christian, may be atheist, may be Hindu. To be judgmental is a human trait, not belonging to any organization or particular sect of thought or tradition. There may be many judgmental Christians, but you lack the sources to prove it is most if not them all. The same can be said for those who harness any other belief, or lack thereof.

        You’re only putting a spotlight on yourself that others see as most fallacious. Please restrain from making such unwarranted attacks of accusation. Thanks.

  • Deborah Jones

    My deepest sympathies to Inga and her family. She has been a friend and vet to all of our pets for 15 years now. Our thoughts are with you during this very difficult time.

  • Linda & Chris Canterbury

    Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. We are so saddened by this news.

  • Robert Muir

    This sucks and is typically unheard of in the psychedelic realm, poisoning could be possible (SSRI, maybe even too much MAOI), dehydration, choking (from the purging), but it doesn’t say how he died, they said he was left alone all night, which is unheard of with Ayahuasca. There are usually sitters that will watch over you or at least check on you if you want to be alone. I would assume his death was because of a neo-shaman, as a true shaman would have not tried to hide his death.

  • Aarhonrhod

    As it turns out, the boy was given toé with his Ayahuasca, which is highly toxic and very dangerous. No true shaman would ever do such a thing, much less leave an ayahuascero unattended through the night!

    • Matt

      What is your source for this information regarding the person in this article receiving toé in his ayahuasca? But I also need to disagree with you and say that true shamans do in fact work with toé, although personally I would decline any brew that contained it. Based on what happened after the death and what that says about the character of the ayahuasquero, it wouldn’t shock me if Kyle was given toé and not fully informed about it (or not informed about it at all). Generally though a true shaman who sensed the need for it would suggest it for one of his charges (as they would with a wide variety of other plant admixtures).

  • dan

    maybe there are so few reported deaths because they buried them?

  • manu

    FYI, DMT it is not illegal in the USA, do your research before you make such a statement.Thank you

    • unam

      Your totally wrong, DMT is considered one of the most illegal substances in the United States. I would recommend you to be the one to dedicate a few seconds of research instead.

      • Nate

        NOTE: DMT is found in every living thing alive. although its more abundant in some plants more than others. its only illegal to extract and have possession of it. Honestly you could use grass clippings from your lawn to get DMT. anyways, it is tragic to hear of this boys death, but i highly doubt that ayuhuasca killed this boy. there are thousands of other things in the amazon rain forest that could have done that before he even got to the shaman. in my own opinion, it is also not a drug at all. it really is a medicine

    • Matt

      unam is correct. DMT is schedule 1 in the US. However DMT containing plants are legal and frankly would be very hard to outlaw anyway since there are more than a hundred of them known now and probably many more besides.

  • Sean

    DMT is illegal in the US actually. Look it up.
    This is unfortunate not only for the sake of lost life, but for the reputation of ayahuasca and the good shamanic retreats out there that practice honestly, compassionately, and with a genuine interest in their service to people who are seeking a positive, life-changing spiritual journey.

  • Skippy

    This nice, confused (by his parents’ lifestyles and divorce) kid gets killed in Peru trying to “open his mind to the beauty of the cosmos”, or some other pro-dope BS and the killer is promptly defended by the entire whackjob W. County community of peaceful, enlightened drug addicts.
    What a surprise!
    Note to the next kid that wants to experience a spiritual awakening; if it requires drugs, it’s not awareness. It’s intoxication.

    • Liam

      Skippy all I will say is educate yourself before u type. Read DMT: the spirit molecule by rick strassman…this is not a drug dmt is naturally produced in your pineal gland. There is no addiction. read my friend ….READ!!!!

    • Nate

      oh wow. i have not heard anything this ignorant in god knows how long. how are you going to talk about something and skip to conclusions when you obviously know nothing about it. people dont understand. just because its not in pill form, and fda approved, doesnt mean its not safe and that the people taking it are crazy. The FDA aproves of more drugs that kill people every year and even daily. I have had my spiritual awakening, and it has saved many lives. this is the first case i have heard dmt related to a death. why dont you go research the drugs the fda put out…

  • Ludwig

    Ayahuasca isn’t a mind altering drug.
    It liberates you from your enslavement by your mind. :-)

  • Steve Rock

    22,134 people died in 2010 from ayahuasca. NOPE, that was from prescription drug overdoses in the USA. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rofecoxib <– This Merck drug killed 60,000 people before it was discontinued. SIXTY THOUSAND PEOPLE. I have never heard of a death from properly prepared ayahuasca. THE FACTS HURT DONT THEY?

  • Origin

    Thanx to all those that shared here. I’m in Australia, where it’s also presently illegal, but there are ayahuasceros here, & I’m very interested to ‘take the journey’ along w/ them, or in Sth America some day, but have fear around the experience due to a bad acid-trip as a teenager in NZ. It’s good 2 hear that, altho this boy’s life was ended, which is sad, the instance of death is extremely rare. To those of you who’ve taken it, I ask, is it possible to BEGIN w/ a small amount, or is it totally up to the administering Shaman ?

  • http://www.connecthook.wordpress.com Andrés

    All you “Holier -than-Thou” wannabee jungle shamans are an arrogant bunch.
    Sure, Rachele’s initial comment may have been a bit uninformed but your responses show you for what you are. And never ever forget – ‘pharmakeia” [φαρμακεια] is the Greek word for sorcery and is an etymological root of ‘pharmacy’/pharmaceutical, etc.


    Sorry all you gringo curanderos, but you cant TRIP your way to salvation. It is found in Jesus Christ alone. Now go ahead and react. Go ahead and hate on Christ on the Gospel.Take your time…

    It is a shame that a young man died taking powerful drugs and I hope justice will be done in this case.

    • chad

      You sound absolutely ridiculous. Go bang your drum elsewhere. Or better yet, pop yourself one of the many prescription drugs I’m sure that lines your shelves. And #$!? me running black bear! I must be in the presence of greatness! Sounds like you’ve talked to Jesus yourself!!! You book quoting loser!

  • Sandra

    Deep Shamanic journeys can be dangerous,and kill the shaman,it is known to happen.
    There are bad shamans in the amazon,who kill,and they drink ayahuasca to get really (really) close to their victims.There are bad spirits who can take your soul when you are in an altered state.
    Its not a harmless operation to mingle with the spiritworld.
    If you have been there,you know what im talking about.
    Shamans go into spiritworld to aquire helpers,protective spirits,who will help them in the land of no-time,but sometimes shamans soul gets kidnapped and never returns.

  • Sandra

    That said,there are bad spirits and shamans all over the world.Not just in the Amazon.
    But i believe we find some of the cleverest healers and killers there.

    • Monica

      Hi. Im planning my trip in janusry. How fo i find genuine curanderos who i can trust? As many of i said there so many fake ones? My fear of finding the wrong one would probably stop me fom getting the right experience. Aldo i am a woman in early 49ties probsbly going on my own.

  • Monica

    Sorry for mistakes in my previous post. Small keys on iphone r driving me nuts. Im in early 40ties. Haha – i guess it is important fo me!

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