Whitesburg KY

Series looks at controversial drug


“Kentucky Ayahuasca,” a TV show that explores the administration of a controversial hallucinogenic drug via a shamanic healer based in Campbellsville, willl debut Nov. 28 on the Viceland network.

The 10-episode show follows Steve Hupp, “a former serial bank robber whose life was changed when a robbery went wrong and he found himself sharing a prison cell with a Peruvian shaman named Guadalupe who upon release, introduced him to the healing potential of Ayahuasca,” a press release from the Viceland network states.

“Now, Hupp and his family have opened a church deep in the Bible Belt of Kentucky, attracting people from far and wide seeking enlightenment, salvation or healing from any number of afflictions from depression and PTSD, to recovery from emotional or physical abuse and addictions of all kinds.”

The church is located inside a mobile home park in Campbellsville. A gift certificate for a group ceremony at the church sells on its website for $395.

The church organization requires all correspondence be conducted via e-mail and it reserves the right to refuse applications to participate. Those who participate must purchase a membership in its Native American Church.

Ayahuasca contains Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a controlled substance that is ordinarily not legal to posses or distribute according to federal law.

However, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 makes exceptions for people with sincerely held religious beliefs.

A 2006 Supreme Court ruling held that the government had failed to prove a compelling interested in regulating a church’s use of drugs for religious purposes.

Dr. Ashley Webb, director of the Kentucky Poison Control Center, said that DMT activates serotonin receptors in the brain and causes the hallucinogenic effect. Participants in ceremonies who take antidepressants or stimulant medication can be subject to “an incredibly elevated blood pressure and temperature,” she said.

The material used to make an ayuahuasca tea, which is given to church participants, “is not like a controlled pharmaceutical product, where you know exactly what you’re getting,” Webb said.

In 2016, a woman died after collapsing at a Native American church in Berea. Lindsay Marie Poole, 33, of Anderson, S.C., died and a lawsuit was later filed in Madison Circuit Court alleging she died due to “negligence.”

The TV series was filmed in Burnside in Pulaski County, Hupp said, over a period of eight to nine weeks this last summer.

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