JAMES Freeman was living the life of privilege until a bout of depression set him on a strange path he never thought he'd take.

His life seemed like the American dream in a small town near Boston in the US. He attended an affluent private school where his classmates wanted to go to college and make something of themselves. But James didn't have a desire for anything in his life.

He was suffering from incurable depression and gave himself 10 months to live.

During that time he planned to go to great lengths to find the antidote for his sickness but if he couldn't find the cure before his time ran out, he would end his life.


James is the focus of a documentary, The Last Shaman, which has just debuted in America. Filmmaker Raz Degan follows James on a lengthy journey to self discovery, and the Amazon jungle.

James had tried everything - told his parents he loved them when he didn't feel like it, he spoke to psychologists, took medication and even tried electroconvulsive therapy, but he claimed he was still dead inside.

"I can't tell you the reason, or even the day I knew something was wrong," he said in the documentary.

"You hate yourself and you hate yourself for hating yourself.

"It's difficult to accept this is where I am. I feel like I need to create some sort of meaning to happen."

When James heard people had tried to cure depression by taking ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic brew made with plants in the Amazon, he decided he had nothing to lose and travelled to South America in search of the brew and a shaman to heal him.

James' dad, Dr Mason Freeman, was wary about his son looking for a cure in the ayahuasca plant.

He didn't believe it would work and medical colleagues said the journey could be harmful.

Ayahuasca has boosted tourism in South America, with many travellers heading to the Amazon to try the brew. But despite its possible healing benefits, it can also be very dangerous.

Some shamans capitalise off the brew's popularity and aren't real "healers". Tourists have even died during an ayahuasca ceremony.

In March, the parents of Matthew Dawson-Clarke, who died after drinking the toxic brew in Peru warned other young tourists about the drug which is often taken as a spiritual experience.

Boiling ayahuasca brewSource:Supplied
Boiling ayahuasca brewSource:Supplied


The New Zealand man died after trying it in a jungle retreat while others around him failed to get help. His mother Lyndie told Foreign Correspondent they are trying to hold the retreat's management to account.

"I'm not here to tell people what to do with their lives," she told the current affairs show.

"I'm just here to say 'be aware'. Be aware that it may not be right for everybody, and if you are a really healthy individual, what are you putting into your system? The possibility of you dying can happen.


The documentary shows James drinking the ayahuasca brew, which tastes foul and causes people to vomit violently. He claims he saw flashes from his life and everything he had been through. Even moments he forgot happened left an imprint on him.

With depression still crippling he travelled in search of more healing before ending up in the village of Shipibo, with a shaman, Pepe, who suggested using ayahuasca during four months in isolation.

"It's just you, the sounds of the jungle and the mental clock ... tick, tick, tick," James said.

All James could eat was rice and fish and he grew skinnier and skinner and appeared to become weaker.

"I'm having horrifying nightmares, people I love are dying, speaking a demonic language, it's like having an exorcism performed on me," he said.

As the days went on, he felt he was being stripped of his previous life and believed his brain was being reprogrammed.

After 120 days in isolation, a grave was built for James. Being buried for seven hours was the last part of his treatment.

When he came out of isolation he started making connections with the villagers, and claimed to be marvelling at his new found mental health.

A shaman during an ayahuasca ceremony in the Amazon. Picture: Peace Productions/AbramoramaSource:Supplied
A shaman during an ayahuasca ceremony in the Amazon. Picture: Peace Productions/AbramoramaSource:Supplied


"I'm becoming stronger in a way a didn't know possible," James said in the documentary.

But he didn't believe ayahuasca should be worshipped. James said he already had that peace inside himself, but just had to find it.

After his stint in the Amazon, James didn't know if his depression was cured, but he did have a will to live. He claimed to have explored a whole new world, opened his mind and trusted.

The documentary is not intended to suggest ayahuasca as a course of treatment, but the director was interested in exploring ayahuasca's effect.

James wasn't originally the focus of the documentary, Degan was interviewing a number of people trying the brew. But he was drawn to James' struggles and the pain he went through trying to escape.

"The goal of this documentary is to show that the changes we care to make within ourselves are not achievable by any external entity. What we strive to reach for truly exists inside us all," Degan said.

News Corp Australia

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