Steve Hupp hasn't exactly led a charmed life. He's a high school dropout and a convicted bank robber. He's also a noted shaman who many people look to for guidance as they fight to ease the lasting effects of trauma in their lives. Hupp is part of a growing movement that's chronicled in the VICE documentary Kentucky Ayahuasca, a passionate pursuit to legitimize and legalize the medicinal use of the powerful plant-based psychedelic.
Tests have been performed using ayahuasca in Latin American countries like Peru and Brazil, and the results have proven promising in the treatment of PTSD, obsessive compulsive disorder, opiate addiction, and the treatment of depression. In territories like the United States, however, it has been banned as a harmful narcotic akin to heroin. Advocates say this classification unfairly prohibits what should be considered a therapeutic remedy of profoundly spiritual proportions.
According to Hupp, this drug can "do in two days what conventional therapy might take years to do." The bulk of the film attempts to prove the veracity of this claim. Three subjects arrive at Hupp's retreat for prolonged sessions of ayahuasca use. Each of them suffers from past traumas that have held them back in their lives.
One has yet to overcome the sexual abuse she endured as a child. Another stood by helplessly while his mother drank herself to death. The third survivor has fought through a life of drug addiction and witnessed the overdose death of his brother. They've come to the retreat because they have hopes it could free them from the crippling despair and anxiety that have dominated their lives. Sipping the hallucinogen in tea form, they begin their treatment with both trepidation and determination.
The most surprising aspect of the film is that it's not some kind of soapbox sermon on the ridiculousness of modern drug laws. It proves its point by actually showing you the benefits of ayahuasca, not just preaching its values secondhand. Kentucky Ayahuasca is an intensely intimate portrait of trauma, and a tribute to the unwavering strength of those who are determined to persevere in its wake.