George Sarlo is throwing cash at research into how drugs like magic mushrooms can help people overcome trauma like his own.
Deep in the Mexican jungle, in a village so remote it’s only accessible by boat, 74-year-old venture capitalist George Sarlo waited to meet his father.
It was the fall of 2012, and Sarlo knew his quest seemed absurd. After all, his father had been dead for decades, and he had no connection to this region of rainforests and beaches and its indigenous peoples. As the financier watched a shaman prepare a ceremonial cup of bitter brown ayahuasca, he couldn’t believe that he’d agreed to swallow this nauseating psychedelic brew for a second time.
But he had traveled for 12 hours—via plane, boat, and finally on foot—to this primeval place, a newly-built gazebo-like wood platform without walls. He had expressed his intentions in a group therapy session in preparation; he had eaten a special, bland diet and even halted other medications.
He also trusted his friend, Dr. Gabor Maté, a fellow Hungarian Holocaust survivor, who led the therapy and had arranged the trip. Maté is perhaps best known for his book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, which explores his work with extremely traumatized injection drug users in Vancouver. He’s been offering psychedelic therapy to trauma survivors since learning about the potential of ayahuasca in 2008.
A shaman had also assured Sarlo that the veil between worlds would be thinner at this time, during Mexico’s Day of the Dead, which runs from Halloween through November 2. Since he had survived the past night’s ordeal—with all of its vomiting and visions of sepia-colored soldiers—he figured he had little to lose by trying again and hoping that this time, his father would appear to him and the experience would start to make sense.