July 27th, 2021

Episode #32


Ayahuasca, Epigenetics, Mental Health and the Healing of Trauma with Dr. Simon Ruffell

Laura Dawn speaks with Dr. Simon Ruffell about how Ayahuasca can change our DNA expression, improve our mental health, and help facilitate the healing of trauma.

We found that the mystical experience [of Ayahuasca] seems to mediate changes in depression as well, so the greater the degree of mystical experience, the greater the decrease in depression.
Dr. Simon Ruffell


About This Episode:

In collaboration with the Ayahuasca Foundation, Dr. Simon Ruffell and his team are conducting epigenetic research on the effects of ayahuasca and the healing of mental health disorders and trauma. In this episode, Dr. Simon Ruffle shares the remarkable research findings that were recently published in Frontiers of Psychiatry. Ayahuasca may impact the genetic expression of our DNA, relieve suffering from depression, and may be able to decrease the emotional charge around trauma by helping us rewrite our narratives around what happened and perceive our traumas in a less negative way. 

Core Themes

Explored in this episode:
  • Ayahuasca
  • Epigenetics
  • Shapibo Tradition
  • Mental Health
  • Depression
  • Childhood Trauma
  • Healing Trauma

Links &

useful resources

Episode Transcript

Episode #32: Simon Ruffell Psychedelic Leadership Podcast.

Duration: 01:04:39

Laura Dawn [Intro]: My name is Laura Dawn, and you’re listening to episode number 32 of the Psychedelic Leadership Podcast, featuring my conversation with Dr. Simon Ruffle who shares his recent Ayahuasca research findings on Epigenetics and the healing of trauma.

Simon Ruffle: We were looking at mental health outcomes and X genetic changes. So, what we found was there were statistically significant decreases when people drank Ayahuasca, in both the short and the long-term in depression and anxiety, and we also found improvements or increases as I should stay in self-compassion mindfulness and global distress also decrease. And for all of these findings, it was based in the short term, but long-term. We were looking at the amount of childhood trauma that people had experienced to see whether or not this mediated any of the changes, and we found that people with a greater degree of trauma in their childhoods had more significant decreases in depression. So that was quite interesting and again, we found that the mystical experience seems to mediate changes in depression as well, so the greater, the degree of mystical experience, the greater the decrease in depression. What is your definition of Ayahuasca? When someone you say, was it just you to the Ayahuasca? What do you mean by Ayahuasca? Do you mean the chemicals in Ayahuasca? The way that they affect the receptors in your brain? In which case I think maybe that’s a bit of a reductionist or reductionistic way to Ayahuasca. Whereas Ayahuasca everything is it? Being with the current down it is? Having the Icarus sung when you’re in the jungle, is it? Being in a retreat center is that being completely unplugged?

Laura Dawn: One of my favorite things about doing this podcast is that I get to have conversations with really cool people in the Psychedelic space, doing some really amazing work. And Dr. Simon Ruffle certainly fits into that category and he’s actually become a really sweet new friend in my life. And so, I was first introduced to Dr. Simon Ruffle through another very special human being Carlos Tanner from the Ayahuasca Foundation. And I interviewed Carlos Tanner for episode number 13 of this podcast, and I loved that conversation as well, so definitely worth listening to if you haven’t yet. And Carlos was sharing with me some of the research that’s happening in collaboration with the Ayahuasca Foundation and these research findings that Simon is going to share on this episode were just published in Frontiers in Psychiatry. And so, the article is called Ceremonial Ayahuasca in Amazonian Retreats, mental health and epigenetic outcomes from a six-month naturalistic study and all include that in the show notes. So, Dr. Simon Ruffle works in Psychedelic Research with a focus on Ayahuasca and has spent the last five years conducting research into the use of Ayahuasca in the Peruvian Amazon. He also works as a Psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital in South London, as well as works as a Senior Research Associate at Kings College, London, looking at the use of psilocibin and treatment resistant depression. He’s currently completing a PhD, looking at the use of Ayahuasca in the Amazon and associated mental health outcomes; and in this episode, Simon shares about these recent research findings. And as you’ll hear, we laugh quite a bit in this episode, and this is actually take two on our recording, and you’ll hear more about why we did a second take in this conversation, and there were sections where I normally would have edited them out. Like when I’m saying something that’s just like a verbal blender, I would normally remove that, but I just left it in as more of a behind the scenes of a podcast episode and so we joke with each other in this conversation quite a bit, which I honestly just really enjoy.

My favorite podcast episodes are the ones where I’m able to just connect with a sense of humor in the conversation. So, you’ll definitely hear that coming through in this episode, for sure. And I just loved every minute of this conversation I got to have with Simon. Now, before I dive in, I just want to share a couple of very personal updates. I’m going to be putting out interviews once every 10 to 14 days, instead of once a week for the next couple of months. I’m going through some really big life transitions right now and I feel like my spirit is just craving more inward time. In this episode, Simon refers to drinking Ayahuasca as like spring cleaning for the mind, and I’m just really feeling that right now. It just feels like overhaul time on a lot of different levels. Some of you know, I’m coming out of a ten-year-long marriage. I’ve also just been working really hard for a really long time and getting some significant projects off the ground, including this podcast, and there’s a part of me that’s like, no, you need to put out an episode every week and stay consistent, but the wisdom of my heart is super clear and the medicine is calling me to do some deep dive work right now so that I can slow down and pause and go within and hold space for some deep level restructuring. And sometimes we really do need to let things fall apart in order to come back together in a new way that feels more cohesive and even more aligned, and inherent in times of big transitions there’s a lot of letting go. And so, I really just need to let myself really touch the heart of grief right now that’s inherent in that letting go and give myself enough breathing room and space to really do that. And when I’m at these big turning points in my life where it really feels like the ending of an old chapter and the starting of a new one, this is the time that I just really feel the call to go within, to go into the darkness and open my inner eye and hold the vision for what I want my life to look like on the other side of this cocoon of metamorphosis that I’m stepping into right now, and really imprint the field with my inner vision so that I can step back out in deeper alignment with my purpose and my why, and really fill up my cup so that I can be more effective for the long haul and be able to show up in the fullness of my offerings, which I really do have some pretty amazing projects in the pipeline right now that I cannot wait to announce and share with you.

And, sometimes I really do feel the pressure of being outwardly visible all the time and consistently present online, but it’s just not sustainable without counterbalancing it with more and more time. And so, I just need to trust the wisdom of my heart in this process. And this is also what it means to embody psychedelic leadership. This is what that means to me, and I’m doing the best to really embody and practice what I stand for and what I teach and what I value and I value balance, and I really value my health and my body as a creative vessel. And so, I do need to prioritize my physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing for the next few months. And thank you so much for supporting me in that and for understanding. So my mantra right now is that the most productive thing I can do is rest and go deep within and go deep with the medicine. And I need enough time on the other side of these deeper dives to really integrate those experiences. And I’m also really inspired to put out more solo episodes, but again, they really do take a lot of focus and effort and I need to fill up my cup. My wellspring of inspiration is just feeling a little tad low right now and I have about four weeks left in my mastermind program and it’s been going incredible. It’s been going really amazing and I’ve been learning an enormous amount, and I also need some space to integrate what I’ve been learning through leading this group of 32 amazing human beings. So it’s just this time to pause and rest and reflect and fill up my cup so that I can step back out, feeling rejuvenated and more clear, really feeling in alignment with my inspiration channel. All that to say, episodes will be coming out at a little bit of a slower pace, they will keep coming, just not every single week because I’m just going to go for quality over quantity right now. Also come September, I’m going to be in a little bit more of a nomadic mode. I’m exploring some new communities and it looks like I’ll be coming to Austin to check out the scene over there. I feel like it’s really just such a happening place right now and I’m really just feeling the call to immerse in a couple of different community scenes. And I’ll also be speaking at the Meet Delic Psychedelic conference in Vegas, November 6th and 7th, which I am so excited about. I’m speaking on a micro-dosing panel and I also have a solo speaking spot where I’m going to be exploring the intersection between creative problem solving and psychedelics.

And so, I would love to meet you there if you feel like hanging out in person, I’ll include a link in the show notes if you want to get a ticket to attend and there will be a code for you to receive a discount on your ticket. All right, what else did I want to touch on? Oh yes. If you have not yet received my four playlists for Psychedelic Journeys and Beyond, you can swipe that on my website, Ilivefreelaurad.com where you can also swipe my free eight-day microdosing course. I am going to be launching another mastermind and the application is still up on the last landing page and if you want to get on my list to attend my next mastermind program, feel free to fill out the application, it’s under the Micro dosing mastermind tab on my website. All right, I’m going to be leaving you off with this really super sweet song, by Puentes, I love this whole album called Amerikua and the song is called Q’antataita, . It’s such a beautiful song and their whole album is so beautiful and all include those links in the show notes as well. All right, without any further ado, here is my conversation with Dr. Simon Ruffle, exploring the research findings around Ayahuasca, Epigenetics, Mental health and the healing of trauma.

Laura Dawn: So, are you saying that people don’t think you’re a doctor because you look younger?

Simon Ruffle: I think it’s a mix of looking younger and wearing silly trousers. I have a love for pattern trousers, but I think it’s a mix of those two things that in it, and whenever I get a call to see if I can’t go to see, and so I either get asked if I’m a medical student or if I haven’t lost recatch [inaudible 11:34], where I call it cool me down. I got to the nurses’ station and everyone assumed that I was a member of the patient’s family. I was like no, I’m here to see the patient because you can call me.

Laura Dawn: Oh my.

Simon Ruffle: A lot of apologies, but I’ll take it as a compliment. I’m pleased not to kind of look like the staff doctor, I guess.

Laura Dawn: No, and that’s a good thing. And you bridge the worlds so beautifully and I’d love to dive in Dr. Simon Ruffle. So, I’d love to know more of your background. I think you’re just in such a unique position in this space with just bridging the Shipibo tradition with a background in Psychiatry, and you’re putting out some fascinating research and I can’t wait to dive into that with you. But let’s just start a little bit with your background and how you found yourself bridging these two realities so beautifully.

Simon Ruffle: Yeah, sure. Let’s be completely honest. I’m not entirely sure how I ended up in this position but I can talk you through what happened, so yeah. So, I’ve been working as a doctor in the NHS for a few years and I decided to have a little bit of a break. And during that time, I was doing some work in Uganda and yeah, it was really emotionally taxing. As you can imagine, I was working with some child soldiers and I decided to have a proper break from all of medicine. And I was traveling through south and central America, and, I met somebody who was training as a curandero at the time, and we’re about the same age or about the same grade and different in our different types of medicine, him and plant medicine, I mean in Western medicine. And it wasn’t the first time I’d come across Ayahuasca. I’d been aware of it for ages. but especially in South America is as I’m sure, you know, everyone was, there’s frequently spoken about. And whenever I mentioned that I was a psychiatrist, people will come back at me saying, well, yeah, Western Psychiatry doesn’t really do anything; it’s, it’s not very good. You should try drinking Ayahuasca, have you come across Ayahuasca.? And, so I was really waiting for the right time to try it and when I met this, curandero he invited me to come to Peru with him to drink Ayahuasca. And so, I went with him and I did drink it, and I was completely blown away by the effect that it had both on myself and on the other people that were there on the retreat. I was really fortunate that time, Carlos who runs the Ayahuasca Foundation, whereas he’d had this idea to build a research center and he took me around to show the kind of site that they were going to build it. And he was saying, but we still don’t have any researchers. And I was actually doing research and Uganda previously, and I kind of thought, well maybe I could start doing research into this.

There seems fascinating and so I got back into the UK and together with my mate, [inaudible 14:42] who’s a psychologist. We started looking into research and psychedelics, and we were really surprised that at that time there was barely any research tool looking at Ayahuasca and retreat centers based in the Amazon rain forest., there was a fair amount of research. In South America looking at Ayahuasca churches like UDV or Santo Daime. But yeah, pretty much none looking at retreat centers, and none of it should be by setting. So yeah, we decided that we wanted to research Ayahuasca, and we designed a study try to get some funding, and surprisingly, nobody would fund us, which we kind of expected them. So, we actually self-funded that first study and we got some nice results and so I shared, it was during sharing that research with the scientific community and it lets me going to King’s College London to start working in Psychedelic research there. Unfortunately, we then did get some funding; actually, from the medical research council, which is part of the UK government, believe it or not. And that was the money that funded our latest study, which I’ll tell you what about in the second trip.

Laura Dawn: Okay, Sweet. Well, let’s go to the first study. What were you researching in the first study and what did you find?

Simon Ruffle: Yeah, so we were looking at the effects that Ayahuasca had on personality. So, we assess personality using something called the Neo- PI, which is basically a massive questionnaire and there’s really commonly used to assess personality and it looks at personality and five different domains; openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. And we’re also looking at the degree to which participants underwent a mystical experience, so that’s where they felt connected to God, whether they felt outside of time at one with the universe.


And we found that participants had significant decreases in how neurotic they were immediately after the Ayahuasca retreats, and then that was maintained six months later. We also found that the participants became more agreeable immediately after the retreats, and that was also maintained six months later and the degree to which they experienced a mystical experience, it seemed to mediate these results. And so, the greater, the mystical experience, the greater the decreases in neuroticism we found.

Laura Dawn: Okay. And so, how is neuroticism expressed? Because, yeah, and I guess how neurotic am I?

Simon Ruffle: Say that three times? I’m going to say probably three.

Laura Dawn: Okay. So this would be a really good time to tell everyone that this isn’t take two. So, I’m going to say that your also fairly neurotic.

Simon Ruffle:  And touché’ by the way 

Laura Dawn: Oh Snap! We didn’t take two because Simon wasn’t totally happy with the way that he defined epigenetics and I think that’s fair that as a professional, he does want to show up offering accurate information. But unfortunately, I won’t be releasing the first episode, which I tried to convince Simon to let me do, because we laughed so much, especially towards the end; I was just cracking up that whole time. And I’m just going to also leave all of this because I’m also overcoming my own neuroticism. Is perfectionism a part of neuroticism? I feel like they must be correlated.

Simon Ruffle: Yeah. I think neuroticism is an umbrella term that encompasses so many things. I think it’s important to say, you know, neuroticism is not necessarily bad. And then this is one thing that came up in the research is it seems like a good thing to decrease neuroticism, and it probably is for many different reasons. So, you don’t want to be an anxious mess, you don’t want to be having to repeat every podcast you’d do multiple times. You need to say that you need to work to function, but at the same time, I wonder, we don’t want ourselves to become completely non-neurotic.

Laura Dawn: Right.

Simon Ruffle: Because neuroticism is, that’s the thing that kind of made me want to make sure that I got the definition of epigenetics right and then my explanation happy. It’s the thing that drives you to run to the bucks when you’re slightly late. If you had no neuroticism, I wonder I’m not saying this because I know it’s just a thought that we had an interesting discussion point. How much would we want neuroticism to decrease and something interesting, is worth thinking about.

Laura Dawn: Okay. So neuroticism was lowered, agreeableness was higher. What about openness?

Simon Ruffle: Yeah. So, we’ve found what’s called Trend Levels Increases and Openness. And so that basically means that people do become more open and then, but not to a statistically significant level. And that’s not, because Ayahuasca had less of an effect on openness or at least that’s not why to it, from the results, what it was is that most of the participants who had to flown out to the jungle to drink Ayahuasca in the first place already scored really highly on openness unsurprisingly, really. And so, there was less of an increase because they were already pretty much-receiving level. So I think that’s more of a limitation with the measure that we used, rather than kind of saying people became less open. And we know from other research that, openness increases well, there’s some other research thinking Ayahuasca and openness and shows that it does increase and again, in Psilocybin as well, the McClean studies showed that other psychedelics can improve increase openness too

Laura Dawn: Is that the same study? I know Roland Griffiths did a study out of Johns Hopkins? That one Psilocybin journey can fundamentally change the personality trait of openness, which openness tends to decrease as we get older and so we can become more rigid. And that category of openness is really interesting to me because I’m studying creativity studies in graduate school, and there’s a very strong overlap between openness to experience and creative thinking, creative problem solving, and a big overlap with psychedelics, which I’m convincing you to allow me to collaborate with you guys so that we can start studying Ayahuasca and creativity, but we’ll talk about that another time.

Simon Ruffle: Yeah. Another interesting thing with the personality as well, is that, so you mentioned about openness decreasing as we get older, which is true, but also personality, according to the researchers in the past Costa McCrae is supposed to be fixed about the age of 30. So up until the age of 30, you can still have quite dramatic changes in who you are and your character, above the age of 30 unless something major happens like I don’t know, like the death of a loved one or something like that, something that might jolt in, if not it pretty fixed. And what we found was that in our songbook group, everyone, apart from two people were over the age of 30 and we still found these changes, which is the same as what was found in Roland and Katherine MacLean’s research in psilocybin. But the majority of the participants were over 30, which seems to be suggesting that plant medicine can make changes to the personality after this time period, which is super interesting.

Laura Dawn: Yeah. that is really interesting. So what is your research recently been finding? So if you’ve done three rounds now you had the first round that was looking at, the personality traits. And then did you do the second round of research?

Simon Ruffle: Yeah. So, we’ve actually published five papers now. So, the personality was the first one and we did a qualitative piece looking at that as well, as well as the quantitative, so that is semi-structured interviews. And then we’ve done a few more smaller ones, but this is the next big one. And so, in this piece we’re in the same setting, so we were still wearing the, it should be both style retreats and improving outcomes and research into [inaudible 23:02], which is linked maps and then the Ayahuasca Foundation and we were looking at mental health outcomes and epigenetic changes. So what we found was there were statistically significant decreases when people drank Ayahuasca in both the short and the long term, in depression and anxiety and no one was surprised by these results, that’s where you expect to find, and we also found improvements so our increases, I should say, and self-compassion and mindfulness and global distress also decreased. And for all of these findings, it was based on the short-term and long-term. We were looking at the amount of childhood trauma that people had experienced to see whether or not this mediated any of the changes. And we found that people with a greater degree of trauma in their childhoods had more significant decreases in depression, and so that was quite interesting. And again, we found that the mystical experience and the seems to mediate changes in depression as well. So the greater, the degree of mystical experience, the greater, the decrease in depression, we were also looking at memory and we found that people who has traumatic memories perceive them in a less negative way; and that was maintained six months after the Ayahuasca retreats too, we also have exact genetics. And so, we collect the saliva samples and immediately before people drank Ayahuasca immediately afterwards, but we didn’t do six-month follow-up, because of costs and we found [inaudible 24:35] is the study of [inaudible 24:39].

Laura Dawn: No, no. Okay. We’re doing this. So, what is epigenetics? How do we define epigenetics Simon?

Simon Ruffle: I’m glad you asked, I’ve been in epigenetics. Is the study of the way in which DNA is expressed. So it’s not to do with DNA changing; it has to do with the way that genes change their expression. And we were looking at how that is affected by Ayahuasca. So what we were looking at was the way the Ayahuasca changes the expression of certain genes in the DNA. So not changing the actual genes, not changing the DNA, they’re not changing the DNA codes, but just the way in which they’re expressed. And so, we were looking at a few different genes and we found an increase in methylations that’s the addition of methyl groups, which is one of the ways that the epigenetics can change the way the genes are expressed to a gene called Sigma one and Sigma one that is a gene that is involved in many things, including neuroplasticity, so the ability of the brain to make new connections and it’s also hypothesized to be involved in traumatic memory recall. So the idea is that it might allow people to access their very difficult memories that they have and to frame them in a slightly different way, and to see them to decrease the emotional charge or to change the emotional charge, so it was a really interesting study. I need to say that we can’t draw firm conclusions from this because when you study epigenetics, you need to have a sample group that is kind of in the hundreds and our sample group was 66, but it does suggest that something is going on there, something really interesting. I’m pleased to say that we actually just got some more funding to continue looking at this and to also look at some other genes as well, it’s kind of to widen the search, but that was the first time that [inaudible 26:51] and epigenetics what we looked at together. So for me, that was really the most interesting part of this study.

Laura Dawn: Are we only talking that this was just from Ayahuasca? There was no Talk Therapy, Psychotherapy after this gene changed its expression just from drinking Ayahuasca, it’s what you think?

Simon Ruffle: We definitely can’t say that. And because the studies that we do observational in nature, so they’re not controlled them. So normally when you do research in the labs, you try and control for as many things as possible. Obviously, there’s always some confounding variables, other things that can get in the way. But in answering your question, we can’t say it’s due just to Ayahuasca. It may well have been due to, or it could have been due to being in the jungle, it could have been due to being unplugged from everything. Some people underwent preparation and integration if they decided to do that themselves, most people didn’t, so it could’ve been something to do with that as well. I think when we’re thinking about this, because it’s something I get asked quite a lot about the confounding variables in observational research, it’s interesting to think, what is your definition of Ayahuasca? When you say, was it just due to the Ayahuasca? I mean, what did you mean by Ayahuasca? Do you mean the chemicals in Ayahuasca? The way that they affect the receptors in your brain? In which case I think maybe that’s a bit of a reductionist or reductionistic way to [inaudible 28:19] Ayahuasca. Whereas Ayahuasca everything, is it being with the current area, is it singing the Icarus is happening? The Icarus song when you’re in the jungle we say of being in a retreat center, they’re being completely unplugged. And so, although we can’t specifically say it’s as a result of, of Ayahuasca; the brew, I would argue that one of the beauties of Ayahuasca is that it’s the full package; it’s a holistic thing. And so, whatever the Ayahuasca experience was, it seems like it could have been having this effect. We’re hoping to start doing some research, looking at Ayahuasca in the labs here in London and I really hope we’ll be looking at genetics and data. So we should be able to tell in the future, whether or not it was the chemicals in Ayahuasca. But for now, we just know that it seems like something’s changing when people attend these Ayahuasca retreats.

Laura Dawn: Interesting. And so, you said the retelling of the story, it’s almost like there’s a shift in narrative around the trauma that happened. Can you unpack that a little bit?

Simon Ruffle: Yeah. Sure. So in this research, we also did, qualitative research about non-numerical has set semi-structured interviews is what we do is, and then we analyze them to look for themes, there’s something called the Thematic Analysis. And what we found in this research was that people seem to change the way that they thought of these traumatic experiences. So obviously it’s not that the traumatic memory itself changed, but their perception of the emotional content seemed to change. So, if I say something that we would find is that if somebody experienced abuse and they might have thought, oh my God, like, what did I do wrong in order to, to be abused? Like why was I so repulsive or horrendous that I got abused? So there’ll be a lot of guilt, a lot of shame, things like that. And what we found was that a lot of people seem to perceive the abuse in a different way. So the classic thing would be that they would view their abuser as somebody who was damaged, somebody who needed help, who did something probably unforgivable, but it wasn’t the individual’s fault. And they could almost see from that point of view that it was this person’s fault, this other person, and they could forgive themselves that it has happened, and we’re no longer blaming themselves for the experience that they’ve gone through. So almost kind of reframing what has happened that seemed to be quite often, not all the time of the class and what was going on.

Laura Dawn: Interesting. And so we think that the change in the Sigma one specifically is somehow correlated to the processing of trauma,

Simon Ruffle: Potentially. I think it’s too early to say at the moment, but that definitely is something that could be happening and it’s really exciting if that is because it’s a biological change that could be happening as a result of Ayahuasca, but at the moment, we need to focus on getting more data, so we can explore it further. So no firm conclusions yet, but it does suggest that this is a potential mechanism and one that we should definitely be looking at more.

Laura Dawn: So, in terms of epigenetics, I know we’ve talked about this a little bit before, and are you familiar with Dr. Bruce Lipton’s work? The biology of belief?

Simon Ruffle: Yeah. Vaguely. Yeah.

Laura Dawn: Okay. Well then, I won’t ask you a bunch of questions about your perspective on his work in particular. But my understanding is that the environment influences our genetic expression and that genes can get upregulated or downregulated and that upregulation and downregulation have an influence on our health. Is that generally true? And is it immediate? How long did these changes take place over? And then the last time we spoke, you also talked about intergenerational trauma and some really interesting studies there. So any direction you want to run with this?

Simon Ruffle: Yeah, sure. So with genetics, the idea is that the environment, very simply influences the way in which genes are expressed, that doesn’t have to be major traumas, that can be just the environment in general. And it’s not all genes as appears to just be kind of quite a small number of genes that seem to be affected from them, or can be sensitive to epigenetic changes. And when they come to intergenerational trauma that’s a really interesting one. So there were some studies looking at things like the Dutch hunger famine in the second world war. And there was a massive shortage of food going into Holland, during a period of, I think it was about a year and the way in which people with genes are expected to express changed or some of them changed as a result of this very traumatic experience and the shortage of food. What they found is that people who are involved in that famine pass their genes down to the next generation and they pass those genes that have been changed. They’d been either turned on or turned off to the next generation as well, and this can sometimes be positive, it can sometimes be negative, but they’re in really interesting implications for this work. And epigenetics, it’s a really exciting field actually, and it’s not just to do with psychiatry and psychology. People are beginning to investigate new treatments for cancer, and trying to target genes that are either turned on or turned off for up-regulated or down-regulated. Hopefully, new ways of treating some of these awful diseases.

Laura Dawn: Do you think it’s possible that Ayahuasca can help put an end to intergenerational trauma?

Simon Ruffle: Oh, well, that’s a huge question. I don’t think that Ayahuasca is a magic bullet, I don’t think there is a magic bullet. I think that the research that we’ve done shows that it potentially could help with that, for sure. We need to investigate that further. For me personally, yeah absolutely. I think from my own personal experience from seeing other people and other people’s experiences that it could absolutely help intergenerational trauma for sure.

And I know from a slightly different perspective, there should be those, when I’ve spoken to them about this also believe that. I think we need to be careful about jumping the gun too much and saying that this is going to be the end of intergenerational trauma and I don’t think that will be the case. But absolutely, I think that it’s showing promise in research or it suggested that it might help in research so far, but from my own personal experiences and anecdotal evidence, I definitely think that it could be an effective treatment for them.

Laura Dawn: Interesting. Okay. I’m curious because you come from such a strong Western psychiatry background being on the path of also training with this Shipibo lineage where do find that the Western world and your perceptual worldview just doesn’t sort of click into place with the shamanic perspective.

Simon Ruffle: Yeah, you know it’s funny, so we’ve been doing this research now for six years and when I first started doing it, I would try and explain everything through a Western lens. So, if a curandero was saying that they kind of removed some negative energy or that was kind of a dark spirit stuck to someone, I would try and translate that, and then, oh, that’s just another way of describing depression, that’s an indigenous way of thinking about, depression and phrase it like that. But the more that I’ve been involved with this work, the harder and harder that gets, and there are some things that you can describe from a Western lens, but there are other things that just don’t fit into that. When it comes to things like plantietas. So, the way that a lot of it should be broker and Irish trained by dieting plants and incorporating the spirit of that plant into them, that is very difficult to describe through for me personally through a Western point of view. Some of the darker sides of shamanism as well as specifically where the Shipibo’s kind of black magic things that aren’t as accepted in the kind of the Western perception of Ayahuasca. What is that? How do you explain that through a Western lens? And, I’m definitely not saying I have any of these dances, in fact, I 100% don’t, but there are times when it comes to this research. I’m working in these communities when I find myself having to put on the different hats, like the Western psychiatry hat only goes so far, and then you have to just think of it through a different lens, and how these two kind viewpoints in my experience, I think one of the beauties of doing this work and doing this research is seeing how complimentary the two can be. and, we spoke about the importance of preparation and integration previously, and I think that’s a really good example, Ayahuasca is fantastic, but so is psychotherapy and psychology, and when you combine the two together, then you get something amazing.

And it’s not to say that any one of them is lacking, especially not that the indigenous point of view, because I think that there’s a lot of informal preparation integration and psychological support in the traditional indigenous way of using Ayahuasca because you can just talk to like your endeavors, the speak to other people, it’s more official in the Western point of view. But I think especially as we move forward with research and trying to bridge this gap between Western and indigenous medicine is not a case of which one is better. I think they both have their strong points and they both have that weak point, but as always, we’re by far the strongest when we work together. And I think there are really amazing ways that we can do that. Like the combination of psychotherapy and preparation and integration with Ayahuasca ceremonies.

Laura Dawn: So, from your conversations that you’ve had with Shipibo, have you noticed what’s the narrative around the role that Icaros play in the music and the songs play in ceremony?

Simon Ruffle: So from the conversations that I have had, my understanding, they’re everything. They, guide the ceremony. So the hacker is that the shamanic chant and that’s them that the curanderas used in ceremony, and they used that to connect with the spirit worlds and to channel energy through participants and call-in spirit healers center and to remove blockages amongst other things and energetic blockchains and participants. And it seems to be that they are crucial. And like we said before, I think that the chemicals in Ayahuasca are incredible by themselves and absolutely, you could probably still get quite a lot of healing through that, but it’s like having an office. How it conducts that is the current era that you use as the echoes in order to utilize the medicine and to get the most amount of healing for the participants.

Laura Dawn: Do you consider yourself to be a leader in the space?

Simon Ruffle: No. I consider myself to be very lucky that I’ve ended up in this situation, but I’m still very much learning on all accounts both in terms of the traditional Shipibo medicine, not so in terms of also in terms of research. But having said that, I do think it’s an important role. I think it’s a real privilege, it’s a real honor to do research into this area and even though I might not perceive myself as a leader, I do think that doesn’t make me take the role any less seriously. I think it’s an important role which carries a fair amount of responsibility to do this work in the right way to do it in an ethical way, to make sure that indigenous communities are appropriately supported as in terms of reciprocity under the researches of a high quality to try and help as many people as possible

Laura Dawn: When you’re working with the medicine. Do you have visions about the work that you’re doing or do you get like aha! moments or insights while you’re journeying of like, oh, this is where the research should go?

Simon Ruffle: Yeah, but I’d be lying if I hadn’t said that I had quite a few times where the ceremony finishes and that there’s three of us who do the research together, the core team and [inaudible 42:05] band, who I mentioned before, and [inaudible 42:07] who’s another Psychologist. And when it came to King’s college, London, and there are definitely times where we’ve all would after the ceremonies kind of sat down and tads quiet, enthusiastic brainstorms about the way that we kids could take the research and even pull away. So, yeah, it definitely plays a role in the way could we take for sure.

Laura Dawn: I love that. And, would you say that working with plant medicines have made you more creative in your life?

Simon Ruffle: Maybe more creative. I’ve definitely found my voice in terms of singing and ceremony, so I guess in that sense, I have. I think that there’s a real art to research, there’s a real art to study designs coming up with the ideas for what you want to look at. And I guess in terms of that, it has its own way, maybe not the way that most people would experience that, but in that of a more scientific way. Am I certain it has, yes?

Laura Dawn: I want to put you on the hot seat for just one more moment before we wrap up this conversation. I can just, I see that smile on your face. Okay. So first three words you think about when you hear this term Psychedelic Leadership.

Simon Ruffle: That’s interesting. Actually, the first one that came into my mind was Ego, and I think ego is not necessarily a bad thing; we need ego in order to function, we like neuroticism and we don’t want to get rid of it completely. I think it’s something that we have to be really careful, especially as psychedelics are reaching the mainstream. I find myself having to check myself with this a lot, as well as, it’s really nice being able to talk about these things on podcasts and kind of give talks. And I think that doing that, you need to, and not just me, everyone needs to be really checking themselves when they’re in any kind of leadership role coming to. I think it was the president of Uruguay said that before anyone’s allowed to lead a country, he recommends that they should drink Ayahuasca three times. I’m pretty sure that’s right and so I think that we do need to be checking in with ourselves and checking in with other people that we trust, to make sure that we don’t get kind of swept away as if so, easily done as humans. So yeah.

Laura Dawn: Okay. That was one.

Simon Ruffle: That was fine.

Laura Dawn: Okay. Well one more, at least one more. We got this.

Simon Ruffle: Just because we’ve just been talking about it, but I think creativity really pops into my mind. And again, it’s pretty similar reason. One of the reasons that I love Ayahuasca so much, that I love psychedelics. As they sit this amazing cross-section between so many different disciplines and you see this when you do podcasts like this, or when you go to psychiatric conferences that they’ve almost redefined, multi-disciplinary. Most disciplinary to me previously meant doctors, nurses, or traditional therapists and physios, whereas most disciplinary in the psychedelic world means doctors, researchers, artists, lawyers, historians, musicians, and there’s something really, really beautiful about being able to come at psychedelics and at research from any of these angles; anthropology, pharmacology, and them all being really valid. So, I think that when it comes to leadership, particularly psychedelic leadership, there’s this idea that we need to be creative and we need to be my third will be inclusivity; we need to be inclusive, we need to include everyone. And this goes for everyone from different cultures and backgrounds, skill sets because everyone has something to offer and this is a field where those offerings will be more than welcome. So yeah, there we go All done Laura Dawn, those are my three.

Laura Dawn: Okay! That was great. And so, what top three outside of the box tips for integration.

Simon Ruffle: Okay. For me personally, number one would be meditation, and that is my number one tool for integration is meditation.

Laura Dawn: Do you have a style that you recommend?

Simon Ruffle: So I use this app called Headspace.

Laura Dawn: I know the Headspace App!

Simon Ruffle: I know you did. It was just something about it. It has made it so accessible., I sound like I worked for Headspace, I don’t work for Headspace but it just kind of, for somebody who has always had quite racing minds, it allowed me to get into Headspace, get into meditation in a way that without it, I find it quite difficult to function and I’m really grateful for it, so yeah, meditation. Number two would be therapy. I know I’m biased and of course, I was going to suggest that, but I think that if you could find a decent therapist and they don’t need to be somebody who has experienced with psychedelics. In fact, sometimes I kind of feel that it might be better to have someone who is open, but it doesn’t necessarily have a relationship with Ayahuasca. So it’s quite easy to, I find to kind of blame everything on Ayahuasca and the stuff that I personally experienced.


There’s something really beneficial, I think about having someone, of course, who’s open and a therapist that can help you to make sense of the experience that you’ve had and make sense of yourself. And my third one is going to be having some isolation, having some time by yourself. Take your time throughout the dust, settle. If your experiences are anything like mine and pretty much everyone else that I’ve ever spoken to, you’re going to be going through some pretty heavy stuff, there’s going to be some stuff that’s brought to the surface that’s, going to take some time, you need to let the dust settle. It gives you time to figure out what the experience has meant to you and also stops you from doing anything stupid, like selling your house and building a pyramid, so that falls into a river after an Ayahuasca experience.

Laura Dawn: Okay. So, I was surprised to hear you say a therapist who doesn’t work with Ayahuasca. I would have thought you would have said a therapist that does work with Ayahuasca, so that’s interesting.

Simon Ruffle: I think both degrees, I think having someone who’s open is really important, but I don’t think they necessarily have to be someone who works with Ayahuasca and it could be some merits but not to.

Laura Dawn: Is there a question that I just didn’t ask you, that you have this burning desire to respond to?

Simon Ruffle: I, don’t think so. I’m just super grateful we got to do this again.

Laura Dawn: And you totally blew my punchline on what was the most surprising finding from the research. You slipped it in there. You’re like, well, this was the research and it was very unsurprising. Which Is interesting that of course there’s healing potential of these plant medicines. And that it’s so interesting that we sort of have to like validate indigenous wisdom from a science perspective. How do you feel about that?

Simon Ruffle: Well, the way that I see it, and the way that I see a lot of the research that we do is its basically translation. And like we said before, when you asked if there was anything or was the most surprising finding from the research and I said nothing, I mean, it’s funny, but it’s true, no one it’s not groundbreaking news, I’ll ask, it helps with depression and anxiety and improves your levels of self-compassion, it’s not groundbreaking, you use Ayahuasca, makes you less neurotic or more open. I think what it is more is it’s almost like translation. So people who have experience with Ayahuasca or kind of are more inclined to be in this kind of world, probably have a fairly good idea how these studies are going to pan out. It’s up to people like the scientific community, that for no fault of their own will respond a lot better to numbers and graphs and to data and statistics, than to various anecdotal reports of people running off to the jungle. And so I think that the research is important for a wide variety of reasons, but one of the main ones is this translation kind of translational psychiatry. So, the other people for no fault wouldn’t have access to this information, can access it in a way that makes sense to them. And I can maybe even get benefits for themselves or for other people as a result.

Laura Dawn: Biggest benefits that you’ve received in your life from Ayahuasca?


Simon Ruffle: Yeah. It’s funny. I, actually get asked this a fair amount as, can normally kind of phrase in the question and how has on Ayahuasca changed? What kind of an effect have you have you noticed in your own life, how would you to answer that and I say oh, no, not really that much kind of I think I’m still pretty similar until somebody pointed out having you just devoted the last six years to researching this and kind of continuing to do so now. And so, it has had a massive impact on my life in terms of completely, my focus and my energy, yeah, and my passion, I guess.

Laura Dawn: I want to dig deeper there. Not just your work, I mean, come on. Even just like talking to you last week versus this week.

Simon Ruffle: Yeah.

Laura Dawn: Without going into all the personal details of what you did between last week and this week, but people can read between the lines of what might’ve happened over the weekend between last week and this week and just the levity in your voice. And, it’s amazing to just witness the way that this medicine can support us in shifting our perception of reality.

Simon Ruffle: For sure. I think there are, you’ve alluded to, I’ve found, I’m asking it to be extremely beneficial for healing trauma, for helping get things in perspective. It almost feels kind of like for me personally, it can be a bit of a spring clean in the mind with the appropriate preparation and integration. Another thing I noticed, again, this is just my own personal experience. I’m sure many other people who’ve had this two years that have really helped my concentration. Yeah, concentration was always something that I would find fairly difficult and it made med school, slightly challenging having such a short attention span. But I found that it really helped me to focus as well and that’s, an interesting thing in itself. So there we go, there’s a couple of more personal things.

Laura Dawn: I like the spring cleaning for the mind. I like that analogy a lot and I feel like it’s like spring cleaning for the body too. It’s just like clearing those channels, feeling that lightness. Are you okay with me keeping that in there was that too much personal information to share?

Simon Ruffle: That is totally fine.

Laura Dawn: Okay because I want to respect your privacy and your personal reality, especially as a researcher and the doctor that you are. Yeah. I mean, and it’s so interesting in this world that we live in where we’re just in this like gap between legalization and we do have to be so careful about what we say and, I speak on a lot of other podcasts as well, and I also have to be so careful about what I’m sharing and I’m pretty open about my own personal experience, but it is real, but you have, a license to be concerned about.

Simon Ruffle: Yeah. I think we do have to be careful; I think times are changing, but I think there is a risk of stunting the movement too. I think it’s particularly important in research and also with legality. I think as per usual, it’s a real mix of balance, isn’t it? It’s the balance between not shying away from the benefits that it can have because the starters of most science is anecdotal evidence, as anecdotal reports, but at the same time, we don’t want to scare people. We don’t want to put people off and we don’t want to stunt, which hopefully will be, really, great movements that will continue to learn and hopefully with lots of healing for people that otherwise wouldn’t have access to that.

Laura Dawn: Yeah. Is there anything you want to close on? Parting words of wisdom from Simon Ruffle.

Simon Ruffle: And, I’m not sure that I have any I actually, I can tell you what my current teacher told me the last time I saw them, which was a little while ago. They said remember no matter what happens, always have joy and never take yourself too seriously.

Laura Dawn: Well, I second that motion. I think that’s great advice. You’re very humble. Simon, you have a lot of humility and I appreciate that about you and the work that you do, and that’s why you’re in such a good position to really influence big change and I definitely see you as a leader in this space, so thank you for the work that you do really appreciate it.

Simon Ruffle: Thank you. And thank you for having me. It’s good to connect again.

Laura Dawn: Again! Well, maybe we should drink more medicine and become a little less neurotic on the, on the takeovers.

Simon Ruffle: Yeah. It’s like a while and probably quite a lot more hour.

Laura Dawn: For me too, yeah. And I would say though, that it’s really been invoking a lot more levity in my life as well. I think there is someplace of like, okay, perfectionism of just having a high standard and like really wanting to do a good job, and then there is that place where it’s like debilitating and then that it’s not helpful. So just bringing in the humor and the laughter and even just laughing at that and the neuroticism inherent in that is actually quite funny. So, invoking sacred goofball is what I’m really talking about here,

Simon Ruffle: But I like that as a concept. And it’s like what we were talking about before, when you, again, in my personal experience, working with [inaudible 57:19], they find everything hilarious.

Laura Dawn: I know!

Simon Ruffle: You’re going through a really, difficult experience. See the funny side, don’t take anything too seriously That’s not to say that they’re not empathetic and they’re not kind, they’re some of the most empathetic and kind people that I’ve met at for sure. But there’s also this sense that yeah, not taking anything too seriously, don’t take yourself quite so seriously.

Laura Dawn: Right, yeah. As I was saying before we have done, when I spent a month in the jungle with this Shipibo grandmother, I cracked up so much that whole month, like everything was just so funny, just like witnessing just the sheer comedy of this work on a certain level. I mean, it is serious and it’s deep and it’s super transformative. And then there’s also these moments, like even in ceremony where I was just cracking up, it’s just the sheer hilarity at what we’re doing on this planet here right now also has a lot of humor in it.

Simon Ruffle: Yeah, for sure. And certainly, releasing when you can remember that really liberating.

Laura Dawn: Yeah totally. All right, Simon. So sweet dropping in with you brother.

Simon Ruffle: Yeah. really good to see you as usual, and thanks a million, see you soon.

Laura Dawn: Sweet. We’ll talk soon. Aloha! Bye!

[Outro]: Hi friend. Thank you so much for tuning into another episode of the Psychedelic Leadership Podcast. If you’ve been enjoying the show, I would so appreciate it. If you could share it with a friend or share one of your favorite episodes on social media, if you feel really inspired, I would be so grateful, if you could leave me a review on iTunes. And if you’re on Instagram, feel free to take a snapshot of your review and send me a DM @LiveFreeLauraD and every Saturday, I’m doing shout-outs for people’s accounts who are leaving me reviews. So, if you feel inspired, I’d be happy to give you a shout-out in my stories as a thank you for leaving me a review. And if you’d like to be in touch with me, please feel free to send me an email through my website at livefreelaurad.com. All right, I’m going to leave you with this beautiful song by Puentes off their new album Amerikua and it’s called Q’antataita, it’s such a beautiful song, their whole album is just gorgeous. I highly recommend checking it out by Puentes. Once again, my name is Laura Dawn and you’re listening to the Psychedelic Leadership Podcast until next time.

Simon Ruffell


Simon studied medicine at the University of Sheffield before specializing in psychiatry. Simon has an interest in transcultural psychiatry, having worked as a doctor overseas in Northern Uganda. He now works in psychedelic research, with a focus on ayahuasca, and has spent the last five years conducting research into the use of ayahuasca in the Peruvian Amazon. He also works as a psychiatrist at The Maudsley Hospital in South London, as well as working as a Senior Research Associate at King’s College London looking at the use of psilocybin in treatment-resistant depression. He is currently completing a Ph.D. looking at the use of ayahuasca in the Amazon and associated mental health outcomes.

Featured Music

Episode #32 of the Psychedelic Leadership Podcast features a song called
“Q’antataita” by Puentes.


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About Laura Dawn

Through her signature Mastermind Programs and Plant Medicine Retreats, Laura Dawn weaves together science with ancient wisdom. She teaches business and thought-leaders, entrepreneurs, and creative professionals how to mindfully explore psychedelics and sacred plant medicines as powerful visionary tools for inner transformation, fostering emotional resiliency and unlocking new depths to our creative potential.