9 Investigates

9 Investigates hallucinogenic drug used in local church

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — A Schedule 1 drug, considered as dangerous as LSD or heroin, is being advertised and used inside an Orange County home, Eyewitness News has learned.

The owners said it’s legal, because they operate as a church.

Investigative reporter Karla Ray found out the Soul Quest Church of the Mother Earth is now under investigation by the parent church of which the local group claims to be a part.

The church looks like a typical home, but for several weekends a month, an illegal drug is used on a regular basis, 9 Investigates uncovered.

Soul Quest advertises Ayahuasca retreats in which a psychedelic tea, traditionally used for its healing properties by South American shamans, is distributed to anyone who pays a membership fee.

The Ayahuasca tea contains a compound known as DMT, which is a Schedule 1 drug.

“It's concerning because it's unregulated, because it has a variety of side effects and it doesn't have any medical benefit we know is beneficial,” Orlando Regional Medical Center toxicologist Josef Thundiyil told Eyewitness News.

Users can see experience immediate nausea and diarrhea or more severe issues like heart problems, or even overdoses, according to doctors.

No one from Soul Quest would talk to Eyewitness News about what the church calls call medicine, but Yvonne Cloete recently attended a retreat at the church, and said it felt safe.

“It was no frat party, it was no, it was very spiritual. It was connecting with your soul,” Cloete told Eyewitness News.

Federal law prohibits the use of DMT, but in 2006, a group took its fight to use the sacred tea to the Supreme Court and won.

In paperwork filed with the state, Soul Quest claims that it is part of a different group, the Oklevueha Native American Church.  ONAC told Eyewitness News that Soul Quest is under investigation for possible ethics issues within its retreats, not related to the safety of the members who attend.

“Any church that uses this DMT is going to hold up this Supreme Court decision to say the law is settled on this by the highest court in the land,” WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer said.

Though doctors say it can be dangerous, Ayahuasca users argue the outcome justifies the risk.

“Yes, it can be very dangerous.  As I said, darkness was first, and then there was light,” Cloete said.

Eyewitness News tried multiple times to speak with Soul Quest leader Chris Young, but our requests were denied.

Contact Karla Ray for more on this story.