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‘If you lie, you die’: Nexflix series gives look inside local church’s hallucinogenic tea ceremonies

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — A new Netflix series is giving us an inside look at a local church that 9 Investigates has been reporting on for years.

The Soul Quest Church in east Orange County is in an ongoing fight with the Drug Enforcement Administration over its hallucinogenic tea ceremonies.  It’s also the subject of a wrongful death lawsuit, after a 22-year-old died following a ceremony there two years ago.

Channel 9 investigative reporter Karla Ray spoke to the man’s father about what it was like witnessing a ceremony there in the documentary series, and what the show revealed about how much business the church is doing each month.

READ: Owner of east Orange County church seeks federal exemption to legally dispense controlled substance

For years, we’ve told you about the ayahuasca retreats and the purge that takes place at the location on Hancock Lone Palm Road, but in a newly released episode of Netflix’s original series “Unwell,” we’re getting our first look inside one of those ceremonies.

“The truth is, here at Soul Quest, we are bringing in a very powerful medicine to the United States, but the DEA says ayahuasca is a Schedule 1 drug, there are strict laws against it,” owner Christopher Young says in the episode.

Young admits he does not have the DEA exemption needed to legally distribute the tea, which produces DMT, and is flown in from the Amazon. That’s part of an ongoing federal lawsuit, filed earlier this year, aimed at forcing the government to give explicit permission to young and his church to hold these ceremonies.

READ: ‘Completely devastating’: Family of man who died after hallucinogenic tea ceremony at Orange County church files lawsuit

That’s just one of his ongoing legal battles Young addresses in the episode.

“We had a situation about a year or so ago where a young man that came here, he had a complication, and he had a seizure,” Young explained, speaking publicly for the first time about the death of 22-year-old Brandon Begley.

During an Easter weekend retreat in 2018, Begley’s sodium levels took a dangerous dip after he drank too much water during a ceremony, leading to a seizure. Court records show by the time church leaders called 911, and an ambulance arrived, he was unresponsive.

READ: 9 Investigates hallucinogenic drug used in local church

“It was unbelievable, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Begley’s father, John Paul, said of the episode.

Begley denies a claim made by Young in the show that Brandon had a history of seizures.

“If you lie, you die,” Young said in the episode.

Begley’s family attorney says the 22-year-old was perfectly healthy before the retreat.

READ: No charges after death investigation at ayahuasca church

“What leader says that about his people, especially one who has perished?” JP Begley said.  “So to see all those other people spending that money, knowing what kind of money they’re making.”

We also learned through the episode that since 2015, more than 9,000 people have come to Orlando for a retreat at Soul Quest. The church’s website currently lists the cost per person for a weekend retreat between $929 and $1,200.

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Karla Ray

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.