“Get on Your Knees”—Alberta Cops Raid Home Over Ayahuasca Delivery

    On February 8, Chad Gillies, a specialty welder in Calgary, Alberta, opened his door to what appeared to be a DHL delivery man.

    He signed for a small package, which he then took into his home. But the parcel contained nothing but green synthetic granules and a GPS tracking device, Gillies said. Naturally, his suspicions were aroused.

    Canadian customs officers had identified that Gillies’ original package, shipped from Peru, contained DMT, according to a police warrant signed by a provincial judge on February 6. Despite increasing therapeutic use of psychedelics across the world, the authorities decided to go after the recipient of the parcel.

    Gillies later claimed that 2 kilos of the two main plant ingredients which combine to create ayahuasca, the vision-inducing brew from South America, had been ordered to his home without his knowledge.

    He told Filter that he soon encountered a four-man SWAT team with their weapons drawn, pointed straight at him.

    On receiving the parcel, Gillies immediately sent a photo of the surprising contents to his shaman, whose local ceremonies with ayahuasca he attends, because of the package’s country of origin. “I have no idea what that is,” the shaman replied via text.

    Then, 30 minutes later, there were shouts from men outside Gillies’ home, ordering him to open up. Gillies obliged. He told Filter that he soon encountered a four-man SWAT team from the Calgary Police Service with their weapons drawn, pointed straight at him.

    They screamed, “Get on your fucking knees,” Gillies alleged. “They grabbed me and dragged me to the ground through the doorway.” They threatened to shoot him, he continued, if he did not comply with their orders. Then, after officers handcuffed him, Gillies said, one threatened to punch him “in the fucking face” if he raised his gaze.

    Calgary police face serious questions over the raid. The force did not respond to Filter’s repeated requests for comment over email and telephone. But in a March 14 letter to Ayahuasca Canada, an advocacy group which is supporting Gillies, Chief Constable Mark Neufeld turned down a request for a meeting in response to the arrest.

    “As a law enforcement agency, we are responsible for enforcing laws as they exist.”

    “While we fully understand the desire to present your recommendations for how police forces should deal with enforcement issues in relation to Ayahuasca, unfortunately the Calgary Police Service is unable to accommodate your request for a meeting at this time,” Neufeld wrote in the letter, shared with Filter by Ayahuasca Canada. “As a law enforcement agency, we are responsible for enforcing laws as they exist.”

    Gillies, who is six feet three inches tall and has a long, neatly-trimmed gray beard, said he was held for 45 minutes in a police car with his hands cuffed behind his back, still not wearing any shoes, before he was taken to the local police station.

    “I’m not a criminal mastermind,” he said. “I’m not part of an ayahuasca cartel.”

    He is, however, an original member of the Companionship of the Sacred Vine, a psychedelic church in Quebec, which in July 2023 became the eighth organization to receive a legal exemption from Health Canada to hold traditional ayahuasca ceremonies. The shaman whose ceremonies Gillies attends locally, who has no connection to the Quebec church, did not want to be identified.

    Emerging research suggests ayahuasca may help break addictive patterns of behavior, reduce PTSD symptoms (including among Ontario police officers) and ease depression.

    Gillies said he is traumatized from the raid, and that he is going back into therapy as a result.

    Plants containing DMT, the key psychoactive component of ayahuasca, are not explicitly controlled under international drug laws. But DMT is a scheduled drug in Canada, as well as harmaline, which ayahuasca also contains. Some legal experts dispute whether ayahuasca ingredients share the same legal status as synthetic DMT powder. The DMT contained in the bush leaves which combine with a vine to form ayahuasca only has a psychedelic effect on humans once brewed with the second plant.

    Gillies said he is traumatized from the raid, and that he is going back into therapy as a result. Normal blood circulation still has not returned to one of his hands, he added, due to the tightness of the handcuffs. A seasoned guitar player, he fears he may have suffered nerve damage to his thumb and wrist, due to persisting pins and needles caused by the handcuffs, for which he is taking painkillers.

    “I don’t know why it would take a SWAT team to arrest a nonviolent family man who has no weapons and no record,” Gillies said. The police seized all of his electronic devices too. “They took all our phones and computers, including all my partner’s homework for her psychology degree and all my software to bid for jobs.”


    In a video posted on his crowdfunder for his legal defense, which had raised more than CA $8,000 by publication time, Gillies said that the Canadian mental health system failed him for two decades, but “then I found ayahuasca and it completely changed my life.”

    His father died when he was five, and Gillies entered a depression which saw him attempt suicide twice as a teenager. He was prescribed “tons of pharmaceuticals but they simply never worked.” It was ayahuasca that enabled him to work on his trauma and overcome the depression, he said. “It showed me the truth of myself. I never knew what a happy thought was like until I started drinking ayahuasca.”

    “How do two enforcement agencies get together and decide to conduct a high-risk armed takedown over something that poses no risk to the Canadian public?”

    Once Gillies got to the police station on February 8, the tone of the police officers seemed to become more conciliatory. “They realized that I am not a drug dealer,” said Gillies, who lives with his partner and her two children, none of whom were home at the time. “I told them it’s an ancestral plant, not pure DMT powder.”

    He was held in a cell for four hours before his release. He was automatically charged with the importation of a scheduled drug and must appear in court on March 22, his appearance notice shows. He attended a Calgary police station on February 23 to get fingerprinted, too.


    “How do two enforcement agencies get together and decide to conduct a high-risk armed takedown over something that is not an identified threat and that poses no risk to the Canadian public?” Allan Finney, executive director of Ayahuasca Canada, asked Filter. The scale and violence of the raid over low-level ayahuasca importation appears to be without precedent in Canada, he added. “Chad Gillies is a peaceful family man whose only crime was healing himself with ayahuasca.”

    Gillies’ warrant, which was shared with him by the police, confirms that the DHL delivery man was in fact an undercover police officer, and that the ayahuasca ingredients, sent from Peru, had been replaced with the tracking device along with “an inert substance of the same weight as the seized DMT.”

    Ayahuasca is referred to as DMT on the warrant. Gillies was also arrested for possession of psilocybin mushrooms found in his home, which he would microdose.

    The warrant also reveals that the “covert electronic device inside The Package” was intended to “remotely notify investigators when The Package is opened.”

    The tracking device warrant goes on to divulge the extent to which DHL, the courier company, was compelled by a judge to collude with the police: “DHL will provide a DHL uniform, DHL vehicle, DHL storefront location, DHL signature documents, and other related equipment.” A DHL spokesperson told Filter that the company could not comment on action taken by customs authorities.

    “The evidence for militarized drug prohibition is startlingly clear: It does the greatest harm.”

    The case comes after Alberta moved to regulate psychedelic therapy ahead of any other province in Canada. In January 2023, psychiatrists were invited to apply for licenses to offer therapy including the administration of psilocybin, MDMA, mescaline and ketamine to patients with mental health disorders. The raid on Gillies will increase calls for the nationwide decriminalization of psychedelics.

    “To have the police running around chasing people for something that actually tends to do good, does not make any social sense,” Adjunct Professor Mark Haden, of the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health, told Filter. “The goal of policing is to reduce harm, but ayahuasca is not harmful. The evidence for militarized drug prohibition is startlingly clear: It does the greatest harm.”

    Haden added that the ritualized use of ayahuasca in controlled ceremony settings helps promote responsible use, whereas disrupting ceremonies and arresting facilitators encourages people into less safe, unsupervised usage. “Shamans who offer a ceremonial ritualized container of safety are a more effective way of controlling behavior under the influence of drugs than the police.”

    Gillies now faces an anxious wait to see if his case is progressed. “It’s been a long time since I have had to seek out counseling,” he said. “I think this will take years for me and my family to undo this trauma.”

    His GoFundMe page adds: “To be arrested at gunpoint and your family home raided, for a plant medicine from Peru that has never killed anyone is the sign of a plagued system.”



    Photographs courtesy of Chad Gillies

    • Mattha is a freelance journalist and author who covers drug policy, health and life. He has interviewed the family of Mexican mushroom healer Maria Sabina, biohackers injecting stem cells into their bodies, politicians in the village that banned Coca-Cola, and people who spend time in prolonged darkness meditations. He is based in Vancouver, Canada.

    • Show Comments

    You May Also Like