This is a field guide for veterans who are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and are interested in accessing the healing capacity of psychedelic plant medicine. It is assumed that the reader already understands the symptoms, impact, and challenges of living with PTSD. It is sufficient for the purpose of this article to acknowledge that you are different than you were before the traumatic experiences of warfare.
The Challenges of the Ordinary
The essence of the military experience is participation in a phenomenon much bigger than oneself. Combat operations are among the most visceral of human experiences. Day after day, a wide range of intense, brutal, and tragic events can occur, and it can all happen at hyper-speed. Your mind must recalibrate itself for moment-to-moment survival in this environment.
Then… you come home, but your mind is still calibrated for the combat environment. Returning to “normal” life is challenging, overwhelming, or even impossible. Your body may have come home, but your mind and spirit have not yet completed the journey. Psychedelics, when administered in a safe and guided setting, can help you recalibrate to the ordinary world and help you fully arrive home in mind, body, and spirit.
The Nature of the Psychedelic Experience
The exact mechanism of how psychedelic substances heal the mind is still not understood. However, the consensus among researchers is that psychedelics allow us to recalibrate the mind. Traumatic experiences can cause the brain to get stuck in repetitive and negative thought patterns; psychedelics allow us to break those patterns.
Veterans with PTSD who have used psychedelics in a safe and guided setting have reported the following:
- Significant reductions in PTSD symptoms.
- Significant reductions in suicidal thoughts.
- Improvement in mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
- Drastic reduction in the use of prescription medications, alcohol, and other substances that “numb” the pain.
- The ability to get back to living a normal and healthy life.
What exactly happens during the psychedelic experience that enables such results? The answer is: there is no exact experience you can expect to have. Every psychedelic experience is different, and the experience’s details are often difficult or impossible to describe. However, those who have undergone psychedelic healing often describe the following general characteristics:
- A profound, mystical, and life-changing experience.
- A connection with the Divine, with all beings, and with nature.
- A sense that ancient wisdom has been “downloaded” into one’s mind.
- An ability to view the entirety of one’s experiences with compassion and forgiveness.
- A deep sense of peace about one’s existence.
There is a deep sense of knowing that the experience was real and that it means something. We are then inclined to bring that meaning into our daily lives. There is a desire to live more fully, love more fully, and just be a good human in service to others.
Integrating the Psychedelic Experience
Psychedelic healing is not just about ingesting a substance. After the psychedelic journey, it is essential to “integrate” the experience into everyday life. This requires work and is often best accomplished with a counselor or guide who understands the nature of psychedelic integration. Interestingly, the psychedelic journey seems to orient us toward healthier lifestyle choices. It is common to have an increased desire to exercise, meditate, eat healthier food, and cultivate healthy relationships. Correspondingly, toxic habits and relationships seem to fade away.
Psychedelics are NOT a Silver Bullet
Psychedelics are not a “quick fix”, but the overwhelming majority of veterans who have used them in a safe and guided environment have had positive results. Everyone responds differently to various substances, and no two experiences are the same. Sometimes a positive mental shift is felt right away, and sometimes the shift is spread out over time. Do not be discouraged if the experience did not have the impact you were expecting. Continue to educate yourself and explore the possibilities; the right medicine will find you.
A well-established process for guiding veterans to psychedelic healing does not exist. However, the resources below will provide a good foundation for understanding psychedelics and how to access this type of healing.
Common Psychedelics for Alleviating PTSD
There are many psychedelic substances that have been used to treat PTSD. However, the following psychedelics are the most available, studied, and referenced in the realm of treating veterans with PTSD.
- Psilocybin: The psychoactive substance found in Magic Mushrooms. This substance just gained legal status via Measure 109 for therapeutic use in the State of Oregon.
- Ayahuasca: A powerful psychedelic substance that is native to the Amazon region, and should be administered under the care of a skilled Shaman.
- MDMA: The psychoactive substance found in “Ecstasy” or “Molly”. This substance has been extensively studied, and will likely be legalized soon for therapeutic use in the United States.
- Ketamine: This is a “dissociative anesthetic”. It is effective for alleviating severe PTSD and chronic pain. This substance is legal and available in the United States.
Visit the Reality Sandwich Substance Guides to learn more about the wide range of psychedelic substances.
Psychedelic Healing in Mass Media
There are an abundance of resources for learning about psychedelics. The selected materials below are a starting point for understanding how psychedelics have helped veterans who are struggling with PTSD.
- From Shock to Awe: A documentary that follows two combat veterans suffering from severe PTSD as they abandon pharmaceuticals to seek relief through the use of Ayahuasca.
- Psychedelic Soldiers: A short documentary that follows two combat veterans and their battle with PTSD. After having tried conventional treatment without success, they turned to MDMA-Assisted therapy.
- Psilocybin, Love, the Meaning of Life: In this TEDx Talk, Mary Cosimano from John Hopkins University shares her experience in administering psilocybin to hundreds of patients. Although this talk is not focused on veterans, it emphasizes the potent healing capacity of psilocybin.
- Psychedelics for PTSD: What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been: In this testimonial, military veteran Virgil Huston shares his experience receiving MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. He credits this therapy with saving his life.
Accessing Psychedelic Healing
We are entering a new era in psychedelic substance legalization in the United States. Although there are many ways to safely access psychedelics, the legal route within the United States is still limited. The following organizations can help guide veterans to safe and legal psychedelic healing.
- Heroic Hearts Project: This organization was founded by Jesse Gould, an Army veteran who suffered from PTSD. Heroic Hearts connects veterans who are suffering from PTSD to psychedelic-assisted therapy programs and retreats worldwide.
- The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS): This organization has been studying psychedelic therapies for several decades. They are leading the effort to legalize the therapeutic use of MDMA. They have administered MDMA to veterans with PTSD, and have had positive and enduring results. At the time of this writing, MAPS is accepting applications for an MDMA-assisted therapy study for the treatment of PTSD; click here to view the application.
- Johns Hopkins University, Center of Psychedelic and Consciousness Studies: This institution has been studying psilocybin-assisted therapy for two decades. They are continuously conducting new studies. Check the research tab of their website with regular frequency for PTSD-related studies.
In addition to the organizations above, safe and legal psychedelic retreat centers are accessible outside the United States. The Retreat Guru website is helpful for finding reputable psychedelic retreat centers. When seeking a psychedelic retreat center, mitigate the risk through education and diligence. Do not just read reviews; connect with people who have experience at different retreat centers. Ensure that any retreat center you select is reputable, safe, and is experienced in guiding veterans with PTSD.
Accessing Ketamine Treatment
As mentioned above, Ketamine is legal and available in the United States, and is effective for alleviating PTSD symptoms. Given the wide availability, this is a good treatment choice if you are experiencing severe distress and suicidal thoughts. Ketamine treatment will bring a sense of relief and stability while you plan for a deeper psychedelic healing experience, if desired.
There are several dozen Ketamine clinics in the United States. Visit the Ketamine Directory to find a clinic near you. Also, Ketamine Wellness Centers have several clinics in the United States; they have guided veterans with PTSD through the treatment process, and they offer a military discount.
The Sacred Fire
Some veterans with PTSD have expressed concern about psychedelics for a variety of valid reasons. The following addresses some of the common concerns, and offers some different ways of viewing the possibilities.
The Warrior Remains
One concern is that psychedelics will make you “soft” by taking away your heightened sense of vigilance, thus leaving you vulnerable. Psychedelics will NOT dull your edge and leave you vulnerable. You are a warrior, and the psychedelic experience will not take that from you. You will retain the ability to tap into your warrior ethos if needed. However, your sense of awareness and response will be appropriate for the situation. You will no longer see threats where there are none.
Your Service Continues
Another concern is that psychedelics will make you forget or “let go” of your experiences. This is not the case; there is no forgetting. Rather than letting go, psychedelics help you integrate those experiences into your life. Rather than your experiences defining the rest of your life, psychedelics help you see your experiences as just one part of you. Allow your experiences to become a unique and potent gift for enlightening others and improving the human condition. In the words of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh:
“Veterans are the light at the tip of the candle, illuminating the way for the whole nation. If veterans can achieve awareness, transformation, understanding, and peace, they can share with the rest of society the realities of war. And they can teach us how to make peace with ourselves and each other, so we never have to use violence to resolve conflicts again.”Thich Nhat Hanh
You’ve Got to Feel It to Heal It
Finally, many veterans are concerned about reliving the trauma during the psychedelic journey; thus having a “bad trip”. This is a valid concern. However, working your way through the trauma during the psychedelic journey might be necessary for true healing. This is why there is a strong emphasis on taking psychedelics in a safe setting with a trained guide. A guide helps you navigate, process, and heal the trauma. Without a guide, you risk coming to the edge of the traumatic experience, but not working through it, and therefore not healing the trauma.
You have been forged in many fires during your military service. You have been the Phoenix rising from the ashes many times over. The psychedelic journey is just another fire to walk through, but this one is a sacred, healing, and purifying fire that burns bright in the seat of your soul. You will emerge stronger, with a sense of wholeness, full of love, ready to live and to continue your service to the world around you.