“They keep giving me new medication, it just keeps me more confused, more in the dark,” an unnamed soldier narrates in the harrowing opening of this promotional video for a documentary called From Shock To Awe, dedicated to exploring the use of psychedelic substances to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in veterans.
PTSD is a plague on American veterans of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and other theaters, and conventional treatments are failing to address the crisis. In fact, according to a widely-cited 2012 report by the Department of Veterans Affairs, 22 former American service members commit suicide every day.
“It broke my heart to learn that so many of our veterans are experiencing PTSD,” says Janine Sagert, a psychologist and content producer of From Shock to Awe. “Most of them are not getting relief from their suffering.”
Sagert is working with director Luc Côté, who also directed the 2006 documentary Crash Landing, which depicted the suffering experienced by veterans who return home from war with PTSD. The pair recently launched an Indiegogo campaign aimed at raising $150,000 to support the production of their film.
“Most of the treatments now offered by the VA are pharmaceutical,” Sagert says. “Our vets receive prescriptions for drug after drug, which combined leave them feeling like zombies — suicidal and depressed. That’s no way to live. They deserve better.”
But the documentary promises a message of hope as well. It’s devoted to “not just the pain our vets are suffering from PTSD but the healing that psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy can bring them,” the Indiegogo page states. “We believe these substances should be legally available for responsible use in therapeutic and spiritual settings for everyone — especially for veterans with PTSD.”
One study, performed by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), found that 83 percent of veterans who were treated with MDMA reported that their PTSD was gone after their sessions, while only 25 percent reported success after conventional therapy.
“The difference that I see between the two is that one of them can take a very long time, and that usually with MDMA psychotherapy, it’s very fast,” Marcela Ot’alora, principal investigator for the MAPS MDMA study, says in the From Shock To Awe trailer. “A lot of people say it’s like three years of therapy in an eight hour session.”
Another psychedelic that could be a game-changer for those suffering from the aftereffects of war and trauma is ayahuasca. The substance, brewed from plants that are indigenous to the Amazon jungle, which has been used for centuries for healing and religious ceremonies, shows great promise in helping people address their anger, anxiety and other symptoms of PTSD.
“If ayahuasca can do anything for veterans, it shows them that there is a peace that you have within you, and you can cultivate that peace,” Marine veteran Ryan LeCompte says in the video. “And to me that’s all the hope somebody needs, when they’re that low.”
Finally, cannabis has been cited as invaluable by numerous veterans in helping them manage their PTSD. “Necessity converted me to cannabis,” former service member Ricardo Pereyda says. “What it’s done, is one little plant has taken the place of all these different pharmaceuticals I was given. For my pain, for my anger, for my mood stabilization, for my appetite.”
Currently, MDMA, ayahuasca and cannabis are all strictly prohibited by the U.S. federal government, classified as drugs of abuse with no medical value. The documentary aims to provide evidence to the contrary, and show how these substances can and do save lives. “How many more need to die?” Sagert asks.