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How Psychedelics Saved My Life

 
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by Amber Lyon

on May 28, 2014

Amber Lyon is an Emmy Award-winning former CNN investigative news correspondent.

Amber Lyon is an Emmy Award-winning former CNN investigative news correspondent.

I invite you to take a step back and clear your mind of decades of false propaganda.  Governments worldwide lied to us about the medicinal benefits of marijuana.   The public has also been misled about psychedelics.

These non-addictive substances- MDMA, ayahuasca, ibogaine, psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, and many more- are proven to rapidly and effectively help people heal from trauma, PTSD, anxiety, addiction and depression.

Psychedelics saved my life.

My Experience with Anxiety and PTSD Symptoms

 

I was drawn to journalism at a young age by the desire to provide a voice for the ‘little guy’.  For nearly a decade working as a CNN investigative correspondent and independent journalist, I became a mouthpiece for the oppressed, victimized and marginalized.  My path of submersion journalism brought me closest to the plight of my sources, by living the story to get a true understanding of what was happening.

At a press conference exposing human rights abuses in Bahrain.

Speaking at a press conference in Lebanon on the human rights abuses I witnessed while reporting in Bahrain.

After several years of reporting, I realized an unfortunate consequence of my style- I had immersed myself too deeply in the trauma and suffering of the people I’d interviewed.  I began to have trouble sleeping as their faces appeared in my darkest dreams. I spent too long absorbed in a world of despair and my inability to deflect it allowed the trauma of others to settle inside my mind and being.  Combine that with several violent experiences while working in the field and I was at my worst.   A life reporting on the edge had led me to the brink of my own sanity.

Because I could not find a way to process my anguish, it grew into a monster, manifesting itself into a constant state of anxiety, short-term memory loss, sleeplessness, and hyper arousal.  The heart palpitations made me feel like I was knocking on death’s door.

Why I Chose Psychedelic Drugs Medicines 

 

While at CNN, I investigated human rights and environmental issues.

Prescription medications and antidepressants serve a purpose, but I knew they were not on my path to healing after my investigations exposed their sinister side effects including infants being born dependent on the medicines after their mothers couldn’t kick their addictions. Masking the symptoms of a deeper condition with a pill felt like putting a Band-Aid on bullet wound.

I was made aware of the potential healing powers of psychedelics as a guest on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast in October 2012.   Joe told me psychedelic mushrooms transformed his life and had the potential to change the course of humanity for the better. My initial reaction was one of amusement and somewhat disbelief, but the seed was planted.

Psychedelics were an odd choice for someone like me.  I grew up in the Midwest and was fed 30 years of propaganda explaining how horrible these substances were for my health.   You can imagine my jaw-dropping surprise when, after the Rogan podcast, I found articles on the prodigious effects of these substances that behave more like medicines than drugs.  Articles like this one, this, this , this, and this.   And studies such as this,  this, thisthis, this… and this … all gut-wrenching examples of how we’ve been misled by authorities who classify psychedelics as schedule 1 narcotics that have ‘no medicinal value’ despite dozens of scientific studies proving otherwise.

Tripping Around the World 

 

Having only ever smoked the odd marijuana joint in college, in March 2013 I found myself boarding a plane to Iquitos, Peru to try one of the most powerful psychedelics on earth.   I ditched my car at the airport, hastily packed my belongings in a backpack and headed down to the Amazon jungle placing my blind faith in a substance that a week ago I could hardly pronounce: ayahuasca.

Shamans, or healers, prepare the Ayahuasca brew by combining chacruna leaves, that contain the powerful psychedelic DMT, with the ayahuasca vine.

The ayahuasca brew is prepared by combining chacruna leaves, that contain the powerful psychedelic DMT, with the ayahuasca vine.

Ayahuasca is a medicinal tea that contains the psychedelic compound dimethyltryptamine, or DMT.   The brew is rapidly spreading around the world after numerous anecdotes have shown the brew has the power to cure anxiety, PTSD, depression, unexplained pain, and numerous physical and mental health ailments.  Studies of long-term ayahuasca drinkers show they are less likely to face addictions and have elevated levels of serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for happiness.

If I had any reservations, doubts, or disbeliefs, they were quickly expelled shortly after my first ayahuasca experience. The foul-tasting tea vibrated through my veins and into my brain as the medicine scanned my body.  My field of vision became engulfed with fierce colors and geometric patterns.  Almost instantly, I saw a vision of a brick wall.  The word ‘anxiety’ was spray painted in large letters on the wall.  “You must heal your anxiety,” the medicine whispered.  I entered a dream-like state where traumatic memories were finally dislodged from my subconscious.

It was as if I was viewing a film of my entire life, not as the emotional me, but as an objective observer.   The vividly introspective movie played in my mind as I relived my most painful scenes- my parents divorce when I was just 4 years-old, past relationships, being shot at by police while photographing a protest in Anaheim and crushed underneath a crowd while photographing a protest in Chicago.  The ayahuasca enabled me to reprocess these events, detaching the fear and emotion from the memories.  The experience was akin to ten years of therapy in one eight-hour ayahuasca session.

On my mat before the ayahuasca ceremony begins.

We wait nervously for the  ayahuasca ceremony to begin. We are given buckets for the intense abortive effects of the medicine.

But the experience, and many psychedelic experiences for that matter, was terrifying at times.  Ayahuasca is not for everyone- you have to be willing to revisit some very dark places and surrender to the uncontrollable, fierce flow of the medicine.  Ayahuasca also causes violent vomiting and diarrhea, which shamans call “getting well” because you are purging trauma from your body.

After seven ayahuasca sessions in the jungles of Peru, the fog that engulfed my mind lifted.  I was able to sleep again and noticed improvements in my memory and less anxiety.   I yearned to absorb as much knowledge as possible about these medicines and spent the next year travelling the world in search of more healers, teachers and experiences through submersion journalism.

I was drawn to try psilocybin mushrooms after reading how they reduced anxiety in terminal cancer patients.  The ayahuasca showed me my main ailment was anxiety, and I knew I still had work to do to fix it.  Psilocybin mushrooms are not neurotoxic, nonaddictive, and studies show they reduce anxiety, depression, and even lead to neurogenesis, or the regrowth of brain cells.  Why would governments worldwide keep such a profound fungi out of the reach of their people?

The curandera blesses me as I consume psilocybin mushrooms for the healing ceremony.

The curandera blesses me as I consume a leaf full of psilocybin mushrooms for the healing ceremony.

After Peru, I visited curanderas, or healers,  in Oaxaca, Mexico.  The Mazatecs have used psilocybin mushrooms as a sacrament and medicinally for hundreds of years.  Curandera Dona Augustine served me a leaf full of mushrooms during a beautiful ceremony before a Catholic alter.   As she sang thousand year-old songs, I watched the sunset over the mountainous landscape in Oaxaca and a deep sense of connectivity washed over my whole being.  The innate beauty had me at a loss for words; a sudden outpouring of emotion had me in tears.   I cried through the night and with each tear a small part of my trauma trickled down my cheek and dissolved onto the forest floor, freeing me from its toxic energy.

Psilocybin mushrooms are not neurotoxic, non addictive, and a study shows they can repair brain damage from trauma.

Psilocybin mushrooms are not neurotoxic, non-addictive, and a study from University of Southern Florida shows they can repair brain damage from trauma.

Perhaps most astounding, the mushrooms silenced the self-critical part of my mind long enough for me to reprocess memories without fear or emotion.  The mushrooms enabled me to remember one of the most terrifying moments of my career: when I was detained at gunpoint in Bahrain while filming a documentary for CNN.  I had lost any detailed recollection of that day when masked men pointed guns at our heads and forced my crew and I onto the ground.  For a good half an hour, I did not know whether we were going to survive.

I spent many sleepless nights desperately searching for memories of that day, but they were locked in my subconscious.   I knew the memories still haunted me because anytime I would see PTSD ‘triggers’, such as loud noises, helicopters, soldiers, or guns, a rush of anxiety and panic would flood my body.

The psilocybin was the key to unlock the trauma, enabling me to relive the detainment moment to moment, from outside of my body, as an emotionless, objective observer.  I peered into the CNN van and saw my former self sitting in the backseat, loud helicopters overhead.    My producer Taryn was sitting to the right of me frantically trying to close the van door as we tried to make an escape.  I heard Taryn scream “guns!” as armed masked men jumped out of the security vehicles surrounding the van.  I watched as I frantically dug through a backpack on the floor, grabbing my CNN ID card and jumping out of the van.  I saw myself land on the ground in child’s pose, dust covering my body and face.  I watched as I threw my hand with the CNN badge in the air above my head yelling “CNN, CNN, don’t shoot!!”

I saw the pain in my face as the security forces threw human rights activist and dear friend Nabeel Rajab against a security car and began to harass him.  I saw the terror in my face as I glanced down at my shirt, arms in the air, praying the video cards concealed on my body wouldn’t fall onto the ground.

During the ceremony the psilocybin unlocks traumatic memories stored deep in my subconscious so I can process them and heal.  The experience is intensely introspective.

During the ceremony the psilocybin unlocks traumatic memories stored deep in my subconscious so I can process them and heal. The experience is intensely introspective.

As I relived each moment of the detainment, I reprocessed each memory moving it from the “fear” folder to its new permanent home in the “safe” folder in my brain’s hard drive.

Five ceremonies with psilocybin mushrooms cured my anxiety and PTSD symptoms.   The butterflies that had a constant home in my stomach have flown away.

Psychedelics are not the be-all and end-all.  For me, they were the key that opened the door to healing.  I still have to work to maintain the healing with the use of floatation tanks, meditation, and yoga.  For psychedelics to be effective, it’s essential they are taken with the right mindset in a quiet, relaxed setting conducive to healing, and that all potential prescription drug interactions are carefully researched.  It can be fatal if Ayahuasca is mixed with prescription antidepressants.

I was blessed with an inquisitive nature and a stubbornness to always question authority. Had I opted for a doctor’s script and resigned myself in the hope that things would just get better, I never would have discovered the outer reaches of my mind and heart. Had I drunk the Kool-Aid and believed that all ‘drugs’ are evil and have no healing value, I may still be in the midst of a battle with PTSD.

The Creation of Reset.me

 

This very world that glamorizes war, violence, commercialism, environmental destruction, and suffering has outlawed some of the most profound keys to inner peace.   The War on Drugs is not based on science.  If it was, two of the most deadly drugs on earth-alcohol and tobacco- would be illegal.  Those suffering from trauma have become victims of this failed war and have lost one of the most effective ways to heal.

Humanity has gone mad as a result.

Lyon and a scientist cut open a fish stomach to inspect for plastic litter while filming a documentary on ocean pollution.

Lyon and a scientist cut open a fish stomach to inspect for plastic litter while filming a documentary on excessive ocean plastic pollution.

I spent ten years witnessing the collective insanity as a journalist on the frontlines- wars, bloodshed, environmental destruction, sex slavery, lies, addiction, anger, fear.

But I had it all wrong journalistically.  I had been focusing on the symptoms of an ill society, rather than attacking the root cause: unprocessed trauma.

We all have trauma.  Trauma rests in the violent criminal, the cheating spouse, the corrupt politician, those suffering from mental illness, addictions, inside those too fearful to take risks and reach their full potential.

If it’s not adequately processed and purged, trauma becomes cemented onto the hard drive of the mind, growing into a dark parasite that rears its ugly head throughout a person’s entire life.   The wounds keep us locked in a grid of fear, trapped behind a personality not true to the soul, working a mundane job rather than following a passion, repeating a cycle of abuse, destroying the environment, harming one another.  The most common and severe suffering is inflicted during childhood and hijacks the driver’s seat into adulthood, steering an individual down a road deprived of happiness.   Renowned addiction expert Gabor Mate says, “The major cause of severe substance addiction is always childhood trauma.”

We live in a world full of wounds and when left untreated, they’re unceremoniously handed from one generation to the next, so the cycle of trauma continues in all its destructive brutality.

But there’s hope.   We can transform the course of humanity by collectively purging our grief and healing at the individual level, with the help of psychedelic medicines.  Once we collectively heal at the individual level, we will see dramatic positive transformation in society as a whole.

I founded the website reset.me, to produce and aggregate journalism on consciousness, natural medicines, and therapies.  Psychedelic explorer Terrence McKenna compared taking psychedelics to hitting the ‘reset button’ on your internal hard drive, clearing out the junk, and starting over.  I created reset.me to help connect those who need to hit the ‘reset button’ in life with journalism covering the tools that enable us to heal.

It’s a human rights crisis psychedelics are not accessible to the general population.  It’s insane that governments worldwide have outlawed the very medicines that can emancipate our souls from suffering.

It’s time we stop the madness.