‘I want to reset my brain’: female veteran turns to hallucinogenic therapy

Tijuana, Mexico — Scent swirls through the dimly lit living room as seven women take turns explaining why they turned to weekend psychedelic therapy in a villa in northern Mexico overlooking the ocean.

A former US Marine said he wanted to communicate with the soul of his mother, who took her own life 11 years ago. An army veteran said he was sexually assaulted by his relatives when he was a child. A small number of veterans said they were sexually assaulted by fellow soldiers.

The wife of a naval bomb disposal expert was choked as she lamented that years of relentless combat duty had turned her husband into an absent and dysfunctional father.

Former naval officer Kristine Bostwick, 38, hopes that performing the ritual with a mind-altering substance will help her make peace with the end of a turbulent marriage and alleviate the migraine that has become a daily affliction said to do.

“I want to reset my brain from the bottom up,” she said, wiping away tears during a recent three-day retreat intro session. “My children deserve it. I deserve it.”

The growing number of studies on the therapeutic benefits of hallucinogens has provoked an enthusiastic response among some psychiatrists and venture capitalists.

Much of the expanding appeal of such therapy has been driven by veterans of American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many former soldiers who turned to experimental therapies to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, addiction, and depression were enthusiastic supporters of broad acceptance of hallucinogens.

Psychedelic retreat participants often pay thousands of dollars for the experience. However, the female veteran and the veteran’s spouse once traveled to Mexico for treatment. inner mission Attended for free. Hero Heart Project And Hope Project. Founded by the wife of an Army Ranger and Navy SEAL, the group raises funds to help people with military backgrounds get hallucinogenic treatment.

Mission Within, just outside Tijuana, has been focused almost entirely on treating veterans since 2017. It is run by Martin Polanco.

Dr. said that Mexico treated more than 60,000 US veterans. “I realized early on that if we focused our work on veterans, we’d have a bigger impact,” Polanco said. “They understand what it takes to achieve peak performance.”

He said he initially treated male veterans almost exclusively. However, recently, there have been a lot of requests from female soldiers and female soldiers, so they have started to operate retreats exclusively for women.

With the exception of clinical trials, hallucinogenic therapy is currently performed underground or under dubious legality. A few countries in Latin America, including Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Mexico, have become hubs for experimental protocols and clinical studies as demand surges.

In the United States, unlicensed Dr. Polanco has been practicing on the fringes of mainstream medicine for many years, but now his work is attracting the attention of more established professionals in the field of mental health. Later this year, researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and Baylor University plan to investigate his protocol in two clinical studies.

The use of hallucinogenic therapy is not currently part of the standard treatment for mental health conditions in veterans’ hospitals, according to Veterans Affairs Department spokeswoman Randal Noller. However, they can be administered with special approval. As part of the research protocol, Noller said the Department of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention “is closely monitoring the scientific literature as it advances in this area.”

The two substances that Dr. Polanco administers in Mexico – ibogaine, a plant psychoactive substance commonly used to treat addiction, and 5-MeO-DMT, a potent hallucinogen derived from Sonoran desert toad venom – are illegal or not illegal. Approved for medical use. Third, psilocybin mushrooms, can be taken legally In rituals following Aboriginal traditions.

During the weekend retreat, Dr. Polanco’s patients begin with rituals using ivogaine or psilocybin. The initial journey is intended to spark destructive thinking and deep reflection.

“You become your own therapist,” said Dr. Polanco said.

On Sunday, participants smoke 5-MeO-DMT. It is often described as being between a mystical experience and a near-death experience.

Dr Charles NemeroffThe hype about psychedelics’ therapeutic potential has outpaced solid evidence, said the president of the University of Texas Austin-based Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, which recently established the Center for Psychedelic Research. He said the risks, including psychotic episodes, were significant.

“At this time, there is no way to predict who will respond to treatment or who will have a bad experience,” he said. “There is still so much we don’t know.”

The women of the Mexican retreat understood the danger. However, some said they had lost faith in conventional treatments like antidepressants and had heard enough inspiring stories from friends to take the leap of faith.

When seven women gathered in a circle for a mushroom ceremony on a recent Saturday, each signed a harmless waiver. They filled out questionnaires measuring post-traumatic stress and other psychological illnesses and underwent medical examinations.

who led the event Andrea Lucy, a Chilean-American psycho-physical medical professional who has worked with wounded American veterans for most of her career. After pouring flaming sage into a mushroom tea cup on a tray decorated with flowers and candles, Lucy read a poem by Maria Sabina, a native Mexican healer who led the mushroom ceremony.

“Heal yourself with beautiful love and always remember. You are the medicine,” said Lucy, a native of Chile’s Mapuche family.

After drinking water, the women spread mattresses on the floor, blindfolded them, and soft music played from the speakers.

The first commotion came about 40 minutes after the event started. Two women lowered their shade and wept. One giggled and then burst into laughter.

Then the wailing began. Jenna Lombardo-Grosso, a former Marine who lost her mother in suicide, jumps out of her room and finds Ms. I hugged Lucie.

Lombardo-Grosso, 37, sobbed. “why why why!” She later explained that the mushroom surfaced traumatic childhood episodes of sexual abuse.

Samantha Juan, a retired soldier who was sexually harassed as a child inside the wedding hall, pulled out a diary with tears in her eyes. It was her third time there at a retreat administered by Dr. Polanco, she said after being discharged from the military in 2014 that she faced the traumatic memories of her life that made her depend on her heavy drinking and drugs to escape her pain.

“I have learned to empathize with myself and to be gracious,” said 37-year-old Juan.

She said the goal of the retreat is to reconcile with the sexual assault she suffered in the military.

“For today’s journey, the focus is forgiveness,” Juan said just before eating the mushrooms. “I don’t want to hold onto me like that anymore.”

As the mushroom’s effect faded, a sense of stillness prevailed. The women exchanged stories of their travels, joked and got lost in long hugs.

Fatigue returned the next morning as the women waited for their turn to smoke 5-MeO-DMT. Dr. Polanco called the “slingshot” for the speed and intensity of the experience.

A few seconds after her lungs absorbed the toad secretions, Ms. Juan screamed at her and moved her body onto her mat. Bostwick looked embarrassed and unsteady as she transitioned from her supine position to a four-legged position. Ms. Lombardo-Grosso vomited, gasped for her breath, and shook violently like her nurse, and Ms. Lucie calmed her down.

When she regained consciousness, Lombardo-Grosso got up and started crying.

“It felt like exorcism,” she said. “It was like black sulfur rising, and now there is only light.”

That night, Alison Logan, the wife of a naval explosives expert who was on the brink of divorce, looked depressed. She said her travels brought her grief to the fore, but she offered no insight or determination.

“It was so painful without an answer,” she said.

However, other participants said their physical illness was gone and their mood improved.

Mr. Bostwick said she was “mysterious” but ecstatic that her migraines were gone and she felt the endless possibilities for the first time in a long time.

“I feel like my body has let go of anger and frustration, all the little things we hold onto,” she said. “I was overflowing with negativity.”

In the days following the retreat, Juan said he felt “full of energy and ready to start each day.”

Lombardo-Grosso said the setback helped her find peace and sorrow over the loss of her mother and shifted her outlook for the future from fear to optimism.

She said this a few days later from her home in Tulsa. “Nothing else is missing.”

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