Written by Shannon Magers, CNN
When doctors first got approval to use LSD in the U.S. military in the 1960s, the idea was dismissed as a ridiculous, fringe proposition. Now, psychedelic researchers say veterans with PTSD have become very vocal in their support of the drug.
“With that kind of outside influence it makes people want to have a louder voice,” says Los Angeles psychologist Jack Kornfield, who has studied the effects of psychedelics on veterans.
The veterans, many of whom go to Kornfield’s lectures to cry or express relief from their trauma, say they are considering taking such drugs again, despite their actions leading to their imprisonment and reduction in physical abilities.
“Some of them think it’s a kind of rehab,” he says. “If you keep doing what you’re doing and you believe in the god of the jungle and the god of the penis, you believe in behavior the animal makes. So if you don’t feel anything anymore, you can be optimistic that you can return to that state. And many do.”
Scientists and a mainstream interest in psychedelics were a few decades away from being accepted by the media in the 1970s, but Kornfield says this is changing. Since he began investigating the properties of psilocybin in the mid-’80s, he’s heard about the drug from heads of state and heads of corporations. In addition to his lectures, which can reach upwards of 200 people on any given night, he now has an online store called asilo.com.
“Right now, it’s a significant technology for a lot of people,” he says. “You can talk to a psychologist or somebody from the psychology department who can send you what you need from our shelves in Albuquerque.”
Psychedelics, once widely restricted by the federal government, have been recently rescheduled by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Now any law enforcement agency can order them and they’re available legally in a small handful of states.
Grassroots outreach in almost every city now includes psychotherapists who administer compounds to patients in private sessions. Experimentation with psychedelics began decades ago in California, and in the ’90s, the first large-scale trials were done in Switzerland. (They were funded by former U.S. president Richard Nixon, who has been personally supportive of the project.)
Since then, clinical research into psilocybin, LSD and other compounds has been conducted by UCLA, the New York University School of Medicine, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and many others.
Retired U.S. Marine Major Richard Wolf posed with a homemade version of LSD while on tour with U.S. Marines in Afghanistan in 2001. Credit: Uncredited/AP/Ap
Wolf, who served in Iraq in 2007, says he took LSD and marihuana for the first time to calm his nerves during a deployment, and within 10 minutes was looking forward to seeing his family again.
“The beauty of it, the freedom, the love, it totally makes you in love with humanity. I mean, if you’re living a lie like an Abu Ghraib or Guantánamo detainee, and you see humanity in front of you, it’s the ultimate freedom,” says Wolf, who founded Citizens Against Illicit Use of Phenethylamine (C.A.I.P.), a group that opposes the legalization of psychedelic drugs.
Wolf says he’d like to see more research being done, especially since soldiers returning from war aren’t told about the potential health benefits, let alone potential side effects.
“We say something extreme is happening in Afghanistan, but we don’t have a little discussion of how is that happening? Because we don’t want to get into the realities of what’s going on,” he says.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, between 2011 and 2016 there were 18,400 alcohol-related incidents among veterans. On top of that, 1.5 million cases of post-traumatic stress disorder occurred.
“We’re on the wrong path. We’ve turned our back on something,” says Wolf. “No one asked me, or [anyone else], ‘How do we get better?'”
Kornfield agrees. He advocates for having “debate rooms” on campuses, where students can have a frank discussion about psychedelics.
“We need to understand the health pros and cons of it,” he says. “If people get something to the point that they can do it and still have a brain, I think that would be wonderful. I think that would be a phenomenal thing. It would be a giant step in human relations.”