‘I want to reset my brain’: Female veterans return to psychiatric therapy

TIJUANA, MEXICO CITY – A swarm of incense swirls through an illuminated living room as seven women take turns explaining why they persuaded you to sign up for psychedelic therapy on a weekend of psychedelic therapy at a villa in northern Mexico.

A former U.S. Marine says he hoped to connect with the soul of his mother, who committed suicide 11 years ago. An army veteran says he was sexually abused by a relative as a child. Some seniors say they have been sexually abused by fellow members.

The wife of a Navy bomb disposal expert suffocated as she lamented that years of relentless combat missions had turned her husband into a missing, jobless father.

Christine Bostwick, 38, a former Navy Corpsman, hoped that putting her mind through a ritual with mind-altering substances would help her end a troubled marriage and establish peace, and perhaps alleviate the migraine that turned into daily pain.

“I want to reset my brain from the bottom up,” he said during the introductory session of the recent three-day retreat, wiping away tears. “My kids deserve it. I deserve it. “

A growing body of research into the therapeutic benefits of psychedelic therapy has created excitement among some psychiatrists and venture capitalists.

Most of the extended applications for such treatment have been driven by veterans of the US war in Afghanistan and Iraq. After focusing on experimental therapy for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, addiction and depression, many former military members have become effective advocates for a broader embrace of psychedelics.

Psychedelic retreat participants often pay thousands of dollars for the experience. But the wives of these female veterans and veterans who traveled to Mexico for treatment inside the mission were participating free of charge, courtesy of the Heroic Hearts Project and the Hope Project. Teams founded by the wife of an Army Ranger and Navy SEAL raise money to make psychiatric therapy affordable for people of military background.

On the outskirts of Tijuana, inside the mission, is led by Dr. Martin Polanco, who has focused exclusively on treating veterans since 2017.

“I was aware at first that if we focus our work on veterans, we will have a greater impact,” said Dr. Polanco, who said he has treated more than 600 American veterans in Mexico. “They understand what it takes to achieve maximum performance.”

Initially, he said, he treated male seniors almost exclusively. But recently, he started getting a lot of requests from female veterans and military wives and started running backwards only for women.

With the exception of clinical trials, psychedelic therapy is currently performed underground or under nebula legitimacy. As demand increased, several Latin American countries, including Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Mexico, became centers of experimental protocol and clinical study.

Dr. Polanco, who is not licensed in the United States, has been practicing in the field of mainstream medicine for years, but his work is now drawing interest from more established mental health professionals. Later this year, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Baylor University want to test its protocol in two clinical studies.

According to Randall Knoller, a spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs, the use of psychiatric treatment is not currently part of the standard of treatment of mental health conditions at veterans hospitals. But with special approval, they can be managed As part of a research protocol, and the department’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, “the area is closely monitoring the developing scientific literature,” Mr Noler said.

In Mexico, the two substances that Dr. Polanco administers – ibogaine, a plant-based psychoactive commonly used to treat addiction, and 5-MeO-DMT, a potent hallucinogen derived from the toad of the Sonoran desert toad – are not illegal. Approved for medical use. The third, the psilocybin mushroom, can be taken legally at ceremonies that follow indigenous traditions.

During weekend leisure, Dr. Polanco’s patients begin Saturday through a program using ibogain or psilocybin. The initial trip is intended to trigger disturbed thinking and deep introspection.

“Become your own therapist,” said Dr. Polanco.

On Sundays, participants smoked 5-MeO-DMT, often described as something of a mysterious and near-death experience.

Dr. Charles Nemeroff, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, which recently started a center for psychiatric research, says the hype has surpassed hard evidence about the healing potential of psychedelics. The risks – including episodes of psychosis – are substantial, he said.

“Currently, we have no way of predicting who will respond therapeutically or not or who may have had a bad experience,” he said. “There’s a lot we don’t know yet.”

The women at the Mexico Retreat realized the risk. But many have said they have lost faith in conventional therapies such as antidepressants and have heard enough inspirational stories from friends to jump on the bandwagon.

As seven women gathered in a circle for a recent Saturday mushroom ceremony, each signed a hold-safe waiver. They completed questionnaires that measured post-traumatic stress and other mental illnesses and performed a medical checkup.

The program was led by Andrea Lucy, a Chilean-American psychiatrist who has spent most of her career working with injured American seniors. After blowing the burning sage into a mushroom tea cup served in a tray decorated with flowers and candles, Mrs. Lucy reads a poem by Mexican aboriginal healer Maria Sabina who led the mushroom ceremony.

“Heal yourself with beautiful love, and always remember, you are the medicine,” recalls Mrs. Lucy, from a Mapuche aboriginal family in Chile.

After the hug, the women lay down on the mattress on the floor and wore eye shadows as they played soothing music on the speakers.

The first stir came within about 40 minutes of the ceremony. A couple of women cast their shadows and cried. One giggled and laughed.

Then began the wailing. Jenna Lombardo-Grosso, a former Marine who lost her mother in suicide, came out of the room and got involved downstairs with Mrs. Lucy.

Mrs. Lombardo-Grosso, 37, cried and shouted: “Why, why, why!” He later explained that the mushrooms revealed painful episodes of childhood sexual abuse.

Inside the ceremony room, Samantha Juan, an Army veteran who was sexually abused as a child, began to cry and pulled out her journal. This was his third time at a retreat hosted by Dr. Polanco, where he said he had experienced lifelong traumatic memories that led him to drink large quantities of alcohol and turn to drugs to escape his pain after leaving the military in 2014.

“I learned how to empathize and show compassion,” said Mrs. Juan, 37.

His goal in this retreat, he said, was to make peace with the sexual harassment that he said he had endured in the military.

“In today’s ride, the focus is on forgiveness,” said Mrs. Juan shortly before taking the mushrooms. “I don’t want that kind of possession anymore.”

There was a feeling of serenity as the effects of the mushroom stopped. Women shuffle their travel stories, joke and get lost in long hugs.

The next morning, as the women waited for their turn to smoke 5-MeO-DMT, the shock returned, a trip that Dr. Polanko called a “slingshot” for the speed and intensity of the experience.

Seconds after her lungs had absorbed Todd’s secretions, Mrs. Juan let out a sigh and moved to her mat. Mrs. Bostwick looked terrified and restless as she moved from lying on her back to a position above four. Mrs. Lombardo-Grosso vomited, gasped for breath, and shook violently as a nurse, and Mrs. Lucy held her steady.

When he regained consciousness, Mrs. Lombardo-Grosso sat up and began to cry.

“It felt like an exorcism,” he said. “It seemed like sulfur was coming, black, and now there’s nothing but light.”

That night, Alison Logan, the wife of a Navy explosives disposal expert who was on the verge of divorce, looked desperate. She said the trips brought her grief to the fore, but did not give her any insight or sense of solution.

“It felt like a lot of pain without any answers,” he said.

But other participants said their physical illness had disappeared and their mood had brightened.

Mrs Bostwick said she was “supernatural” but happy that her migraine was gone and for the first time in a long time she felt a sense of limitless possibilities.

“I think my body is so angry and frustrated and all the little things we hold on to,” he said. “I was overwhelmed with negativity.”

In the days following the retreat, Mrs. Juan said she felt “full of energy and ready to move forward every day.”

Mrs Lombardo-Grosso said the retreat had helped her reconcile with the loss of her mother and shifted her outlook on the future from feelings of fear to optimism.

“I feel healthy,” he said from his home in Tulsa a few days later. “Nothing is missing anymore.”

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