On a balmy Texas Saturday, I sat among a motley crew of people watching three very disturbing facts show across the screen in front of us.
Veterans commit suicide at a rate two times higher than the general population.
More U.S. Veterans have killed themselves than have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Twenty-two U.S. veterans take their own lives every day.
We were watching the short film Soldiers of the Vine: Healing War Trauma with Plant Medicine. This documentary is a journey into the hearts and minds of six veterans as they travel to Peru seeking sacred plant medicine to heal their Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
West Point graduate, Blackhawk helicopter pilot, and U.S. Army officer, Ian Benouis, organized this trip after his own experiences with plant medicine. He took along with him five other veterans from across America and the branches of the military struggling with PTSD – Barry Richardson, Dakota Serna, Chris Schickedanz, Matthew Kahl, and Jeremiah Shattuck. Each tell their own story of deployment and return to civilian life in the film. Each story is filled with unresolved trauma and pain.
Matt describes this time after deployment under the influence of up to 22 different prescription medications a month – “I was either falling asleep in the middle of my sentences, or screaming at the ceiling. Always aggressive and angry.”
“I was in so much pain I haven’t been able to be successful. I haven’t been able to find focus, clarity, or thought,” says Chris, “I want to stop the cycle of sickness for my children.”
In May 2016, seeking peace after exhausting what the VA system had to offer them, these men traveled to northern Peru to participate in a dieta. Dieta, Spanish for “diet,” is a dietary, behavioral, and medicinal regime used for plant-based healing in the Amazon. Based on the individual’s ailments, a shaman administers a cocktail of plant medicines to purify the blood and organs.
The most famous and most powerful of the plant medicines these veterans experienced was Ayahuasca. For centuries humans have been drinking this sacred brew of Banisteriopsis caapi vine found in the Amazon. This plant medicine causes powerful hallucinations and has been reported to cause spiritual revelation and a sense of “rebirth.”
The film documents the veteran’s three Ayahuasca ceremonies, as well as their “decompression sessions” in which they talk about their powerful experiences.
“Trauma was released,” Barry explains, “I found forgiveness for others and for myself.”
As a viewer, it was a humbling experience to bear witness to. Not only did these men put their lives on the line in the military, they are brave enough to bare their souls to the public so that others may find a path to healing as they did. There was not a dry eye in the room, once the screening was over and the men stood at the front of the room for a Q&A panel. They expressed their continued journey toward healing, and their advocacy for others. Each member on the panel is involved in efforts to legalize plant medicines such as cannabis, so all veterans have the chance to tackle PTSD from all fronts.
Since the government considers cannabis to be a schedule I drug, VA doctors cannot prescribe or help veterans obtain cannabis. Though this may soon change, because of plant-medicine advocates like these veterans. States where cannabis is legal are quickly adopting PTSD into the applicable conditions for medical marijuana.
There is still much work to be done to give all veterans the life-saving option to choose plant medicine over opioids or antidepressants.
Watch the full Soldiers of the Vine short film here: https://vimeo.com/210139995
Check out these veteran advocacy organizations to get involved:
Green Union https://www.facebook.com/thegreenunion/
Veterans for Natural Rights http://veteransfornaturalrights.org/