Soldiers of the Vine fighting for the 22 in the fall 2017 issue of Fox & Nug Magazine

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/

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About Ian Benouis

Ian Benouis is a West Point graduate, former Blackhawk helicopter pilot, US Army officer and combat veteran who participated in Operation Just Cause in the Republic of Panama. This operation was the largest combat operation in US history focused directly on the War on Drugs. He was a pilot-in-command and his aviation brigade flew more night vision goggle hours than any unit in the military except for the Task Force 160 Special Operations which his unit was ultimately rolled up into when the Fort Ord, California military base was shut down. Ian grew up in Hawaii in the 1970’s where cannabis was decriminalized and fully integrated in to the culture. He has been healing himself of trauma for over 25 years with sacred plants, a spiritual practice, and being a student and practitioner of ethnobotany. Ian was a pharmaceutical representative for Pfizer after he got out of the Army witnessing firsthand the meteoric rise of the SSRI’s and synthetic opioids in the early 1990’s. He is a casualty of the drug war having been busted for a friend’s cannabis while in law school. Ian is an intellectual property attorney who has been working in the corporate world for over 20 years in the primary roles of VP of Sales and Marketing and General Counsel. He is a political activist in the cannabis and natural plant medicine space nationally and locally in Texas. Ian was previously the Chairman of the Board for a public policy foundation in Texas for over seven years. Ian was featured in the Spike Jonze produced episode Stoned Vets on Weediquette the cannabis focused series on Viceland on HBO with a number of other veterans protesting the VA’s policy on medical cannabis and trying to end the veteran suicide epidemic. In 2016 Ian organized a trip for six veterans with PTSD to Peru in May for a 10-day plant diet including ayahuasca and other plant medicines with three Shipibo shaman brothers that are third generation plant medicine healers. Ian also took some of the same veterans to Mexico for treatment with iboga and 5-Meo-DMT. This experience was captured on video and was released as a documentary on March 2017 entitled Soldiers of the Vine. He is member of the team working on the movie From Shock to Awe a feature-length documentary that will chronicle the journeys of military veterans as they seek relief from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with the help of ayahuasca, MDMA and cannabis.