War Veterans Seek Healing through Psychedelics in Mexico

A growing number of veterans with PTSD are turning to psychedelic-assisted treatment​ in Mexico — using substances the government they fought for says are illegal.

War Veterans Seek Healing through Psychedelics in Mexico
16 Nov 2023, 06:44 PM
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Suicide rates for American service members and veterans are nothing short of catastrophic, with recent estimates claiming almost 17 vets take their own lives in the U.S. every day. Many of them suffer from post-traumatic stress and debilitating brain injuries, which traditional medications have largely failed to cure.

As many veterans with PTSD remain desperate for healing, a growing number are turning to psychedelic-assisted treatment in Mexico — using substances the government they fought for says are illegal.

One of those former service members is Herb Daniels, who spent 14 years as a Green Beret and nearly four years in active combat. After he retired from the military, he said he faced a profound darkness that started to consume him. 

"As I watched more of my teammates…more veterans start to take their own lives, I realized that that's an option," he said. 

He had a plan one night, he said, as he waited for his wife to come home from a trip out of town.

A man, who wishes to remain anonymous, recently shared his experience with suicide and how he found hope through an unconventional treatment. "I was waiting for her to come through the door, and as soon as I heard it chime, I was gonna shoot myself," he said. "The flight was late, thank God. And I kept drinking. So when she came home, she found me passed out in the bed, the gun on my lap that I hadn't used."

After another suicide attempt, the man discovered VETS, Veterans Exploring Treatment Solutions. This nonprofit organization provides grants for veterans to receive treatment in Mexico, where certain therapies are not legal in the United States. Every week, veterans are transported from San Diego to Mexico for a retreat that incorporates the use of psychedelics for treatment. 

Marcus Capone, a former Navy SEAL, and his wife Amber established VETS in 2019. Capone himself participated in the retreat and experienced a remarkable transformation through the use of psychedelics.

"It gets the job done…flat out," said Capone, who suffered from PTSD and a traumatic brain injury from multiple combat deployments. "Traditional approaches are very difficult to solve those problems."

Marcus Capone initially attended the retreat in 2017, where he was administered ibogaine, a hallucinogenic plant mixture from Africa, and smoked 5-MeO-DMT, a substance derived from the glands of the Sonoran Desert toad.

"It just reset everything in a few hours," he explained. "All the stress, anxiety, it just went away. It flew away, fall right off my shoulders."

Now, Marcus and his wife are dedicated to helping veterans access the treatment they need by assisting them in traveling to Mexico for therapy. 

Many veterans are struggling to find the healing they need in their own country, despite the sacrifices they made. It is disheartening to see that these brave individuals, who risked their lives for their country, are not receiving the support they deserve.

"Some gave their lives," said one veteran. "And…it seems that in return for that sacrifice, you know, our country would be willing to do whatever it takes to bring healing to us, to prevent those suicides."

Unfortunately, it feels like once veterans take off their uniforms, they are left feeling abandoned. They are in desperate need of support and resources to help them overcome their struggles.

In an effort to find healing, some veterans have turned to a retreat in Mexico. One veteran, Daniels, attended the retreat for the first time in July last year and recently returned with another veteran, Mike Ortiz.

Upon arrival at the retreat site, the veterans met with a local facilitator, Juan Aguilar, who guided them through the process. Aguilar focused on setting intentions and preparing the veterans for their experience. The therapy session began with the use of mapacho smoke to cleanse the space, followed by a focused meditation with the medicine.

The core of the treatment involves a short, intense, psychedelic experience. During his session, Daniels went through a range of emotions, visibly moved as tears rolled down his face. The experience lasted about 10 minutes, and he said it felt "magical, like a fresh start."

Healing Through Emotional Release

"My heart was just opened, wide open, and there was laid bare so much pain, so much anger and as soon as I let it go, I became aware of my presence again, and I felt my body just relax," he said.

"To be pain free for that short period of time was, like, the best feeling in the world," said Ortiz.

Daniels said he felt transformation with the experience.

"I don't think it takes long to change your perspective," he said. "If you believe it can happen, then it can happen. Sometimes you just need a little jump start to help you get there."

If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or a suicidal crisis, you can reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988. You can also chat with the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline here.

For more information about mental health care resources and support, The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. ET, at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or email [email protected].