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From Shock to Awe: Documentary Exploring How Psychedelics Can Heal the Wounds of War

We Westerners believe in the power of names.

We like to live under the impression that naming a thing gives us control over it; not only that, but we also think it gives us control on how other people react and perceive that thing.

Take for example how WWII psychiatrists sought to rechristen ‘shell shock’ –the nervous affliction which had crippled Allied armies during the First World War– into ‘operational fatigue’, something that not only sounded more technical, but also more macho and manageable. After all, if you get fatigued you only need some rest —and a few amphetamine pills— in order to get back into the fight; right, soldier?

But just like a rose by another name would smell as sweet, operational fatigue –which is now labeled as ‘post-traumatic stress syndrome’ or PTSD in modern psychiatric literature– has continued to wreck the lives of veterans unable to leave behind the horrors of war they were exposed to, which prevents them from successfully reintegrating themselves back into their family lives, and society at large. As a result of it, vets in the United States are twice as likely to die by suicide than civilians, according to a recent VA report.

Which is why some Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are now looking for help in the most unlikely of places: in the Amazonian jungle, under the guidance of curanderos that introduce them to a potent psychedelic plant medicine that has literally taken roots into our modern world: Ayahuasca.

From Shock to Awe is a new documentary film directed by Luc Côté and Janine Sagert, intended to show the journey of two veterans –Matt Kahl and Mike Cooley– who sought to treat themselves through these traditional remedies ,after modern pharmacotherapy had failed to close the emotional wounds they still carried long after leaving the battlefield. Like them, thousands of vets are also looking into sll sorts of alternative treatments in order to cope with their PTSD symptoms, and undoubtedly movies like this will break the reticence of many others who may still feel suspicions about resorting to ‘hippy bullshit.’

From the promotional website:

Mike and Matt decide to take ayahuasca, an Amazonian brew traditionally used for healing and spiritual insights. These warriors attend a weekend ceremony filled with hope…and fear of the unknown. Rattles shake, bells ring, flutes play, and a campfire crackles…a ceremony is underway. As images of battle consume their minds, the vets reverently drink the bitter brew several times over a weekend, bringing about profound revelations for our weary soldiers.

Upon returning to home, they quickly learn that their families are not prepared for the rapid change. Aimee, Matt’s wife, is overwhelmed by his exuberance and feels threatened that he might leave her. Brooke, Mike’s wife, sees the healing but finds her own demons rising to the surface. Mike feels the ‘reset’, and describes the experience like a roller coaster and the challenges associated with integrating the life-changing ceremonies. Unexpected twists and turns, and a desire to understand their husbands’ journeys, Aimee and Brooke embark on their own psychedelic healing journey with ayahuasca and MDMA respectively.

Indeed, it is thanks to organizations like MAPS that MDMA is quickly loosing its reputation as a dangerous ‘party drug’, and will soon be reinstated as a powerful tool to be used by psychotherapists in treating all sorts of patients suffering from severe post-traumatic stress; not just war veterans, but also victims of sexual abuse as well –perhaps even so-called alien abductees

From Shock to Awe premieres on November 12 on selected theaters across the United States. If you have a vet friend, perhaps the best early Christmas gift you could give her or him would be a ticket to watch this movie. It could very well turn out to be a life-saving experience.

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