Ayahuasca Offers Hope To Veterans With Treatment-Resistant PTSD

Ayahuasca helps veterans overcome PTSD when it is used in a proper ceremony.
Preparation of Ayahuasca for use in an Ayahuasca Ceremony, province of Pastaza, Ecuador. (Photo: Wikimedia/Terpsichore)

Twenty-two veterans a day commit suicide as a result of PTSD. An alternative therapy exists that helps veterans recover from treatment-resistant PTSD.

Ayahuasca helps some veterans by offering veterans with treatment-resistant PTSD the hope of becoming the person that they were before the traumatic event that caused their PTSD occurred. Ryan LeCompte, MA, a former Marine and infantryman, operates Veterans for Entheogenic Therapy (VET) a non-profit group that takes veterans with treatment-resistant PTSD to Peru to participate in an ayahuasca ceremony. VET is able to accept tax-deductible donations to help offset the costs associated with flying veterans who have PTSD to fly down to Peru so that they are able to participate in an ayahuasca ceremony.

Ayahuasca is a mixture of two plants banisteriopsis caapi (a vine in the Amazon that is called the ayahuasca vine) and a plant that contains DMT, usually Psychotria Viridis, however any plant that contains DMT can be used. DMT, or dimethyltryptamine, is a hallucinogenic drug that is classified as a Schedule 1 drug in the United States. Ayahuasca is a brew of both plants boiled in water for many hours; the water is drunk during an ayahuasca ceremony conducted by a shamanic healer.

DMT is illegal in the United States; however, it is legal to use ayahuasca in Peru. Because of its legal status, people who need ayahuasca are forced to take an expensive trip to Peru to get help.

The author of this article hopes the ayahuasca is eventually made legal so that people who need to use ayahuasca to treat a chronic condition can legally access ayahuasca in the United States.

Dan Kasza, a veteran, talks about how ayahuasca was able to help him cope with his PTSD. (Audio: Dan Kasza)

According to Ryan LeCompte, “No veteran who has come back from an ayahuasca ceremony has ever attempted to commit suicide.” Because of ayahuasca, Dan Kasza now is speaking to other veterans about how ayahuasca helped him heal from his PTSD in various venues.

An ayahuasca ceremony is a group session in which a shaman, a traditional healer from Peru, uses a powerful psychedelic brew, that is part of the healing tradition of tribes living in the Rain Forests near Peru, called ayahuasca to help people with treatment-resistant disorders come to a psychological place where healing is possible.

Three veterans discuss going to Peru to take part in an ayahuasca ceremony. (Source: YouTube/ From Shock to Awe)

The current methods employed by the veterans administration to treat PTSD are: 1.) drug therapy, 2.) talk therapy, and 3.) psycho-education. Drug therapy does not work well when used in conjunction with talk therapy because drugs mask the pain caused by PTSD making it impossible to integrate the experience and overcome the PTSD. Mr. LeCompte says that “psychiatric drugs used to treat PTSD only mask the symptoms of the PTSD, and are often used in contraindicated settings. Many of the drugs that are used to treat PTSD cause an adverse reaction.”

Mr. LeCompte, a former Marine and therapist, states that “according to the AMA, PTSD is considered to be cured when someone can recall traumatic events without the limbic system causing any emotional problems. Integration of the traumatic events is an important part of PTSD treatment. Many of the methods used to treat PTSD cause depersonalization.” The limbic system is what causes people to feel emotions, and it tends to cause intense paranoia and fear in who have PTSD.

How does ayahuasca work?

Ayahuasca works by targeting the serotonergic system which makes it easier for veterans to think about a traumatic event without becoming overwhelmed by emotions. Ayahuasca helps veterans come to a sense of closure over the traumatic events which caused their PTSD which helps them integrate back into society. The purging during an ayahuasca ceremony is more than just physical purging. Traumatic memories are also purged during an ayahuasca ceremony.

The human brain is broken down into three parts: 1.) the brain stem, the reptilian brain which deals with raw sensory input, 2.) the limbic system, the mammalian brain which deals with emotional memories and the fight or flight response, and 3.) the prefrontal cortex, the human brain which deals with assigning meanings to the emotional memories processed in the mammalian brain.

The hippocampus is the memory center of the limbic system, and the amygdala is the fear center. Both are part of the default mode network (DMN) and play a role in causing PTSD. Ayahuasca targets the DMN and helps treat the underlying causes of PTSD by reducing the activity of the amygdala so that painful memories can be examined without causing any fear.

Ryan LeCompte believes that “PTSD results from a disconnect between the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex, and that ayahuasca helps to build new pathways from the limbic to the prefrontal cortex to repair the disconnect.”

To help explain this easier think of the brain as a house. The basement would be brain stem, the reptilian brain. The first floor would be the limbic system, the mammalian brain, and the attic would be the prefrontal cortex, the human brain. In this metaphor, PTSD would result if the wires from the first floor to the attic got cut, and ayahuasca would be like a master electrician that would run new wires from the first floor to the attic.

A video explaining how ayahuasca affects the human brain. (Video: YouTube/Our Amazing World)

One idea Ryan LeCompte wants to experiment with but has not tested is to see if using MDMA before an ayahuasca ceremony to strengthen the veterans ego and using MDMA after an ayahuasca ceremony to help the veterans rebuild their ego would be more beneficial than just undergoing an ayahuasca ceremony. Since MDMA should not be used within a month of an ayahuasca ceremony, such an experiment would need to be done over an extended period of time.

Ayahuasca unlike most other psychoactive drugs that are used to treat PTSD is called an entheogen because it causes the user to have a religious experience. According to William James, one of the founders of modern psychology, “It is the mystical or spiritual experience that gives people the power to change their behavior over time.” Mr. LeCompte says that “ayahuasca helps veterans by giving them ownership over their life by allowing them to take part in a group spiritual experience that helps them overcome their trauma.”


Ayahuasca helps veterans overcome PTSD by allowing them to go on a Hero's Journey to find the root cause of their PTSD. A graphical representation of the Hero’s Journey. (Photo: Veterans for Entheogenic Therapy/ Ryan LeCompte)

Ryan LeCompte noticed that many veterans who went on several ayahuasca ceremonies were able to taper off all of the medications that they were using to treat their PTSD. They tended to take up to 20 different drugs, and after using ayahuasca several times they were able to function with needing any drugs to manage the symptoms of their PTSD. Many of these veterans also scored very well on assessments measuring the severity of their PTSD without needing to take a daily regimen of powerful psychoactive drugs.

What can I do to help veterans with treatment-resistant PTSD get the help that they deserve?How can I get help to deal with PTSD if I am a veteran who didn’t respond to conventional therapeutic approaches to PTSD?

Anyone who wants to help Veterans for Entheogenic Therapy (VET) help veterans with treatment-resistant PTSD afford to go to Peru to take part in an ayahuasca ceremony can make a tax-free donation. Any veterans who have already tried conventional treatments for PTSD and would like to participate in an ayahuasca ceremony should contact VET about the next trip to Peru to go to an ayahuasca healing center.

Why harm reduction is an important concept to review about when discussing ayahuasca?

Since ayahuasca has many benefits to people with treatment-resistant disorders and is classified as a schedule 1 drug in the United States, many people who think that they might benefit from using ayahuasca purchase ayahuasca off the Internet as if it is just another dietary supplement. However, since using ayahuasca has the risk of being potentially deadly, harm reduction principles require that any reports discussing the potential benefits of using ayahuasca also provides people warnings about the risks associated with using ayahuasca.

This reporter recommends that people who want to use ayahuasca, do so in Peru or other parts of Central America where ayahuasca use is legal. While the costs of traveling to where ayahuasca is legal are usually high, this reporter does not suggest anybody self-medicate with ayahuasca that was purchased off of the Internet.

Veterans who have a severe case of PTSD that the Veterans Administration is not able to treat do not have to take the risk of illegally using ayahuasca or of using ayahuasca in an unsafe setting. Veterans who feel that an ayahuasca ceremony might be able to help them overcome their treatment-resistant PTSD should contact VET so that they can be placed on a list of veterans with PTSD who want to go to Peru with VET so that they can safely take part in an ayahuasca ceremony. VET ensures that the retreat center where the veterans go to partake in an ayahuasca ceremony uses a safe brew in a safe setting in order to maximize the benefits to the veterans while minimizing the risks associated with drinking.

Only people who are curious about how ayahuasca reacts with other Western medication or people who are planning on using ayahuasca need to read the rest of this report.

Ayahuasca: Myth v. Fact

Myth: Ayahuasca is a magic bullet, and a single dose of ayahuasca can treat PTSD with requiring any additional therapeutic interventions.
Fact: While ayahuasca helps veterans overcome PTSD, the veterans still need to go to therapy sessions after undergoing an ayahuasca ceremony. Ryan LeCompte states that “ayahuasca does not work unless the veterans get traditional western therapy after the ayahuasca session to help the veterans integrate the insights that they obtained in the ayahuasca ceremony info their life.” Ayahuasca just makes it more likely for veterans to be willing to try and complete their therapy program. Mr. LeCompte states that “ayahuasca helps veterans interact with their therapist and talk about the traumatic events that they went through without feeling triggered by the therapeutic process.”

Myth: Ayahuasca is dangerous, and people who drink ayahuasca do so at the risk of death.
Fact: The use of ayahuasca itself has never killed anybody. The deaths that are attributed to drinking ayahuasca are either the result of an adverse drug interaction between ayahuasca and other psychoactive medications that user of ayahuasca is also taking or they are the result of dangerous chemicals being added to ayahuasca to potentiate its psychedelic effects to make visual aspects of the ayahuasca experience more intense. When used traditionally by someone who follows all of the dietary and lifestyle restrictions advised by the shaman, ayahuasca is a relatively safe yet powerful medicine.

Myth: Ayahuasca requires veterans take ayahuasca for the rest of their lives.
Fact: Unlike western medications, a single dose of ayahuasca helps veterans cope with PTSD. Mr. LeCompte states that “one ayahuasca ceremony is like undergoing ten years of intense therapy.”

Myth: All shamans (healers who use ayahuasca) have the best interest of the client at heart.
Fact: Someone who is a brujería or dark shaman will use ayahuasca for evil ends and will not focus on healing the clients that come to their center. Some ayahuasca centers got shut down because the shaman sexually abused people at the healing center. The Women’s Visionary Console puts out a flyer telling people how to find a shamanic healing center that is safe. Ryan LeCompte recommends the Phoenix Rose Ayahuasca Center and The Temple Of The Way Of Light as two healing centers that safely use ayahuasca. Mr. LeCompte visits every center that he plans on using to help veterans to make sure that the center operates both safely and ethically.

Myth: It is safe to ingest mescaline (Peyote or San Padro cactuses) and ayahuasca within a short time frame of each other.
Fact: Ingesting mescaline from cactuses and ayahuasca within the same period of time can cause Serotonin Syndrome. Mr. LeCompte warns that “if you do not wait at least a month after taking ayahuasca to take mescaline you risk causing the brain to become depleted of serotonin. You become depressed once you lose your serotonin and you risk becoming dependant on SSRIs to lead a normal life. You will eliminate this serious risk by waiting at least a month to take mescaline or MDMA after taking ayahuasca.” According to Ryan LeCompte when going to healing center that offers mescaline, in the form of San Padro Cactuses, using both ayahuasca and San Padro at the same time should be avoided.

Myth: Killing off your ego is required for any psychological healing to occur.
Fact: Ryan LeCompte eloquently describes the need and use of the ego in psychological healing. “The ego is like a windshield so when you are driving. You need the window to protect you from the environment. PTSD is like mud on the windshield. Ayahuasca cleans off the mud off the windshield. Ego death is having no windshield and risking getting hit with junk from the environment. A windshield is needed to get from point A to point B safely. Ayahuasca is like a bunch of powerful cleaners and tends to be hard on the ego. The more serious the issue, the more intense the ayahuasca experience. Integration is an important part of an ayahuasca ceremony. Rebuilding your ego is an essential element of a psychedelic trip; you need to fix your ego not kill it to heal from the traumatic events that cause PTSD.”

The role that following the proper diet plays in an ayahuasca ceremony.

Since ayahuasca helps veterans by acting as a detoxification agent, it is critical to follow the proper diet when using ayahuasca. Foods that don’t react well with MAOIs should not be eaten since ayahuasca contains a MAOI. Ryan LeCompte recommends “avoiding pork, and only eating lean meats before participating in an ayahuasca ceremony. While people tend to get better results if they avoid all meats before taking part in an ayahuasca ceremony, pork is the only meat that people need to avoid.”

It is even more important for people to avoid using any drugs that react poorly with a MAOI or interact with the serotonergic system before taking part in an ayahuasca ceremony to ensure that drinking ayahuasca will not produce any dangerous drug interactions.


Information about safely using a MAOI. A report that describes what foods and drugs are not safe to combine with a MAOI is information that is necessary for people thinking of going to an ayahuasca ceremony to have. People who are not experts in how a MAOI interacts with other medications should avoid anything that has any interaction with a MAOI. (Source: Neuroscience Education Institute)

Anyone wishing to help enable VET to offer ayahuasca to veterans with PTSD should make a donation to help VET offset the logistical costs associated with providing a much-needed service to the veterans who need the most help with integrating back into civilian life.

Here are some tweets about how ayahuasca can help people deal with their PTSD:

About MIchael Israel 22 Articles
My job as a journalist is to make sure the government is kept in check, so it starts to help and not to dominate its citizens.