Posts Tagged ‘PTSD’

By Supriya Venkatesan

At 19, I enlisted in the U.S. Army and was deployed to Iraq. I spent 15 months there — eight at the U.S. Embassy, where I supported the communications for top generals. I understand that decisions at that level are complex and layered, but for me, as an observer, some of those actions left my conscience uneasy.

To counteract my guilt, I volunteered as a medic on my sole day off at Ibn Sina Hospital, the largest combat hospital in Iraq. There I helped wounded Iraqi civilians heal or transition into the afterlife. But I still felt lost and disconnected. I was nostalgic for a young adulthood I never had. While other 20-somethings had traditional college trajectories, followed by the hallmarks of first job interviews and early career wins, I had spent six emotionally numbing years doing ruck marches, camping out on mountaintops near the demilitarized zone in South Korea and fighting someone else’s battle in Iraq.

During my deployment, a few soldiers and I were awarded a short resort stay in Kuwait. There, I had a brief but powerful experience in a meditation healing session. I wanted more. So when I returned to the United States at the end of my service, I headed to Iowa.

Forty-eight hours after being discharged from the Army, I arrived on campus at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. MUM is a small liberal arts college, smack dab in the middle of the cornfields, founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the guru of transcendental meditation. I joked that I was in a quarter-life crisis, but in truth my conscience was having a crisis. Iraq left me with questions about the world and grappling with my own mortality and morality.

Readjustment was a sucker punch of culture shock. While on a camping trip for incoming students, I watched girls curl their eyelashes upon waking up and burn incense and bundles of sage to ward off negative energy. I was used to being in a similar field environment but with hundreds of guys who spit tobacco, spoke openly of their sexual escapades and played video games incessantly. Is this what it looked like to be civilian woman? Is this what spirituality looked like?

Mediation was mandatory for students on campus, and the rest of the town was composed mainly of former students or longtime followers of the maharishi. Shortly after arriving, I completed an advanced meditator course and began meditating three hours a day — a habit that is still with me five years later. Every morning, I went to a dome where students, teachers and the people of Fairfield gathered to practice meditation. In the evening, we met again for another round of meditation. During my time in Fairfield, even Oprah came to meditate in the dome.

I was incredibly lucky to have supportive mentors in the Army, but Fairfield embraced me in a maternal way. I cried for hours during post-meditation reflection. I released the trauma that is familiar to every soldier who has gone to war but is rarely discussed or even acknowledged. I let go, and I blossomed. I was emancipated of the unhealthy habits of binge-drinking and co-dependency in romantic interludes, as well as a fear that I didn’t know controlled me.

Suicide and other byproducts of post-traumatic stress disorder plague the military. In 2010, a veteran committed suicide every 65 minutes. In 2012, there were more deaths by suicide than by combat. In Iraq, one of my neighbors took his M16, put it in his mouth and shot himself. Overwhelmed with PTSD-related issues from back-to-back deployments and with no clear solution to the problem, in 2012, the Defense Department began researching meditation practices to see whether they would affect PTSD. The first study of meditation and the military population, done with Vietnam veterans in 1985, had shown 70 percent of veterans finding relief, but meditation never gained in popularity nor was it offered through veterans’ services. Even in 2010, when I learned TM, the military was alien to the concept.

But today, the results of the studies showcase immense benefits for veterans. According to the journal Military Medicine, meditation has shown a 40 percent to 55 percent reduction in symptoms of PTSD and depression among veterans. Furthermore, studies show that meditation correlates with a 42 percent reduction in insomnia and a 25 percent reduction in the stress hormone cortisol in the veteran population. To complement meditation, yoga has also been embraced as a tool for treatment by the military. With the growing acceptance of holistic approaches, psychological wounds are beginning to heal.

The four-day training course to learn TM is now available at every Veterans Affairs facility for those who have PTSD or traumatic brain injury. Even medical staff and counselors who help veterans at the VA are offered training in both TM and mindfulness meditation. Additionally, Norwich University, the oldest military college in the country, has done extensive research on TM and incoming cadets, and many military installations have integrated meditation programs into their mental health services. When I had first learned to meditate, many of my active-duty friends found it a bit too crunchy. But with the military’s recent efforts at researching meditation and funding it for all veterans, the stigma is gone, and my battle buddies see meditation as a tool for building resilience.

For me, meditation has created small but significant changes. One day, while going for a walk downtown, I stopped and patted a dog. A few minutes later, I came to a halt. I realized what I had done. While in Iraq, during a month when we were under heavy mortar attack, a bomb-sniffing K-9 had become traumatized and attacked me. This, coupled with a life-long fear of dogs, had left me guarded around the canines. I touched the scar on my elbow from where the K-9 had latched on and could no longer find the fear that had been there. Soon I was shedding all the things that held me back from living my life in an entirely unforeseen way.

For the first time in my life, I found forgiveness for those who had wronged me in the past. I literally stopped to smell the flowers on my way to work every day. And I smiled. All the freaking time. I even felt smarter. Research shows that meditation raises IQ. I’m not surprised. After graduation, I went on to complete my master’s at Columbia University.

Fairfield is also home to generations of Iowans who are born there, brought up there and die there. Many of these blue-collar Midwesterners have had animosity toward the meditators. Locals felt as if their town had been overtaken. They preferred steak to quinoa, beers at the bar to yoga and pickup trucks to carbon-reducing bicycles. And with MUM having a student body from more than 100 countries, the ethnic differences were a challenge. However, things are changing. Meditators and townspeople now fill less stereotypical roles. And with the economic boom that meditating entrepreneurs have provided the town, the differences are easier to ignore.

It was strange for me to live removed from the local Iowans. When I went shopping at the only Walmart the town had, I’d see the “Wall of Heroes” — a wall of photos of veterans from Fairfield. One day, I noticed a familiar face — a soldier from my last assignment. Fairfield and other socioeconomically depressed areas are where most military recruits come from. Here I was living among them, but not moving in step with them. Having that synchronous experience made me come back full circle. When I had first learned to meditate, my teacher had asked me what my goal was. I told her, “I want to be in the world, but not of it.” And that’s exactly what I got.

For me, this little Iowan town provided a place of respite and rejuvenation. It was easy for me to trade one lifestyle of order and discipline for another, and this provided me with nourishment and an understanding of self. Nowhere else in America can you find an entire town living and breathing the principles of Eastern mysticism. It goes way beyond taking a yoga class or going to the Burning Man festival. I continue my meditation practice and am grateful for the gifts it has provided me. But in the end, my time had come, and I had to leave. As residents would say, that was just my karma.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/04/06/how-meditating-in-a-tiny-iowa-town-helped-me-recover-from-war/

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Deep in the Amazon rainforest, a group of veterans chokes down a gritty, gut-wrenching shot of liquid absolution. They try to drink away their severe mental disturbances, but not the way you drink away your ex-girlfriend with a bottle of whiskey. They’re looking for a cure. Their leader: 27-year-old retired infantryman Ryan LeCompte. Their goal: to hallucinate away their terrible memories.

From a few fringe psychiatrists to veterans like LeCompte, there is a budding belief that extreme hallucination can save our brains from themselves. Several organizations, including the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), and adventurous doctors around the world test out psychedelics such as MDMA, psilocybin and ayahuasca for possible medical uses.

Ayahuasca is a devilish brew. It’s made of vines and roots found in the Amazon; drinking it equals a heavy psychedelic experience and profuse vomiting. “As the shapes and colors continued to move about, they sometimes converged to create the face of a woman, who of course I immediately labeled as Aya,” says an ayahuasca user on the underground drug website Erowid. Aya is known as the spirit or soul of the ayahuasca world. LeCompte described having kaleidoscope vision during his ayahuasca trip, and he even began to dance and went to look at leaves and other pieces of the nature around him at points.

Ryan LeCompte is a scruffy former Marine who, today, is studying at the eccentric Naropa University in Boulder. The school was founded by Tibetan Buddhist teacher and Oxford University scholar Chögyam Trungpa and includes schools such as the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. The beat poets used to flock to there. It’s a Buddhist-inspired school infamous for attracting people who are looking for an alternative education in an attractive location.

For his part, LeCompte didn’t ever face a PTSD diagnosis during his time in service. But he’s lucky, because many of his peers did. What he did experience still shook him. In 2008, while stationed in 8th and I Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., LeCompte walked into the room of a good friend in his barracks one morning to find Sgt. Jorge Leon-Alcivar dead—a suicide. He was not the only Marine LeCompte encountered who would take his own life. At least 22 veterans kill themselves every day. Leon-Alcivar’s death was the final straw, and three years later LeCompte retired from the Marines to start fighting PTSD. He received his End of Active Service honorable discharge after four years in the Marines and didn’t look back.

LeCompte began traveling to the VA hospital in Birmingham, Alabama, where he was living, to learn what was ailing disturbed veterans and soldiers. He hung around in waiting rooms, cautiously approaching the soldiers, wheedling their stories out. But it didn’t take much persuasion; the men were “so beat,” he recalls, that they opened up to him instantly. This took course over several years, during his free time, while he did contract work building helicopters.

Soon, LeCompte had amassed the information from about 100 cases in Birmingham; Veterans spilled almost everything to him: their meds, their dosages, their choice of therapy. It all added up. Over and over again, he discovered his peers were taking the same types of medicines such Zoloft and Paxil, in the same dosages, 50 to 200mg of Zoloft a day or 20 to 60mg of Paxil a day were common, and with the same form of EMDR therapy. EMDR is a somatic therapy that follows eye movements and dream states.

LeCompte didn’t see anything wrong with the therapy. How about the drugs? Yeah, it’s probably the drugs. LeCompte’s complaints ring of an old story these days in American psychiatry: we’re too drugged up, we’re overdosed and overdiagnosed. It’s a complaint plenty of professionals agree with, but only a handful of psychiatrists are taking alternate routes. “There are some veterans who actually do respond to those meds, but it’s rare,” Dr. Sue Sisley, an expert on PTSD in veterans who has studied treating the illness with marijuana, told ATTN:. “The vets who respond to the standard FDA approved meds like Zoloft or Paxil is probably less than 10 percent. The rest come in looking like zombies.”

LeCompte had tried almost all the drugs they were offering, from “highly addictive anxiolytics like Klonopin, and … Prozac as an anti-depressant and Ambien for a sleep aid,” he said. “These different drugs sort of mixed together in a cocktail just as a recipe for disaster,” he said. He never tried to contact U.S. Veteran’s Affairs to inform them of these problems, because he didn’t think they would do anything about it. VA psychiatrists like Dr. Basimah Khulusi of Missouri have been fired for simply refusing to increase medication dosages that they didn’t think their patients needed shows the kind of system LeCompte was dealing with.

LeCompte looked into how these drugs work and found they’re just mind blockers, they’re not helping you deal with your problems. “Medications do not entirely eliminate symptoms but provide a symptom reduction and are sometimes more effective when used in conjunction with an ongoing program of trauma specific psychotherapy,” according to the VA website.

LeCompte looked at research from people like Julie D. Megler, watched videos of the academic conferences focusing on psychedelics called Psychedemia from Penn State and went on websites like Erowid to look at ayahuasca experiences people had posted to the site. What did he learn? “Something like ayahuasca or MDMA is used to bridge severed connections in the brain that trauma plays a big part in creating,” he said.

“Ayahuasca opens the limbic pathways of the brain to affect the emotional core of the trauma in a way similar to affective psychotherapy for trauma, and also impacts higher cortical areas … to allow the patient to assign a new context to their trauma,” wrote brain experts J. L. Nielson and J. D. Megler, in the book The Therapeutic Use of Ayahuasca.

Soon, LeCompte started having conversations with veterans and began informing people of the possible benefits of ayahuasca, wondering if anyone else was daring enough to start considering the idea of drinking a shot of psychedelics for their PTSD. LeCompte had never tried ayahuasca, but he was willing to try anything to help his comrades. Eventually he heard of an ayahuasca retreat, the Phoenix Ayahuasca retreat in Peru, where he could test out his medicine.

It took him six months to do what any sane person would do before planning a group outing to South America to hallucinate in a forest together… he started a nonprofit. Its name? The Veterans for Entheogenic Therapy. Other vets started to find him; some were suicidal, exhausted by the daily challenge of deciding whether or not they wanted to be alive. He didn’t know them, but he felt he intimately understood – or at least sympathized with – their minds. He rounded up a trip: five other vets, and him. MAPS helped pay for two of the trips for veterans who couldn’t afford it, and the rest paid for themselves.

The prep was strangely regimented: LeCompte had to ensure the veterans were off their medication for a month leading up to the trip; anti-depressants plus ayahuasca equal a lethal mix. That task amounted to phone therapy and keeping a close eye on everyone: He called the guys every day, even their friends and family, to make sure the men had quit their pills, he said. But he made it work. The families may have thought the idea was strange, but LeCompte says none of them tried to stop their family members because of their knowledge that the drugs weren’t helping treat the PTSD symptoms, and they just wanted to help their family.

The veterans flew into Iquitos, Peru, from Lima – from Iquitos, they sat in a van all the way to the Amazon, winding past motorbikes and rickshaws “on back roads in the middle of bum fuck,” LeCompte says.

Then their lives collided and things got weird.

They were stationed for 10 days at Phoenix Ayahuasca. The camp was little more than a set of huts in the jungle, made from wood and leaves. They would drink the ayahuasca on ceremony nights and be led through their experience by the shaman, and they would stay in their personal huts on days off to reflect on their experiences alone.

LeCompte said the ayahuasca drink “tastes like shit.” The shaman leading the experience dressed in all white scrub-like clothes, like a nurse lost in the jungle. After you drink the brew, the shaman’s job is simply to observe. He diagnoses: Is anyone losing it? Some people have been known to begin convulsing. Is this the moment they need to hear a song that will send them burrowing into a different dimension? “I don’t know how he does it. It’s beyond my rational mind,” LeCompte said. “It” amounts to singing, blowing smoke on trippers’ faces and using instruments like a rattler to change their state of mind.

For his part, LeCompte only wanted two out of the four drink ceremonies, since they were so powerful. It certainly wasn’t about the PTSD for LeCompte; he was trying to get past his experiences of fallen friends and broken relationships. He says just returning home to family and friends from military service or an ayahuasca trip is a difficult experience of its own. “You’re a changed person and there’s no doubting or denying that.”

“Most people get a cut, and they put a bandaid on it,” he said. “These people have had these wounds for so long that they’ve become infected. The infection can’t be fought off with a bandaid.” LeCompte sees ayahuasca as an antibiotic, not a bandaid.

LeCompte is now planning to do an official study to look at how ayahuasca could treat PTSD, which will serve as his thesis for Naropa University. It is being sponsored by MAPS, and it will focus on 12 veterans with treatment resistant PTSD who will try using ayahuasca to treat it. The plan is to conduct the study over 10 days in early 2016. LeCompte is currently running an Indiegogo campaign to fund research and education around the medicinal use of ayahuasca.

http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/2KDuBh/:1EfXhqlsu:Y+0NYw4t/www.attn.com/stories/2301/semicolon-tattoo-mental-health

Researchers from Louisiana State University have found that blueberries may be effective in the treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Findings from the study have been presented at the Experimental Biology Meeting in Boston, MA.

Presently, the only therapy approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for PTSD is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as sertraline and paroxetine. Study authors have previously shown that SSRIs increase the level of serotonin (5-HT) and norepinephrine, and that the increased norepinephrine be a possible reason for the reduced efficacy of SSRI therapy.

For this study, the team studied the ability of blueberries to modulate neurotransmitter levels in a rat model of PTSD. Some of the rats received a 2% blueberry-enriched supplement diet and others received a control diet. A third control group consisted of rats without PTSD and received a standard diet without blueberries. Scientists used high-performance liquid chromatography to to measure monoamines and related metabolite levels.

Rats with PTSD who did not receive blueberries showed a predictable increase in 5-HT and norepinephrine level compared with the control group. But rats with PTSD that received blueberries showed a beneficial increase in 5-HT levels with no impact on norepinephrine levels, which suggest that blueberries can alter neurotransmitter levels in PTSD. More studies are needed to understand the protective effects of blueberries and its potential target as a treatment for PTSD.

http://www.empr.com/benefits-of-blueberries-for-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-explored-in-study/article/405810/

Imagine discovering a plant that has the potential to help alleviate post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts and paralyzing anxiety. That’s what some believe ayahuasca can do, and this psychedelic drink is attracting more and more tourists to the Amazon.

If you Google “ayahuasca,” you’ll find a litany of stories about Hollywood celebrities espousing its benefits, as well as the dangers of this relatively unstudied substance that triggers hallucinations.

On this Sunday’s episode of “This Is Life,” Lisa Ling goes inside an ayahuasca ceremony in Peru and talks to the men and women who are drinking this potent brew in hopes that it will alleviate their mental and emotional traumas.

Here are six things to know about ayahuasca, which some call a drug and others call a medicine:

War vets are seeking it for PTSD

Former Marine Lance Cpl. Ryan LeCompte organizes trips to Peru for war veterans, like himself, who are seeking ayahuasca as a possible treatment for PTSD and other emotional and mental trauma suffered after multiple combat deployments.

He says he’s aware of the risks, as there’s very little known about ayahuasca’s effect on the body, but he says “it’s a calculated risk.”

“Ayahuasca is a way to give relief to those who are suffering,” says LeCompte, who says many veterans are not satisfied with the PTSD treatment they receive when they return from combat.

“It’s just, ‘Here’s a pill, here’s a Band-Aid.’ The ayahuasca medicine is a way to, instead of sweeping your dirt under the rug, you know, these medicines force you to take the rug outside and beat it with a stick until it’s clean,” LeCompte explains. “And that’s how I prefer to clean my house.”

Libby, an airman 1st class, is one of the veterans who accompanied LeCompte to Peru to try ayahuasca for her PTSD diagnosis, which includes sexual trauma while on active duty. She says antidepressants made her more suicidal.

“I would like to wish not to die all the time,” she said, when asked why she was seeking ayahuasca. “I want that to go away”

It’s endorsed by some Hollywood celebrities

As more ayahuasca centers pop up in the United States, not surprisingly, celebrities including Sting and Lindsay Lohan have spoken publicly about their experiences with the substance — albeit illegal outside of religious purposes in the United States.

Lohan, who has struggled with addiction, called her ayahuasca experience “eye-opening” and “intense.” “I saw my whole life in front of me, and I had to let go of past things that I was trying to hold on to that were dark in my life,” she said on her OWN reality series “Linsday.”

Sting said he and his wife, Trudie Styler, traveled to a church in the Amazon where they tried ayahuasca, which the British singer said made him feel like he was “wired to the entire cosmos.”

It’s not a cure
Those of have tried ayahuasca say that any benefits — like with other drugs or medicine — must be combined with therapy.

“If you think you’re just going to take ‘joy juice’ … you’re nuts,” explained author and ayahuasca expert Peter Gorman, who settled in Iquitos, Peru, during the first wave of ayahuasca tourism in the 1990s.

“The five years of work to get rid of [mental trauma] is still gonna be on you.”

Gorman, author of “Ayahuasca in My Blood,” explains that ayahuasca can help “dislodge that negative energy” and show people what their life could be like without the negativity.

“[Then] you can go back home and work on getting rid of it.”

And it used to be taken by only the shaman

Gorman says ayahuasca traditions in the Amazon have changed since Western tourists began seeking its benefits.

“Traditionally, the shaman drinks [ayahuasca], he accesses other realms of reality to find out where the dissonance is, that if the shaman corrects, will eliminate the [symptoms] — could be physical, could be emotional, could be bad luck,” Gorman explains. “[Then] we Americans come, and we said we insist on drinking the damn stuff — we want our lives changed and we want that experience, so that certainly set things right on its head.”

You can even buy ayahuasca powders and extracts online and in the local markets in the Peruvian Amazon, but Gorman warns “you don’t know what it would be.”

As more and more Western tourists consume ayahuasca, Gorman says it has him worried. “I’ve had this feeling in my bones for five or six years that something could go slightly wrong here that could sour a lot of stuff.”

Some ayahuasca tourists have died

In April, 19-year-old Briton Henry Miller died after taking part in an ayahuasca ceremony in Colombia, according to various media reports. And Kyle Nolan, an 18-year-old from northern California, died under similar circumstances in August 2012 in Peru.

The shaman who provided Nolan with the ayahuasca and who initially lied about his death was sentenced to three years in prison, his mother, Ingeborg Oswald, told CNN.

There have been other reported deaths, as well as reports of physical and sexual assaults. Writer Lily Kay Ross says she survived sexual abuse by an ayahuasca shaman.

“We have to take seriously the potential for harm alongside the huge potential for benefit,” Ross says on a video on a fundraising website for the Ethnobotanical Stewardship Council. “Standards of safety and ethics would go a long way in making sure that this kind of abuse isn’t experienced by anyone else.”

Ron Wheelock, an American shaman who leads an ayahuasca healing center in the Peruvian Amazon, says he fears there may be more deaths.

“I hate to say it, yes there probably will be,” he told Lisa Ling. “It’s in the cards”

There’s a movement to create safe ayahuasca

Through IndieGogo.com, the Ethnobotanical Stewardship Council is raising money to create a health guide for ayahuasca centers in the Amazon, so tourists know which centers are safe and harvesting the plants in a sustainable manner that supports the local communities.

The idea would be to put the ESC’s logo outside ayahuasca ceremony sites to signify those centers that meet the council’s criteria for safety and sustainability.

In addition, there are efforts to study the medicinal benefits of ayahuasca so that it can be regulated and legalized in the United States, explains Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies.

“At a time when drug policy is being reevaluated, when marijuana looks like it’s on the road toward legalization, when psychedelic medicine is moving forward through the FDA and we can envision a time when psychedelics are available as prescription medicines, how ayahuasca should be handled in a regulatory context is really up in the air,” Doblin said.

http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/22/health/ayahuasca-medicine-six-things/index.html?hpt=hp_t2