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Revisiting dark places on the way to healing with psychedelics: A veteran's story

“It’s time to really open yourself up and get to the root of the problem,” a man with a feathered hat said.

The words, were not directed toward me, but to a Hamilton-area war veteran who has been suffering from extreme post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

He had just ingested a spoonful of an ancient psychedelic plant that was soon to produce a wild, mind-altering experience. And I and our camera operators were invited to witness it all go down.

The veteran’s name is Patrick and I first met him months before, on a sunny and humid August afternoon at his home in Hamilton.

Like so many Canadians are right now, he was in the grips of despair and hopelessness.

He had been haunted by the horrors he witnessed on the battlefield in Afghanistan years earlier. He had tried every modern prescribed medicine known to man to treat his severe depression, anxiety and insomnia — but nothing worked, he told me.

Patrick was told about Iboga, a plant grown in Africa, which creates an intense high and has been known to help people treat mental health disorders.

This — in his words — was his last shot.

“The next option is death.”

Patrick said he contemplated suicide “every morning he woke up.”

We interviewed him for about four hours while he shared his entire life story.

I could not help but really like this guy. In between tears, emotional breakdowns and episodes of extreme anxiety, he showed strength, courage and a deeply caring heart.

He’s a loving father and friends say that he would “go to the far ends of the earth” to help ease their burdens. He wanted to do that for strangers as well.

For the first time, he agreed to go public and expose all his vulnerabilities for our documentary, “to hopefully show other people suffering there is hope.”

That “hope” was that this plant would lead him on a path to treat his mental anguish and rescue him from the basement of despair. He allowed us to document his experience to show that it works — as he believed it would, even though there were no assurances.

His bravery struck a cord with me and I was 110 per cent rooting for him.

Another reason I was so drawn to Patrick personally was that I could somewhat relate to his issues.

When I first met him for this interview, a family member of mine was facing his own mental health issues and turned to alcohol to ease the pain. Our family tried everything to save him, including several rehab stints and counselling but not psychedelics.

I was going to allow this documentary to unfold to see if the effects are as spectacular as being reported and if they were, suggest that as a potential route of treatment for my relative. Sadly, it was too late. He succumbed to alcoholism in the midst of shooting this documentary.

Perhaps it was losing a loved one — or just my genuine affection for Patrick, I became determined to see him through this.

My crew and I tracked him for weeks after our first interview as he went to Vancouver to get mentally and spiritually prepared for his Iboga ceremony.

RELATED: Retired firefighter claims psychedelic drug saved his life

There were ups and downs and I truly had moments where I thought he wasn’t going to go through with it.

Minutes before what was supposed to be his first Iboga ceremony for our cameras, Patrick got a call that his father was beaten and put in hospital after he was attacked by a man in a parking lot. His father was the victim of road rage.

Patrick had to immediately fly back to Hamilton to care for his dad. Despite this huge setback, he was determined to go through with the ceremony and did so after his father recovered.

That wasn’t the only obstacle.

While more and more studies are showing psychedelic drugs can help treat things like anxiety, depression and addiction, they come with risks.

Patrick knew this. I wouldn’t have blamed him if he backed out — I’m not certain I would be as strong as him. Not only trying this powerful medicine but also exposing myself to the world while doing so. It was a heavy burden that this war hero, despite all of his mental woes, was ready to bear.

The ceremony was intense. After feeling the effects of the medicine, Patrick took a deep dive into his past, future and present under the guide of an experienced practitioner.

He had to mentally revisit some very dark places full of terror — the very things he has tried to suppress, all while our cameras rolled.

The medicine is said to help you understand that while haunting past events may have been devastating, they should not define your current nor future life.

He came through it fine but spent several days afterwards reflecting on the experience. But did it treat his mental troubles? I’ll leave that for the documentary to answer.

RELATED: The Psychedelic Frontier

The one thing I can tell you is that my experience witnessing this psychedelic treatment opened my eyes to the possibility that while more conclusive studies are needed, perhaps we have something here that could change mental health treatment.

Psychedelics such as LSD and magic mushrooms are being heavily studied for this potential and so far, the results from institutes such as Johns Hopkins and N.Y.U. are very promising.

After suffering a loss myself to the grips of addiction and hearing that a psychedelic may have saved this person, I can’t help but — like Patrick — be hopeful for a positive outcome. For him, Canada and the rest of the world.

Pat Taney is the producer of “VeraCity, The Psychedelic Frontier” which airs Monday, Jan. 25 at 10 p.m., only on CityTV.