Psilocybin mushrooms ready for harvest in a humidified "fruiting chamber.” Credit: John Moore/Getty Images

Psychedelic drugs have been illegal for 50 years, but they’re trickling back into the mainstream because they show promise in helping treat post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health challenges.

We begin the hour with reporter Jonathan A. Davis visiting Psychedelic Science 2023, the largest-ever conference on psychedelic drugs. It’s put on by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, an organization dedicated to legalizing MDMA (also known as ecstasy or molly) and other psychedelic drugs. Research shows that MDMA-assisted therapy can help treat depression and PTSD, and it’s moving toward approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Psychedelics were studied in the 1950s and ’60s as mental health treatments, but the war on drugs put a stop to research. Now, these drugs are gaining bipartisan support from politicians looking for solutions to the mental health crisis among veterans. 

Then Reveal’s Michael I Schiller visits a group of veterans who are not waiting for psychedelic-assisted therapy to be approved by the federal government. They’ve joined a church founded by an Iraq War veteran who uses psychedelics as religious sacraments. Schiller accompanies them on a retreat in rural Texas, where they share the depths of their post-traumatic stress and the relief they’ve felt after psychedelic treatments. He also explores the risks involved in taking these drugs. 

We close with an intimate audio diary from a woman in Oakland, California, who’s going through therapy with the one psychedelic drug that can be legally prescribed currently in the U.S.: ketamine. Ketamine started out as an anesthetic, but researchers found it can help with treatment-resistant depression when used in tandem with talk therapy. Ketamine can be dangerous if abused, but it also has helped people find relief from mental health issues. This story was produced by Davis

Dig Deeper

Read: The Trip Treatment (The New Yorker)

Read: The Psychedelic Revolution Is Coming. Psychiatry May Never Be the Same. (The New York Times)

Read: A Fraught New Frontier in Telehealth: Ketamine (The New York Times)

Read: Ketamine Therapy Is Going Mainstream. Are We Ready? (The New Yorker)

Watch: Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia (Vice) 


Reporters: Jonathan A. Davis and Michael I Schiller | Producers: Jonathan A. Davis and Michael I Schiller | Editor: Taki Telonidis | Fact checkers: Nikki Frick and Rosemarie Ho | Production managers: Steven Rascón and Zulema Cobb | Digital producer: Kate Howard | Original score and sound design: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda | Interim executive producers: Taki Telonidis and Brett Myers | Host: Michael I Schiller | Special thanks to the Carter Center’s Benjamin von Sternenfels Rosenthal Fellowship for Mental Health Reporting and to David Boyer, Ben Trefny and Ethan Rockey.

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Park Foundation.


Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.

Michael Schille…:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Michael Schiller, sitting in for Al Letson. This past June, on a sunny afternoon in Denver, thousands of people filled the Colorado Convention Center’s main theater. There are no empty seats in the house. Two guys named Rick are on stage and they couldn’t look more different from one another. The first Rick to step up to the mic is Rick Doblin. He’s dressed in an all white suit that’s glowing under the glare of the spotlight.  
Rick Doblin:Amazing. The future is psychedelic. Welcome to the psychedelic ’20s.  
Michael Schille…:Rick Doblin has spent more than three decades trying to get psychedelic drugs legalized. The organization he leads, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS for short, has organized this conference.  
Rick Doblin:When I think about this conference with over 12,000 registered people, with opening talks by the governor of Colorado and over 500 other speakers, I can only wonder, am I tripping? I think not. It’s not that I’m tripping, it’s that culture is tipping.  
Michael Schille…:When he says, “The culture is tipping,” he’s talking about what’s happening with psychedelic drugs, which have been illegal for decades and are now beginning to go mainstream. Which brings us to Rick number two, Rick Perry.  
Rick Perry:You got to see the light and the white in Rick Doblin. I’m the dark, knuckle-dragging, right-wing, Republican former Governor of the State of Texas.  
Michael Schille…:Perry was the governor of Texas from 2000 to 2015 and ran for president twice. As governor, he backed legislation that would require drug testing for people on welfare. These days, he’s a champion of psychedelic drugs and he thinks politicians should get out of the way.  
Rick Perry:Let’s not look at what government tells us. Let’s not look at what somebody says is right and wrong. Let’s look at the results here.  
Michael Schille…:Psychedelic drugs are having a moment and there’s growing momentum amongst lawmakers to make them legal again. Reporter Jonathan A. Davis, spent five days at the Psychedelics Conference to find out why people from both the left and the right are pushing to reverse US drug policy and make psychedelic drugs like MDMA, mushrooms and LSD legal for the first time in more than 50 years. And a quick heads-up, this hour explores mental health issues and does include mentions of suicide.  
Jonathan A. Dav…:It’s Psychedelic Science 2023. The conference has taken over the entire Colorado Convention Center, two million square feet, a space the size of 38 football fields. And a lot of the 12,000 people walking around, they’re pretty far out. Like this woman who approaches me. She’s wearing a one-piece jumpsuit with a fluffy tutu and a rainbow wig.  
Speaker 4:Peace, peace, peace, peace, peace, peace, peace. Oh, good morning to you. What a strange implement. What a big wand you have.  
Jonathan A. Dav…:She’s fixated on my microphone and its fuzzy cover.  
Speaker 4:Preposterously filled with fluff, isn’t it?  
Jonathan A. Dav…:Mixed in with the hippies are policymakers in suits, Indigenous people wearing traditional dress, venture capitalists, scientists and researchers, A surreal assortment of people. Even NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers is here touting his experience with a ceremonial brew, a hallucinogen that comes from the Amazon, known as ayahuasca.  
Aaron Rogers:My first ayahuasca journey, it was in 2020 in Peru. The Previous year, 26 touchdowns, four interceptions. Ayahuasca, 48 touchdowns, five interceptions. MVP.  
Jonathan A. Dav…:Psychedelics were being talked about in hushed tones even a decade ago, but now they’re being publicly championed. For a lot of people, they’ve gone from being just recreational drugs to actual medicines and these drugs have shown a lot of promise in treating some really challenging mental health issues, from depression and anxiety to PTSD and addiction, which brings us to a group of people who are here in full force at the conference. Veterans.  
Jared Reinhardt:Ayahuasca saved my life.  
Jonathan A. Dav…:Jared Reinhardt is a former Marine and he’s here at the conference wearing his military-issue Camouflage vest, which is now decorated with ayahuasca symbols from the Amazon. Jared sees psychedelics as the key to solving the mental health crisis among vets with post-traumatic stress disorder.  
Jared Reinhardt:The suicide epidemic that’s plaguing my brothers and sisters throughout the military is stifling.  
Jonathan A. Dav…:Since 9/11, more than 30,000 vets have taken their lives. Four times the number killed in combat. The Department of Veterans Affairs has tried for decades to treat PTSD with various medications, but vets often complain about being over-prescribed and how all the pills can sometimes just make things worse. Jared struggled a lot after his deployments.  
Jared Reinhardt:I was really high-strung, very violent, very aggressive with my words, with my actions. I drank all the time when I was home on leave from Iraq. And then, after ayahuasca, none of that.  
Jonathan A. Dav…:Former Texas governor Rick Perry has heard many stories like Jared’s and it’s made him a believer in treating PTSD with psychedelic-assisted therapy.  
Rick Perry:I believe in the proof of young men who I know and who I’ve seen come back completely changed, but I don’t want to see a blowback. Let’s go slow. Let’s go methodical. We’re saving lots of lives.  
Jonathan A. Dav…:To understand how we got to this moment where conservative lawmakers are now the ones worried about a blowback against psychedelics, we’ve got to go back to the last time they were legal and widely available. After LSD was discovered in the ’40s, scientists began studying it in other psychedelics as possible treatments for alcoholism, depression and other mental health issues.  
Speaker 8:I was dust and I was inside the earth.  
Speaker 9:This woman is one of the principles in a controlled scientific investigation of LSD.  
Jonathan A. Dav…:But when these drugs went from the research labs to the streets, they became a part of the counterculture.  
Speaker 10:Turn on, tune in and drop out.  
Jonathan A. Dav…:They fueled the summer of love and protest against the war in Vietnam.  
Speaker 11:Thousands of demonstrators opposed to the Vietnam War…  
Jonathan A. Dav…:Richard Nixon saw the anti-war and Black power movements as political threats, so he fought back with the war on drugs.  
Richard Nixon:In order to fight and defeat this enemy-  
Jonathan A. Dav…:The war on drugs criminalize possession and use of all kinds of drugs, and over the years it’s put millions of people behind bars, many of them people of color. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 categorized psychedelics as Schedule I, meaning they were dangerous and had zero medical value. As a result, federal funding for psychedelic research dried up. Science pretty much ignored psychedelics for almost four decades. Then, in the 2000s, researchers quietly began studying psychedelics again with private funding.  
 Over time, research increased and eventually a national movement sprung up to move psychedelics off Schedule I. It’s been led by Rick Doblin and his organization MAPS who’ve put on this conference. Their first goal is to convince the Food and Drug Administration to approve MDMA for treating PTSD. MDMA is also known as Ecstasy or Molly. MDMA-assisted therapy is now in Phase III of clinical trials with the FDA.  
Rick Doblin:And, if all goes well, we’ll have the potential approval by maybe around a year from now.  
Jonathan A. Dav…:If MDMA is legalized as a medical treatment for PTSD, there’s a chance the floodgates will open for more psychedelics to become available. Even now, more than a dozen cities and two states have decriminalized psychedelics making them law enforcement’s lowest priority and billions of dollars are already being pumped into a psychedelic industry that’s banking on changes to federal drug laws, with dozens of companies already trading on the NASDAQ and other stock exchanges. There are people here at this conference plotting and planning on how to make their fortunes from the psychedelic boom. Excuse me, I’m sorry to interrupt. I’m making an audio documentary about psychedelics. Can I record some audio from your conversation?  
Speaker 13:Talk to this guy right here, he’s-  
Speaker 14:Are you going to put my name on this?  
Jonathan A. Dav…:We don’t have to.  
Speaker 13:Are we going to end up in a federal court?  
Jonathan A. Dav…:We can keep it anonymous.  
Speaker 13:So what I was saying here is you want the flavor of the beverage to come…  
Jonathan A. Dav…:But this rush for profit does not sit well with some people at the convention. During one of Rick Doblin’s speeches-  
Rick Doblin:Well, there’s one other aspect of the arc of the-  
Jonathan A. Dav…:… a group of Indigenous activists start drumming and approach the stage.  
Speaker 14:We are Indigenous. We are Indigenous and we have been excluded.  
Jonathan A. Dav…:They get up on stage and Kuthoomi Castro, a mental health counselor and Indigenous practitioner, originally from South America, takes the microphone.  
Kuthoomi Casto:The psychedelic renaissance is not really a psychedelic renaissance. We open our medicines for you to heal, not to take. You’re colonizing it.  
Rick Doblin:Thank you for [inaudible 00:09:52].  
Kuthoomi Casto:You’re damaging us, you’re erasing our cultures. Please stop.  
Jonathan A. Dav…:Mushrooms, ayahuasca, peyote. They’ve all been central parts of Indigenous ceremonies in the Americas for thousands of years and there are some who feel that this psychedelic renaissance is not respecting their traditions, that their sacred medicines are being pushed through the meat grinder of American capitalism. But the psychedelic medicine movement continues to gain momentum. More and more politicians, like former Republican governor Rick Perry, are now willing to go against the grain. Perry supported clinical trials in Texas of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms.  
Rick Perry:I literally had some friends came up and said, “What are you doing? You’ve spent 40 years of your life building your reputation. You’re fixing to throw it away on this crazy idea about psychedelics.” And I said, “My reputation is not more important than these young people’s lives.”  
Jonathan A. Dav…:One month before this conference, a bill was proposed to fund research on psychedelics for active-duty military and veterans. The co-sponsors included conservative Republicans like Dan Crenshaw and Matt Gaetz, and Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Political will to support veterans is now driving legislation that would’ve been unthinkable even a decade ago.  
Michael Schille…:That story was from reporter Jonathan Davis. It could take years for psychedelic treatments to become widely available and legalization will bring risks, but for some, waiting is not an option. When we come back, a group of veterans and first responders find ways to access psychedelics and confront their trauma without the help of the VA. That’s up next on Reveal.  
 From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Michael Schiller, in for Al Letson. Politicians from the far left and far right are finally agreeing on something. More research needs to be done on how psychedelic drugs can help treat veterans with PTSD. The numbers behind the veterans’ mental health crisis are staggering. The VA estimates that every day more than 16 veterans take their own lives, but other studies point to much higher numbers, as high as 44 a day.  
 The VA is conducting several clinical trials with psychedelics, but veterans seeking psychedelic therapy now have very few options. Some go to other countries where psychedelics are less regulated, others are taking them right here in America. They say it’s their right under the First Amendment of the Constitution. That’s what brings me to Hill Country about 30 miles west of Austin, Texas.  
 And before we get started, a heads-up that this story mentions suicide and may not be appropriate for all listeners. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide help is available, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Again, just call or text 988 for help. Okay, here we go. It’s early in the morning. I’m pulling into Justin Lapree’s driveway in a tidy row of houses. Justin gets out of his truck. Everything about the guy is big. He’s 6’4, 220 pounds. He drives a big truck. He lives in a big house and he’s got a big warm smile.  
Justin Lapree:What’s up brother?  
Michael Schille…:Hey, what’s happening?  
Justin Lapree:I’ll run in and grab some stuff and then we’ll hit the road.  
Michael Schille…:All right. We hop into Justin’s truck. We’re heading out to meet up with some of his friends for a hike.  
Justin Lapree:We’re just coming together to check in, have a mind, body, soul, check in with each other, see how we can support each other.  
Michael Schille…:It’s a group of veterans and first responders.  
Justin Lapree:Dear friends of mine that I had seen struggle over the years of amazing individuals that have really just shown resilience and courage to find their way out of the darkness, into the light.  
Michael Schille…:That path from darkness to light. It’s one that Justin has spent years traveling. He’s a veteran of the Marine Corps. Finished infantry school on September 7th, 2001.  
Justin Lapree:And then watched Tower 1 fall and then watched Tower 2 fall. It’s like the world just stopped.  
Michael Schille…:Justin did two tours in Iraq. The first one was at the very beginning of the war. In the second one, he fought in the Battle of Fallujah.  
Justin Lapree:We were not prepared for what we rolled into and to see the damage and the carnage that improvised explosive devices do to human bodies. They’re filled with ball bearings, and flesh is really soft. We were in combat constantly and we had to kill people. There were women and children that were collateral damage. Lost a lot of friends. It was transformational, but in a very bad way.  
Michael Schille…:The frequent roadside bombings left Justin with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress.  
Justin Lapree:And so I just went into the VA system and started taking pills.  
Michael Schille…:He was homeless in New York City for a while.  
Justin Lapree:I would sleep under bridges. Yeah, been in tunnels, on the park.  
Michael Schille…:There were some ups. He landed a job on Wall Street.  
Justin Lapree:I got a couple of suits, my first suit ever.  
Michael Schille…:He sold high-yield corporate bonds and got married. They wanted kids but they didn’t want to raise them in Manhattan. He missed hunting in Texas and was just burnt out on city life. Justin and his wife moved back to his home state and he joined the Austin Fire Department.  
Justin Lapree:And I was immediately exposed to horrific events, fatality car crashes, serial bomber, pulling burnt bodies out of cars, mass shootings, ODs, suicides, like do-do-do-do-do-do-do.  
Michael Schille…:During a messy divorce, things got really dark. A quick note, this next part is disturbing.  
Justin Lapree:I was ready. I didn’t want to hurt anymore. I just wanted the pain to stop. I prayed for peace through death. I always carry a SIG 45 under my dashboard and I had it in my lap and I stuck it in my mouth and I pulled the trigger and the hammer dropped and then there was silence, and I opened my eyes and I’m like, “Why the fuck am I still here?”  
Michael Schille…:We’re riding in the same truck Justin attempted suicide in a few years ago. The gun didn’t fire that day because a friend in the fire department had seen him spiraling and unloaded it. Not long after, Justin heard about psychedelic-assisted therapy, that magic mushrooms might actually help him. He took an extremely high dose alone in his apartment. This is not the safest way to do it, but Justin was desperate.  
Justin Lapree:I was on pharmaceuticals for 13 years, just throwing another pill at the problem. Nothing worked. I fucking almost killed myself on all of these medications that are supposed to make me feel better. And you’re telling me one experience with mushrooms changed that?  
Michael Schille…:He didn’t want to die anymore. He didn’t want to drink anymore. He got off all the prescriptions. Justin says he found God.  
Justin Lapree:I came home from war an atheist and that first experience with mushrooms, there was a deep knowing, God does exist and we are all God and nature’s God. I had a beautiful awareness that I’m loved and that I am love and that I’m connected with everything. I was like, I got to start helping my friends.  
Michael Schille…:Justin started working on an idea, a way to let his friends experience what he experienced. He founded a psychedelic church for veterans and first responders using hallucinogenic drugs as their holy sacraments. He called it Heroic Path to Light. Around a year ago, the church held its first ceremony.  
Justin Lapree:Exhale all the way. In through the nose, out through the nose, in through the nose, out through the nose.  
Michael Schille…:This is audio from a Heroic Path to Light retreat.  
Justin Lapree:Tune into that shift and change as you breathe. You’re almost there. Slow and steady, in and out.  
Michael Schille…:This is how the retreats work. Justin and a group of 10 veterans and first responders spend a few days at a vacation rental. With help from an experienced guide, they take large doses of psychedelic drugs, starting with psilocybin mushrooms.  
Justin Lapree:Let’s bless these mushrooms. Thank them all. Thank their beauty. Thank their wisdom. May they keep all the brothers safe. May they all be shown exactly what they’re supposed to be shown. [foreign language 00:20:10]  
Michael Schille…:The next day they smoke another potent psychedelic, 5-MeO-DMT, extracted from toad venom. They call it bufo, short for the bufo alvarius toad. It’s vaporized in a clear pipe using a small propane torch.  
Justin Lapree:Good job. Pull it in. All the way to the top. Now take a sip of air.  
Michael Schille…:5-MeO-DMT can bring on an experience people describe as meeting God or witnessing their own death, all in the span of a few minutes.  
Justin Lapree:You are the Divine.  
Michael Schille…:That first retreat became the blueprint for Justin’s vision. What started as an idea on a dry erase board with some friends has grown to a group of more than 80 people, including staff. Katie LaRoe-Higgs helps guide people through the experience.  
Katie LaRoe-Hig…:I work with Heroic Path to Light as their staff therapist, so I’ve helped design the preparation and program as well as ensuring that people are in a good emotional, mental, psychological state to be able to participate in this.  
Michael Schille…:Katie is a licensed clinical social worker with a master’s degree from USC. She tells me she’s facilitated psychedelic therapy for more than 1,000 veterans and first responders, mostly while working with other organizations abroad. She’s seen how these compounds work on mental health in unique ways.  
Katie LaRoe-Hig…:Psychedelics connect us to ourself or sometimes to something outside of ourself, which you could call God or nature or people. It cleans out the closet and it removes that pair of pants that you’ve been trying to put on again since you were three years old that just doesn’t fit. And for a lot of people it happens a lot faster than traditional therapy because we’re going in and we’re sandblasting the trauma so we can see what’s underneath it.  
Michael Schille…:Is this the antidote to the veteran suicide crisis that we’re dealing with as a nation?  
Katie LaRoe-Hig…:I think it’s our best chance at curbing this epidemic. We’re not going to end it completely. That’s tragic, but what we can do is we can maybe create a little bit of hope.  
Michael Schille…:There’s a lot out there these days about the benefits of psychedelic therapy, but there are risks. So what are the dangers of entering into these reality-shifting states of mind?  
Dr. Carl Hart:Whenever we talk about psychoactive drug use, any drug use, the thing that people must always talk about is the risk-to-benefit ratio.  
Michael Schille…:Dr. Carl Hart is a neuroscientist and Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University. He’s also an expert on the effects of psychotropic drugs.  
Dr. Carl Hart:If you give a naive person, someone who’s never had any of these drugs, a large dose of these drugs, you can precipitate a panic attack, an anxiety in the person that is so strong that it looks like paranoid schizophrenia.  
Michael Schille…:What about for people with underlying mental health disorders like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia?  
Dr. Carl Hart:The safe thing to say is that these folks should not be administered these drugs. Now, the evidence that supports that statement is limited. I don’t want to give a blanket simple unthinking statement saying that you shouldn’t give these drugs to these people, because they may actually prove beneficial in some of these patient population. But you should just be aware of the person’s condition so you can look out for any potential symptoms that might be problematic.  
Michael Schille…:A key part of doing psychedelic therapy safely is what happens after the trip. This step is called integration, where people try to make sense of their experience and carry those lessons into their everyday lives. That’s what Justin’s group is doing here today. We pull into a parking lot at Barton Springs, a natural swimming hole. Church members are gathering by a trail head. It’s around 15 people. They form a circle and a man wearing a Heroic Path to Light shirt reads an opening prayer.  
Mark:All Gods past, present and future, Mother Earth, bless Heroic Path to Light today on this walk. Let us embrace each other in fellowship today…  
Michael Schille…:Justin has a Ziploc bag full of peach-colored gummies that are laced with psilocybine mushrooms. He reaches into the bag and pulls one out. It’s a small dose, a microdose, just enough to boost the mood, not enough to hallucinate. Justin walks counterclockwise around the circle, handing out the gummies.  
Speaker 21:Thank you, brother. Thank you.  
Michael Schille…:We start to hike. We’re heading up a trail by a creek bed over rocks and through red oaks and pecan trees.  
MIchael:It’s a community and that’s how I believe we heal is in community and with community, and that’s the medicine.  
Michael Schille…:Michael has been with Heroic Path to Light since the beginning. He only wants me to use his first name for the story. I get it. Active-duty soldiers and firefighters could lose their jobs for just taking one of the gummies that Justin handed out this morning.  
MIchael:Creating small groups like what we have here today, that’s what moves the needle. That’s what heals.  
Michael Schille…:By the side of the trail, there’s a brightly colored snake working its way through the brush.  
MIchael:Is that coral snake still alive? Oh, yeah. There he goes. Cool.  
Michael Schille…:It’s delicate looking with yellow, red, and black bands.  
Dr. Carl Hart:If you get bit, you’re done, dude.  
Michael Schille…:Really? It’s a fatal bite? In this moment, I’m glad I’m with a bunch of first responders.  
Dr. Carl Hart:The most poisonous snake in Texas.  
Michael Schille…:Wow. After a sweaty three hours of hiking, we make our way to a grass field above a swimming hole. The church members sit in a circle. A woman named Caitlin Riley leads some breathing exercises.  
Caitlin Riley:Take one long inhale and hold at the top and then release like you’re releasing through a straw, very long and slow.  
Michael Schille…:It’s pretty hot out here under the late-September Texas sun. Most of the guys have their shirts off. There’s a lot of military tattoos and some visible scars. All of them have the kinds of scars you can’t see on the outside.  
Speaker 24:I don’t even like to think about how my life was before this. I used alcohol mostly to black out the emotions inside of me.  
Michael Schille…:Everyone in the circle gets a chance to speak. They take turns passing around a rattle. It’s their talking stick.  
Speaker 25:I didn’t realize how much I fucking hated people until I stopped hating people so much.  
Speaker 24:Realizing gratitude for little tiny things that people and the universe bring me was something that I couldn’t do before…  
Michael Schille…:After each person speaks, the group thanks them.  
Church members:Thanks, Bob.  
 Thanks, Bob.  
 Love you, man.  
 Love you, too, brother.  
Michael Schille…:The rattle gets passed to a guy wearing aviator sunglasses and a backwards baseball hat. He was a sniper in the Marines.  
Speaker 27:It’s not just the things you experience in combat. It’s the person you have to make yourself in order to be ready for combat. You nurture a lot of things that aren’t really healthy in a normal life, like anger and hate, and you turn yourself into this monster. You cannot let yourself experience, fear, hesitation. You push all that stuff aside, but that stuff goes somewhere. My psilocybin journey was basically just combat flashbacks the entire time. But this time it’s like I was experiencing all the fear that I was supposed to have experienced when I was there. It wasn’t fun. I didn’t enjoy one bit of it.  
 I came away from it realizing that that stuff I was carrying with me was defining my entire life, my interactions with myself, with my kids, my wife, with everything I did. I actually feel like I’m living a life now, whereas before I just walked around feeling like I was dead inside, but I came back and I just felt truly at peace.  
Church members:Thanks for sharing, dude.  
 Love you man.  
Speaker 27:Love you, too.  
Michael Schille…:When everyone has said their peace, Mark, the veteran who read the opening prayer, takes the rattle.  
Mark:So, as we go forward today, I want you to give yourself unconditional love, and I want you to really take that and drive that home today. Give yourself grace.  
Michael Schille…:The sun is starting to hang a little lower In the sky. Caitlin takes the rattle and closes out the ceremony.  
Caitlin Riley:I just would invite everyone to go around in a circle really quickly and just say one word that comes to mind today when they think of today. For me, it’s connection.  
Church members:Lots of love.  
 And gummy bears.  
 And gummy bears.  
Michael Schille…:The group is open about their use of psychedelics. They talk about it on their website and they take them out in public in broad daylight, but it is still illegal. The next day, I ask Justin about that. Do you fear criminal prosecution?  
Justin Lapree:Zero. Zero. I’ll just say this. In the Constitution, there is specific language in the First Amendment that speaks of religious freedoms and the government not being able to stop an individual from practicing their own religion and faith. There’s additional language for the religious freedom laws that came out in 1993, and then there’s additional language here in the State of Texas that further protects people from Texas to practice their own religion and faith as well.  
 And so the creation of the sanctuary and practicing our religion protects us on a federal and a state level to commune with these sacraments. If I needed to be a martyr to disrupt the entire system and break it down, then that’s what I’m here for. I have zero fear.  
Michael Schille…:Right now, the VA is conducting several clinical trials with psilocybin, the drug in the gummies Justin handed out. The VA has also started trials with MDMA, but for now, both drugs remain illegal under federal law. But there is one psychedelic that is legal and widely available. When we come back, we take an intimate look at one woman’s experience.  
Deedee:I felt like it was important to share my story because my community needs healing.  
Michael Schille…:You’re listening to Reveal. From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Michael Schiller, in for Al Letson. Right now, there’s only one form of psychedelic-assisted therapy that’s legal in the United States. It’s with ketamine, a drug that was made in a lab and started out as an anesthetic. Eventually, ketamine found its way to the streets as a party drug, but it wasn’t banned, even though it can be dangerous if abused.  
 Over time, researchers discovered that its psychedelic effects can help with treatment-resistant depression and other mental health issues. In recent years, ketamine therapy has blown up in popularity with hundreds of in-person and virtual clinics operating across the US. It’s been reported that some patients are being over-prescribed and becoming dependent on the drug.  
 But ketamine has also led to relief that’s been life-changing for many suffering with depression and anxiety. We wanted to know more about how it works, which is how reporter Jonathan Davis met a woman in California named Deedee, who’s been going through Ketamine-assisted therapy. He stopped by the hair braiding studio she owns in Oakland. Hello.  
Braiding studio:Hello.  
Jonathan A. Dav…:What’s up?  
Braiding studio:Looking up.  
Jonathan A. Dav…:I am recording, getting the sounds and scenes of the shop, but it’s only audio.  
Deedee:We need our own beauty salon podcast.  
Michael Schille…:Deedee’s hair shop is her pride and joy, a place she’s built from the ground up.  
Deedee:My whole thing is natural hair, curly, wavy, just taking care of healthy hair. I’ve carved out a niche for myself and it’s just been nonstop with clientele.  
Michael Schille…:Deedee’s business has done well, but she’s had personal challenges along the way. She struggles with depression and anxiety that stem from some hard life experiences, including abuse as a child, so we’re just using her first name in this story. For years, Deedee tried to work through mental health challenges on her own, but eventually realized she needed help. She came across a psychedelic therapy clinic in Berkeley called Sage Integrative Health, and a therapist there named Genesee Herzberg.  
Genesee Herzberg:She had heard about psychedelic-assisted therapy and was interested in it, so I let her know that I could offer ketamine-assisted therapy and she expressed interest, but also some hesitations.  
Michael Schille…:So, Deedee and Genesee started slow, spending over a year together doing regular therapy and building trust. Deedee sometimes shared about those experiences at the shop.  
Deedee:We do talk about a lot of racial stuff.  
Speaker 31:Is she white?  
Deedee:She white.  
Speaker 31:Okay.  
Deedee:And she’ll be like, “Is it weird talking about this to a white woman?” And my response to her was like, “You not a white woman, you my white woman.”  
Speaker 31:Yeah.  
Michael Schille…:Deedee and Genesee eventually began working with ketamine, and Deedee decided to share part of her journey with us.  
Deedee:I felt like it was important to share my story because my community needs healing and because a lot of us are entrenched in trauma and don’t even know it. I am telling my story for women and people like myself that don’t know about these type of modalities. The messages don’t trickle down the same way to the Black and brown community. And so I just wanted to lend my voice for them and for anyone, but particularly them. My work with Genesee began during the pandemic, so we meet virtually for all of our sessions, and the ketamine I use is in a lozenge form.  
Genesee Herzberg:A question for you when you have the lozenge in your mouth, do you want to listen to music? Do you want silence?  
Deedee:Should we start the music?  
Genesee Herzberg:Sure. I’ll set the timer for 15 and you can go ahead and put it in.  
Deedee:Okay. Ready? One, two, three, go. Genesee and I sit quietly and wait for the lozenge to dissolve. It tastes horrible, like battery acid and cough syrup mixed together, and we have to wait the whole 15 minutes for it to dissolve.  
Genesee Herzberg:We’ve got about a minute left.  
Deedee:My first ketamine session was absolutely beautiful. It was amazing. The second one was getting into heavy stuff. It was a little more difficult for me. And going into the third one, I’m here for whatever happens at this point, good or bad.  
Genesee Herzberg:Okay. Go ahead and swish it around in your mouth and then when you feel ready, swallow.  
Deedee:Hard shot, so hard. I feel like it’s starting.  
Genesee Herzberg:Yeah. What are you noticing?  
Deedee:Just a little tingly. The ketamine seems to create some kind of buffer for me to look at my trauma safely and be able to talk about it. So that’s where I get lost in the sauce because I feel inherently good, but I feel like there’s so many bad things on me. A lot gets unpacked in these sessions. I’m so thankful for my husband because I feel like he gifted me some secure love attachment, and so I want to give people safety. It hasn’t been an easy journey.  
 When I was 25, my husband of six years was robbed and killed. But a lot of my pain also comes from my childhood. I grew up in a poor and violent household. My parents were beyond rough with each other and often violent and careless with us kids. Also, when I was a little girl, I was left in the hands of a family babysitter where I was sexually abused. And it’s in this session that I have a big realization about that trauma and, just a heads-up, it’s pretty intense. When I told my mom that someone was touching me, my mom beat me, and I think that’s why there’s other things wrong with me. Why would you do that?  
Genesee Herzberg:Why would you do that?  
Deedee:Why would you do that to a seven-year-old? You knew something had to have been going on because you always, always questioned me and I’m always lying saying, “No, nobody’s touching me.” Why did I lie? Who was I trying to protect? That, I don’t want to do anymore. I don’t want to value other people’s lives over my life. That’s why I’m doing this because I know this stuff was kind of ingrained in me, but it doesn’t feel like who I am.  
 After the journey ends, I’m coming down. I’m trying to relax and get back to normal for the rest of the day. The next few sessions I have with Genesee are non-ketamine sessions, and in those sessions we discuss what happened during the ketamine session and figure out how to integrate those experiences back into my real life.  
Genesee Herzberg:I’m curious what you’ve noticed since the ketamine session.  
Deedee:I feel boosted. I do feel generally boosted. How the session ended is kind of what carried me for the remainder of the month. A lot of times it’s two steps forward and one step back. It’s been a few weeks since my last ketamine session and now it’s time for another one. I have the ketamine in my mouth and about 15 minutes have gone by.  
Genesee Herzberg:When you feel ready, you can swallow.  
Deedee:I think I’m going to start playing this music at the shop, just to see if it has an effect. It’s so funny how the music can work with the medicine at times. This session gets really deep, really fast, and I start talking to Genesee about how people often perceive me as one way, but I see myself completely different. I don’t know how I’m able to be generally happy, but then the flip side is that I’m generally sad, but most people don’t get that. I think one of the things I cultivate in people is hope or something.  
Genesee Herzberg:Can you see the part of you that other people see?  
Genesee Herzberg:Let’s drop in and either open up to the question of what’s underneath this feeling of being a failure, or open up to the question of how can I see myself how other people see me?  
Deedee:Yeah, it’s like feeling like a failure. It’s like the bottom basement, and so it’s like I try to do all these things and then stuff comes back down to the bottom basement. There’s nothing there. It’s just like I’m always trying and trying and trying and trying and trying. It’s literally exhausting.  
Genesee Herzberg:Yeah. Do you feel like I see the ways that you’re struggling?  
Deedee:No, I don’t even think you see it. Yeah, because you say things like, “Oh, but you are managing a lot and it takes a lot to run a business,” and all this stuff. It’s like, yeah, that stuff is true, but I’m still failing at all of those areas.  
Genesee Herzberg:Yeah. Well, can I tell you a little bit about my experience?  
Genesee Herzberg:Because I find myself feeling pulled to counter the part of you that feels like you’re failing. I get protective and want to defend you against that part, but I see that that’s actually… It’s not helping you. You need to be seen in the ways that you’re struggling, and I actually do see how hard it’s been. I’m sorry that I haven’t made that clear.  
Genesee Herzberg:Yeah. Well, we’ve got just a few minutes. How are you feeling right now?  
Deedee:Genesee, how do you do this?  
Genesee Herzberg:Do what?  
Deedee:For everybody.  
Genesee Herzberg:Hold space like this?  
Genesee Herzberg:Yeah.  
Deedee:This is crazy.  
Genesee Herzberg:I mean, you do something pretty similar, I think.  
Deedee:Oh, you’re right. That’s funny. You’re right. Our session is winding down now and I feel so grateful that Genesee and I are able to get real with each other like this, and I love that she just pointed out that I do often hold space for others at the shop. We definitely be therapists sometimes. Woo Jesus. We have some clients have illnesses. We have people talk about their relationships. Some clients we talk about our traumas and sometimes we get into it with the clients because we have different opinions and I’m like, “This is an open forum. Whatever you can say, say.”  
 It’s a few weeks later and I’m ready to dive deeper into my emotions and get to the root of my pain. This is going to be the highest dose of ketamine that I’ve ever taken. All right, so we’re going to do one and a half, right?  
Genesee Herzberg:Mm-hmm.  
Deedee:Do you want to start the music now?  
Genesee Herzberg:Sure.  
Deedee:The medicine is coming on pretty strong, and I’m feeling some challenging emotions come up. I feel sadness about the loss of my husband, and I feel impatient just wanting to be healed already. And it’s just like when is the person of myself, when is that person going to be here? When am I going to save myself? When is she coming? When is she coming? I’ve learned that no one is going to come.  
Genesee Herzberg:Yeah.  
Deedee:He’s definitely not going to come.  
Genesee Herzberg:Yeah, I imagine there’s a lot of grief there about that.  
Deedee:Yeah. Because I wish he was here. It would not be like this if he was here, but I got to let that go. I had to let that go, but I miss him so much. He hasn’t been here since 2007, but if he was here, everything would be okay.  
Genesee Herzberg:Yeah.  
Deedee:And when I connect the pain to how it feels in my body, that’s when I feel like I’m going to die. I don’t know why the room just got spinny.  
Genesee Herzberg:Yeah, you might want to lie down.  
Deedee:Yeah. It’s pillow time. Release, release, release. I want to be like a snake, it sounds crazy, that releases its old skin. I want to release all the pain. I’ve been holding onto all this pain my whole entire life. I need some pain relief, too. Wash over me, relief. Oh, my God, it’s so beautiful. What I’m seeing in my head is so beautiful.  
Genesee Herzberg:What are you seeing?  
Deedee:This beautiful vision that God is giving me is like medicine. I can’t describe it. It’s bright, but it’s earthy. It’s dry, but not the bad parts of dry and it’s humid without the bad parts of humid. Thank you, Lord. Oh, God, thank you, Lord. It feels so good. It’s like real medicine. Let’s heal the broken heart. Let’s heal the broken heart. Let’s heal the broken heart.  
 This session is a huge session for me. I had an overwhelming feeling come over me that I struggle to put into words. It’s a deep feeling of all these trapped emotions of grief and sadness. All of these things that I’ve cut off from myself I’m able to look at it, I’m able to see it, I’m able to feel it, and I’m able to release and let it go.  
Michael Schille…:Deedee did a few more ketamine sessions with Genesee, but over the last year, they’ve gone back to doing regular therapy, partially because of the cost. Mostly because Deedee wanted time to really integrate her insights from the ketamine back into her life. And now she’s focused on the next chapter, opening up a new salon. She showed it to Jonathan a few weeks back.  
Deedee:So, this is the one that’ll be my dream shop, basically. Let’s see if it’s open. The pink keys are for this one. Everything is color coded.  
Michael Schille…:The new shop is much bigger than the old one and will offer a full service salon for women with natural, wavy, and curly hair. It also has space that she’ll lease out to other businesses, all predominantly serving women of color in her neighborhood.  
Deedee:This is the main salon. As you can hear the echo, it’s huge.  
Jonathan A. Dav…:This is amazing.  
Deedee:Isn’t it amazing? So my ketamine journey opened the door for me to go into the basement and deal and work on those things. I still struggle with this fear of failure, but if you would’ve asked me before I took ketamine, I didn’t even know that I struggled with that. I just felt bad all the time. And so the ketamine really gave me the ability to sit with those things. I feel more empowered to work on these things within myself.  
Michael Schille…:Deedee says she’s interested in doing more ketamine therapy soon, but in person this time because she wants to try to go even deeper. Before we go, an important reminder that psychedelic drugs are powerful and can be dangerous. They should not be used without first consulting a mental health professional. That story was produced by Jonathan A. Davis. He and I are the lead producers of this week’s show. The editor is Taki Telonidis. Thanks to the Carter Center, Benjamin von Sternenfels Fellowship for Mental Health reporting. And to David Boyer, Ben Trefni, and Ethan Rocky.  
 Nikki Frick and Rosemarie Ho are our fact checkers. Victoria Baranetsky is our general counsel. Our production managers are Zulema Cobb and Steven Rascon. Score and sound Design by Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda. Our CEO is Robert Rosenthal. Our COO is Maria Feldman. Our interim executive producers are Brett Myers and Taki Telonidis. Our theme music is by Camerado Lightning.  
 Support for Reveal is provided by the Riva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Park Foundation, and the Hellman Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I’m Michael I. Schiller. And remember, as Al Letson likes to say, there is always more to the story.  

Michael I Schiller is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal. His Emmy Award-winning work spans animation, radio and documentary film.

“The Dead Unknown,” a video series he directed about the crisis of America's unidentified dead, earned a national News and Documentary Emmy Award, national Edward R. Murrow Award and national Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi Award.

His 2015 animated documentary short film “The Box,” about youth solitary confinement, was honored with a video journalism award from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California chapter, a San Francisco International Film Festival Golden Gate Award and a New Orleans Film Festival special jury prize, and it was nominated for a national News and Documentary Emmy for new approaches.

Schiller was one the producers of the pilot episode of the Peabody Award-winning Reveal radio show and podcast. He continues to regularly produce audio documentaries for the weekly public radio show, which airs on over 450 stations nationwide. Schiller is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Fernando Arruda is a sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. As a multi-instrumentalist, he contributes to the original music, editing and mixing of the weekly public radio show and podcast. He has held four O-1 visas for individuals with extraordinary abilities. His work has been recognized with Peabody, duPont-Columbia, Edward R. Murrow, Gerald Loeb, Third Coast and Association of Music Producers awards, as well as Emmy and Pulitzer nominations. Prior to joining Reveal, Arruda toured as an international DJ and taught music technology at Dubspot and ESRA International Film School. He worked at Antfood, a creative audio studio for media and TV ads, and co-founded a film-scoring boutique called the Manhattan Composers Collective. He worked with clients such as Marvel, MasterClass and Samsung and ad agencies such as Framestore, Trollbäck+Company, BUCK and Vice. Arruda releases experimental music under the alias FJAZZ and has performed with many jazz, classical and pop ensembles, such as SFJAZZ Monday Night Band, Art&Sax quartet, Krychek, Dark Inc. and the New York Arabic Orchestra. His credits in the podcast and radio world include NPR’s “51 Percent,” WNYC’s “Bad Feminist Happy Hour” and its live broadcast of Orson Welles’ “The Hitchhiker,” Wondery’s “Detective Trapp,” MSNBC’s “Why Is This Happening?” and NBC’s “Born to Rule,” to name a few. Arruda also has a wide catalog of composed music for theatrical, orchestral and chamber music formats, some of which has premiered worldwide. He holds a master’s degree in film scoring and composition from NYU Steinhardt. The original music he makes with Jim Briggs for Reveal can be found on Bandcamp.

Jim Briggs III is the senior sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. He supervises post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal's efforts in composition for data sonification and live performances.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients such as WNYC Studios, NPR, the CBC and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace,” “Selected Shorts,” “Death, Sex & Money,” “The Longest Shortest Time,” NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” “Radiolab,” “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck.” He also was the sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman,” the 2012 Tea Party documentary "Town Hall" and “The Supreme Court” miniseries. His music credits include albums by R.E.M., Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs' work with Reveal has been recognized with an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for its work on WNYC’s hourlong documentary special “Living 9/11.” He has taught sound, radio and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College and has a master's degree in media studies from The New School. Briggs is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Zulema Cobb is an operations and audio production associate for The Center for Investigative Reporting. She's originally from Los Angeles County, where she was raised until moving to Oregon. Her interest in the well-being of families and children inspired her to pursue family services at the University of Oregon. Her diverse background includes banking, affordable housing, health care and education, where she helped develop a mentoring program for students. Cobb is passionate about animals and has fostered and rescued numerous dogs and cats. She frequently volunteers at animal shelters and overseas rescue missions. In her spare time, she channels her creative energy into photography, capturing memories for friends and family. Cobb is based in Tennessee, where she lives with her husband, three kids, three dogs and cat.

Steven Rascón (he/they) is the production manager for Reveal. He is pursuing a master's degree at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism with a Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Policy Fellowship. His focus is investigative reporting and audio documentary. He has written for online, magazines and radio. His reporting on underreported fentanyl overdoses in Los Angeles' LGBTQ community aired on KCRW and KQED. Rascón is passionate about telling diverse stories for radio through community engagement. He holds a bachelor of fine arts degree in theater arts and creative writing.

Nikki Frick is the associate editor for research and copy for Reveal. She previously worked as a copy editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and held internships at The Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times and She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was an American Copy Editors Society Aubespin scholar. Frick is based in Milwaukee.

Al Letson is a playwright, performer, screenwriter, journalist, and the host of Reveal. Soul-stirring, interdisciplinary work has garnered Letson national recognition and devoted fans.

Kate Howard (she/her) is an investigative editor for Reveal. Previously, she was managing editor at the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. She spent nearly 14 years as a reporter, including stints at The Tennessean, The Florida Times-Union and the Omaha World-Herald. Her work has been the recipient of two national Investigative Reporters & Editors Awards. Howard is based in Louisville, Kentucky.