From Shock to Awe asks, ‘how do we heal our deepest wounds?’ An intimate and raw look at the transformational journey of two combat veterans suffering from severe trauma as they abandon pharmaceuticals to seek relief through the mind-expanding world of psychedelics. Recent scientific research coupled with a psychedelic renaissance reveals that these substances can be used to heal PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) for individuals and their families. Beyond the personal stories, From Shock to Awe also raises fundamental questions about war, the pharmaceutical industry, and the US legal system.
The documentary centers on veterans, Matt Kahl and Mike Cooley, and their challenging post-war lives, lives shattered by the trauma of war. The vets personally struggle with anxiety, fear, depression, anger, and an overall inability to find an equilibrium in society and with their families. In order to deal with their erratic emotions and haunted state-of-mind, doctors prescribe intense pharmaceuticals with various side effects that bring them face-to-face with death. In response to the negative impact of traditional Western medicine, both vets begin to use cannabis as an alternative. Although beneficial on many levels, our heroes yearn for deeper healing.
Mike and Matt decide to take ayahuasca, an Amazonian brew traditionally used for healing and spiritual insights. These warriors attend a weekend ceremony filled with hope…and fear of the unknown. Rattles shake, bells ring, flutes play, and a campfire crackles…a ceremony is underway. As images of battle consume their minds, the vets reverently drink the bitter brew several times over a weekend, bringing about profound revelations for our weary soldiers.
Upon returning to home, they quickly learn that their families are not prepared for the rapid change. Aimee, Matt’s wife, is overwhelmed by his exuberance and feels threatened that he might leave her. Brooke, Mike’s wife, sees the healing but finds her own demons rising to the surface. Mike feels the ‘reset’, and describes the experience like a roller coaster and the challenges associated with integrating the life-changing ceremonies. Unexpected twists and turns, and a desire to understand their husbands’ journeys, Aimee and Brooke embark on their own psychedelic healing journey with ayahuasca and MDMA respectively.
THE TIME HAS COME
The devastating effects of PTSD and trauma can be treated and healed with a relatively low-cost and fast-acting treatment called ‘psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy’. Psychotherapy used in combination with ayahuasca, MDMA, and/or cannabis. Psychoactive substances, also known as entheogens, hallucinogens, and psychedelics, have been used throughout human history.
Sparked by Albert Hofmann’s discovery of the psychoactive properties of LSD in 1943, scientists and psychotherapists spent the following two decades learning about the life-changing effects of these compounds. More than a thousand clinical papers discussing an estimated 40,000 patients, along with dozens of books, were published between 1950 and the mid-1960s.
The clinical work came to a screeching halt in 1970 when President Nixon signed into law the Controlled Substances Act, which placed all substances into five categories based on perceived medical use and potential for abuse and addiction. Along with heroin, the psychedelics and cannabis were put in the “Schedule I” category, deemed by the government to have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” and to be “the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.” Possession of Schedule I substances carried the harshest federal penalties.
Over the past decade, the tide has turned. In addition to many states legalizing cannabis for medical (and in some cases, even recreational) use, the FDA and DEA have approved clinical trials of certain psychedelic substances. Researchers at some of the nation’s top universities such as Johns Hopkins, NYU and UCLA are publishing scientific papers that show a startlingly high level of efficacy using psychedelic-assisted therapy for a range of conditions, from end-of-life anxiety to depression to addiction to PTSD.