Healing Trip Tales: One Vet’s Ibogaine & 5-MeO-DMT Experience for PTSD and TBI

By JL

A former NAVY SEAL struggling with PTS and TBI is granted ibogaine and 5-MeO treatment in Mexico by an anonymous donation through VETS, and returns home with more than he could have ever imagined.

Whoever paid for me… thank you.

It was the most profound weekend of my life.

I didn’t expect too much. I guess I anticipated that this would be like most of the other “cutting edge” treatments for my traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress: pretty cool, it’d help a bit, I’d be grateful, but that’d be about it.

But here I am, two weekends from my treatment, struggling to find the words to accurately convey how transformative this was for me—how transformative it will be for any of us who are willing to let go, really. I keep typing things and then erasing them, thinking I must sound like a crazy person—some wild-eyed zealot who’s just too far-out to relate to. But then I think… this is the most far-out thing I have ever experienced in this life and whatever crazy talk I throw at you won’t be crazy enough to cover what went down.

In other words: I expected a firecracker and I got about six pounds of C4.

I guess I’ll just stop struggling for adjectives and “as ifs” and just tell you my story. Keep in mind please, as I do, that I can’t stand hippie, new age bullshit, and while I grew up in the church, I’m not particularly religious.

So yeah… joke’s on me.


We’re first introduced to the rest of the group via Signal secure text messaging. I’m stoked to see that a classmate of mine from BUD/S, whom I hadn’t seen in almost 20 years, is going to be there, but the other guys I don’t know. Everyone seems a little held back, but that’s to be expected considering the circumstances.

We meet in San Diego on Friday afternoon for lunch, which is to be our last meal for the day, as we need to be in a fasted state for the ibogaine treatment that night. Little did I know that it would be pretty much the last thing I’d eat until lunch on Sunday.

After an uneventful drive of several hours, we arrive at the treatment house in Mexico and everything kicks into gear as a smoothly-functioning operation. The facilitators arrange the spaces, the doctor and his medical staff take urine samples, do EKGs on all of us, start IVs, and lay out some pretty impressive medical support gear for what I imagined to be a fairly low-risk event.

A photo of a messy room with big windows and lots of light where the author had his ibogaine session
A photo by the author of where the Ibogaine session took place.

**Quick aside here: when I signed up for this, I thought it would be beneficial, sure, but as I started doing the preparatory work that I was sent by the organization, weirdly, things started coming up. Family issues. Relationships. Parts of me and things I’d seen and done that I’d buried out of shame or disgust. They said, “The medicine would start working before you take it,” and it really did. So by this point, I was open to something a lot more than what it appeared to be on the surface. So back to our story….

Evening approaches, and we gather around the fireplace. There’s an air of solemnity, but I can tell not all of us are bought in. Or maybe just none of us are at 100% yet. Most of us are pretty closed off, if still willing. It’s just kind of a SEAL thing, I guess.

We write down what we want to leave behind, and we take turns burning our paper in the fire. It’s quiet except for the crackle from the flames, and then the doc passes out our ibogaine doses (measured for our bodyweight) in little wooden bowls. It feels like a sacrament.

Solemnly, we take our medicine, and one by one, the facilitators lead us upstairs to be saged and smudged as a cleansing before moving to our mattresses. Curiously, the cleansing has a gravitas and weight to it that crumbles and dismisses all the shallow and thin echoes of spirituality in yoga studios and SoulCycles across Los Angeles. I receive it with humility.

Settling in on our mattresses, it’s dark. Only flickering candles and the fading light from the sun just below the ocean’s horizon remain to illuminate the room. The medical staff move quietly through, attaching heart monitor leads and O2 clips on our fingers and chests. Once they complete their tasks, I pull my eyeshade down over my eyes and lay back to wait. 

Hyper-attentive to my mind and body, several times over the next half-hour, I think, “Is this it?… No… not yet…”

And then it comes.

Uber-detailed and realized visions flood my mind’s eye. They’re nightmares in 4K. I’ve never seen anything with the detail and clarity through my physical eyes that I’m experiencing now. I am completely in a dream yet 100% in my body. Unknowable machines possessed with alien intelligence build and fold out of the space like fractals from some dark pit. Strange visions that make no sense. A nightmare buzzing, like the sky is being chainsawed apart, howls with a clearly defined shape (shape?!) above my head. There’s a loud talking, without cadence or expression, just behind my left ear. It never ceases or pauses and I understand not a word. I open my eyes under the eyeshade and immediately I’m in fields of stars. I close them and I’m back in an alien, machine hell. They told us that if it gets to be too much, raise your eyeshade and you can come out of the visions, but I keep my eyeshade on. I want all of what the medicine has for me.

I begin to dry-heave. I feel hands around me, holding me in a sitting position. The retching is violent and back-to-back, four, five, eight times. Soon I’m laying down again, fighting the urge to vomit. The visions add strange, expressionless, soulless people standing and sitting around me. Again, they’re alien; there is nothing human about them. It must be hours that I try to make sense, assign meaning, figure out the visions, until, worn out, I give up. Just let them come, I think, and I let go.

Innumerable hours pass, or is it minutes? I try to move my arm and my leg, and while I can, nothing’s coordinated. It’s as if I’m operating a crane, and while I can pull one lever at a time, I can’t make the arm do anything resembling a smooth or efficient motion. I really need to piss but can’t conceive of trying to stand right now.

At some point during the night, six, seven, eight hours later, the “visionary stage” ceases, my mind quiets, and the literal nightmare I’ve been in ends. I’m in a trance-like state now, apparently what they refer to as the “contemplative stage.”

Bullshit.

All I’m contemplating is how tumbled and empty I feel. I still need to piss but can’t move. Unfocused, I feel like I’ve had a hard reset and I’m in the BIOS of the motherboard. Everything is in two-toned, 8-bit graphics. I pull off the O2 monitor and scrape off the eyeshade. I close my eyes but don’t sleep. At some point, I notice the sun rise.

Photo of a mattress on the floor, near big glass windows where the sun is rising where the ibogaine session took place
A photo of where the author’s Ibogaine session took place.

Several hours later, I look around the room. All of us are glued to our mattresses in various interpretations of a full-body rictus. No movement.

Sometime later in the afternoon, around three or four I’d guess, I get up and make my way to the restroom and then downstairs. I manage to grab a banana off the counter (which takes a couple tries) and slide down to the floor and eat it. Judging from the expressions on the faces of the staff, I must look like shit… and it appears that they’ve seen this before, or maybe even experienced this themselves.

One of the facilitators comes to me, brings me to the couch, and does some “energy work” on me. I’m too worn out to resist the hippie bullshit… and surprisingly, it helps. A lot. Even though they had no meaning to me, I manage to write down my visions (not that I’ll ever forget them), then make it back upstairs to my mattress.

Several hours later, we attempt dinner. I don’t know how much the other guys manage to get down, but I think I get about two spoonfuls. There’s very little movement and lots of agonized expressions around the table.

Back to bed we go in silence, and in the dark of Saturday night or perhaps the wee hours of Sunday morning, my trance fades and I fall asleep.

When I wake on Sunday morning, I feel like a fever broke in the night. You know the feeling: You’re worn out, exhausted, but you know it’s over. The sickness is gone, leaving only relief.

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Still weak, but ravenous, I make it downstairs and as my greedy hands begin to shove food towards my mouth, the facilitator kindly tells me that I still need to be in a fasted state for the 5-MeO-DMT, which we’ll be doing in a few hours.

MORE psychedelics?! I honestly don’t feel up for it. I don’t really want any more than what I’ve just experienced, but I’m in this for the whole enchilada (food metaphors? Fuck, I’m hungry) and I’m committed to following the whole program. I can tell I’m not the only one with hesitation though.

As the rest of the guys make their way downstairs, we gather again around the fireplace and the staff talks us through what’s going to happen next. One of the other guys expresses his doubts about the 5-MeO-DMT, and the facilitator reassures us that this is nothing like the ibogaine. It’s complementary, she says, a nice bookend to what we just experienced. “Hope they’re not matching bookends,” I think.

As she finishes with the brief, the two SEALs there helping out (who had gone through this before) offer a few words: “It’s like a deep dive in the ocean. You’re down 150 feet and it’s beautiful and quiet, and the water pressure is intense, and you’re at peace… but then you look over, and there’s a deep, dark abyss. If you have it in you, go down there. That’s where the jewels are.”

I think we all make up our minds at this point to go all the way, no matter what it feels like.

The staff gives us the order we are to go in and I’m number three of five. They tell us to go wait our turn by the pool, and mention it’s helpful to write what we’re feeling, so I grab my journal and head out to find a private spot by one of the fire pits around the pool. I begin to write, awkwardly, my muscles still not in agreement with my head yet, and I manage to stain the top of a clean page with: “I don’t I.” Frustrated that my hand, brain, and intentions all seem to be separate entities, I try again. This time, slowly, I write:

Ibogaine was a nightmare in 4K that I couldn’t stop or wake up from. I could make no sense of it then or now. I think I had expectations for the medicine as much as I tried not to. I have no expectations of 5-MeO. None whatsoever. It will be what it will be.

I start to put the pen down… but pause… and write:

I feel… different

It’s true. Something’s subtly very different. I write again:

I feel… present

Shocked into an introspective silence, I look inward and feel a clean openness in my soul, like all the accumulated and stored entanglements of my life have been quietly discarded, and I now only recognize they had ever been there by their absence.

Kind of stunned, I sit there with myself and savor the feeling. I haven’t felt this… free since I was probably about twelve. And as I rest in this quiet, subtle peace, awestruck… I hear our first 5-MeO guy scream from the house 50 meters away.

Shit.

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As my turn arrives, I’m led into the house by one of the SEALs helping out. Up the stairs, I’m smudged and saged again, and led into the room. It’s kind of sacred. Candles. Music. The doctor and facilitators have really set the space and I can feel it. Speaking in hushed tones, they sit me up on the single mattress covered in a spotless white sheet, and almost in whispers, describe what’s about to happen. The doctor shows me the vaporizer, inscribed with a medical caduceus, and the three doses of toad venom I’m about to encounter. “The profound from the humble,” I think, and then I’m inhaling the “handshake dose,” just to familiarize me with the process. Easy enough, and with no effects to speak of, I pull my eyeshade over my eyes and we move on to the first real dose. I inhale again as the doctor instructs me, holding for a count of ten, then exhale and fall backwards as instructed.

Only just as I begin exhaling, the world explodes. Gorgeous fractals in vivid primary colors, more detailed and distinct than anything my eyes have ever viewed fills… my field of vision? No… my field of consciousness. I can barely feel that I have a body. Bliss suffuses all of me (what is “me”?) and all I feel is love. I remember what the SEAL downstairs said—that if you can handle it, go deeper. Since I’m able to have these thoughts, I figure there must be room left, so I clumsily signal for another dose. Halfway in my body, I’m pulled to a sitting position and again feel the vaporizer against my lips. Drawing deeply and holding, I hear the doctor count down from five. Far away, he whispers, “Exhale…”

…and I die.

No, really. I die.  And here is where words begin to fail.

I feel my body atomize and it’s GONE. I’m in a blackness that is teeming, but warm. Infinite. It’s gentle, but I sense that the gentleness, while truly the essence of this Consciousness, is not all of it, and the power… there is no word that can convey the awesome power of this place. It is infinite possibility. And I? I am a speck, a tiny ripple, a wavelet upon an Ocean so vast and deep, how could I have ever thought; how could I have forgotten that I am no less separate from this great Consciousness than a wave is seperate from the Ocean? How can a ripple be apart from the sea? I am no longer “me,” but still completely “I.” And I remember what I am.

I feel a scream coming from deep, and it happens—from somewhere I scream, and I hear it as an observer. But here’s the weird(est) thing. Time has no meaning here, and as I hear this scream, I know that this scream is not just from “now.” It’s from five years ago, and 20, and from when I was two, and from when my parents divorced, and from Afghanistan, and from yesterday. The linear time we live in has condensed to a singularity and this scream is from my now, my past, and probably my future.

I don’t know time, space, or have any ties to what I used to know. There is only existence returned from whence I came, and then, at some point in time or space…

…I walk through the Gates of Heaven.

(If you’re still with me, believe me, I know how this sounds.)

Hands around me, bright light more beautiful than anything I have ever seen, and the purest love, acceptance, grace, and right-ness permeates my existence. The greatest feeling I have ever experienced or could possibly imagine is dwarfed by this feeling. I pull my eyeshade off, and with pure wonder and without the slightest insincerity, think, “Are we dead? Are all of you angels?” I lay there on the mattress, alternately weeping with the sorrow of what we’ve lost and laughing with the realization of what we are, and I whisper, “I am born.”


I will never be the same. I wish I could convey more of this experience to you but words are useless. Ibogaine reached deep inside of me and wrapped up all my trauma and sorrow. It wrapped it up in a dark, wet, moldy, wool blanket and when I screamed, it all came out. I walk around every day in awe, feeling this, seeing with new eyes. I didn’t learn anything, I just remembered.

My brain works now too. It’s the strangest thing. Words flow. Thoughts sizzle. Synapses fire and I can discuss, read, think, and elucidate in ways I haven’t been able to in at least 15 years. I feel smart again. All the TBI had made things slow and fuzzy, but these medicines lit up all the lobes, cortices, stems, and folds of my brain and shocked them back into activity (not a scientific analysis, of course). It was starter fluid for my grey matter.

My relationships are healing. My dad and I are reconciling. He’s so happy. So am I.

I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on regarding this therapy and the history and use of psychedelics (I prefer the newer term, “entheogens” these days—it means to “create the divine within”). 

These are not drugs. This is powerful, powerful medicine and it has the potential to do enormous good. These are sacraments that require much of you and will bring you what you need and are prepared for. 

It is not the molecule, but the door that it opens.

To my benefactor: thank you. I’m going to do my part to take this newfound remembering and make the world better, and bring it to as many people as I can. And the most unexpected, beautiful realization? The Brotherhood that we fight with, for, and next to—the ones who scar us and scar with us are also the ones healing us. What an amazing thing!!!!

I never thought I’d be signing off like this, but….

Love and Light,

JL

August 28, 2020