The Psychedelic Podcast by Third Wave
Surviving PTSD With Cannabis And Ayahuasca
“The only thing I was trying to do was run away from the things in my head. Run away from the things that I’d seen. Run away from the things that I’d done. And run away from the pain, of everything.”
That’s Matt Kahl, our podcast guest this week. Matt is a US Military veteran, PTSD survivor, and an impassioned advocate for drug policy reform.
In this episode, Matt talks with The Third Wave’s Paul Austin about how he went from taking 20 prescription medications a day to letting them gather dust in his medicine cabinet—and how he carries that transformation into his work.
- The differing roles cannabis and ayahuasca have played in Matt’s healing
- How our personal transformations can challenge the people closest to us, and why that isn’t always easy
- Why Matt has chosen to advocate for reform in the way that he has, and how you can participate
0:00:27 Paul Austin: So we’re back now with the Third Wave podcast and we have a bit of a special episode today where I took the time to interview Matt Kahl who is a war veteran and one of the leading figures in the new documentary that’s been produced called From Shock to Awe, which is 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. Now, I haven’t seen From Shock to Awe myself, I’ve only interviewed Matt. I will likely see it at the premiere which we will learn more about in this episode. We go into Matt’s story of why he joined the military, what was his time overseas like and then how did he get off pharmaceuticals first using cannabis and then working with plant medicine to really heal himself. And we go into this in a very raw style.
0:01:25 PA: When I was interviewing Matt for this episode, I felt some deep emotional things around the stories that he was telling of what had happened to him and what had occurred in Afghanistan. And so it will be a very moving podcast in many ways. And also an insightful one in terms of how these medicines both cannabis and particularly ayahuasca can help us to heal from some of the deepest wounds that we have not only as individuals but also as a collective culture around violence. This is a great episode and pay attention just throughout the episode as we discuss the premiere of From Shock To Awe. It may be in a city near you, coming out November 12th, that we’ll provide some links on the home page, on the podcast page for you to access that. Without further ado, let’s go ahead and listen to Matt Kahl and hear his story a feeling From Shock To Awe.
0:02:26 Matt Kahl: I was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, I was with the 101st Airborne Infantry. When I got out of the service, I went back home to North Carolina. North Carolina is not a particularly friendly state for anything subversive. In order to pursue any sort of alternative medicine, I had to move to a state that was partial to it and Colorado was high on my list. I came out here to Colorado in order to look around in February of 2013. I looked at a lot of houses in Colorado Springs but I was really, really still quite damaged. I couldn’t handle the city, the noise, the people and I kept telling the real estate agent, I kept pointing at Pikes Peak right up there above the city and saying, “Hey, what’s up there? Take me up there.” So the next day we went out the pass.
0:03:16 MK: Sure enough, as soon as I went up into the mountains, everything changed, and I started chatting, I started talking, I started coming alive and that night, the real estate agent called my wife back home and said, “I think you’re gonna have to move to the mountains, ma’am. There’s no way around it. He just came alive. He really loves it up there.” It was ’cause of the silence out here, I can walk out on my porch, there’s no noise whatsoever, there’s no traffic noise, I can see the night sky, no light pollution, deer come up to my front porch and try to eat out of your hand, I have a mountain lion that likes to caterwaul in the middle of the night out front of my front window. It’s great. I’ve seen a bald eagle fish out of the lake right at the bottom of the hill and I’ve chased two bears off my porch. It’s fantastic. This is exactly what I moved to Colorado for.
0:04:06 PA: That’s a nice way to start this podcast I think because I imagine with what you went through before that and prior to moving to Colorado or prior to moving to Carolina wasn’t so easy, which of course, which is where your involvement in From Shock To Awe comes in this movie that’s coming out, what November 12th?
0:04:23 MK: November 12th, yeah.
0:04:25 PA: What’s been your story before that in terms of how did you first find yourself in Colorado many years ago when you joined the Air Force?
0:04:32 MK: I wasn’t in the Air Force, I was in the army. I was in the 101st Airborne Infantry. Our job was to kick down doors, blow stuff up and honestly, one of the parts of the job is to kill people. If you’re familiar with the idea of moral injury, plenty of that, survivor’s guilt, there’s tons of that too and then there’s actual trauma too because I was medevaced from my second deployment. So it runs the gamut, my military experience. And I got out because I was medevaced from my second deployment. I had facial injuries, I lost also a small piece of my upper jaw, I had some facial fractures, TBI, traumatic brain injury, I had cervical, thoracic, and lumbosacral spinal injuries and I just wasn’t fit to serve anymore really. And they put me on a whole heck of a lot of prescription medications in order to try to treat all of the symptoms that comes along with the injuries and little did I know that that PTSD was gonna be the most persistent one though.
0:05:29 PA: The emotional element, the mental element not just the physical aspect.
0:05:33 MK: Yeah. The physical element, it really started resolving fairly quickly, I mean, I took a while, I didn’t really give up the cane until I had been here in Colorado for about a year but when I did, it was great and I hide my limp now fairly well but yeah the physical symptoms really resolved fairly quickly but the psychological injuries still persisted. And I found myself being in large crowds and not feeling good, feeling like I’m gonna lash out and I wouldn’t be able to go to Walmart or Costco or any of the big stores. I couldn’t go to any real public event, or public place without feeling like I needed to back myself into a corner and watch everybody’s eyes and hands ’cause that’s where the threats gonna come from. It’s always the eyes and the hands, you can always tell.
0:06:00 PA: Before we dig further into that because I think that’s gonna take this conversation into a deep realm, I wanna zoom back a little bit and I wanna ask you about what inspired you to join the military in the first place? Why did you enroll? And what was… What’s a little bit about that story, in terms of how you grew up and why you found yourself in Colorado Springs in the army?
0:06:49 MK: Yeah, it was a… It’s really a complicated equation, tell you the truth. I grew up as a military brat, my dad was a 28-year veteran of the Marine Corps. He retired as a full bird colonel, which is fairly high up. And he was used to being the commander; he issued orders, and he expected them to be obeyed. I didn’t jive well with that, I was an extremely independent-minded kid, and I tended to rebel. It was a acrimonious relationship, growing up with him, and actually, by the time I was 16 years old, I ended up getting kicked out of the house, and I spent my senior year of high school living with a friend. It was actually one of the best years that I had, in terms of academics, and we got into… I was an intelligent kid, I got into fights all the time with my parents about the fact that I am an intelligent kid, and, “Why are you not trying, why aren’t you trying to fulfill your potential?” And part of it, honestly, was the fact that somebody was trying to push me, I didn’t really need to be pushed, I could have done it my own. And during my senior year, I got straight A’s, and I sent my report card home, just to kind of rub their nose in it and say, “See what happens when you don’t push me?” I enrolled in college, I paid for most of it myself. I had a large bank account that I’d managed to cobble together from all the various odd jobs and things that I’d done prior to graduating high school.
0:08:21 MK: So my first year at college, I really didn’t speak much to my parents, and that’s honestly where I first got introduced to cannabis and psychedelics, despite the fact that back then, it was sort of just a recreational thing. It was… I wasn’t seeking healing per-se, but I ended up getting healing out of it anyways. And by the end of my freshman year of college, I called my parents, I told them that I wanted to come home, and I wanted to try to build a relationship with them again. Sure enough, it worked, because I had come so far in terms of my mindset, we have a fairly good relationship these days. I had sworn early on that, “Oh, I’m not gonna be like my dad, so I’m never gonna join the military.” I got to the point where after a decade of living on my own and doing everything that I could to not use the education that I’d been provided… [chuckle]
0:09:16 MK: I studied neuroscience when I was in college, and it gave me a decent background on these things. I was very interested in cannabis and indole alkylamine hallucinogens, and I studied the psychopharmacology of them with every spare moment that I had. So my first decade out of college, really, I didn’t use it all that much. I tried to pursue a career in audio engineering, I got a job at a small recording studio in Wellington, North Carolina. And then I met… Well, I had known her for a long time, I’d known her since high school, but I finally became involved with the person that I would end up with, Amy, my wife, and we had a child.
0:10:01 MK: And when he was born, I really started rethinking a lot of things. I moved to New York City, actually, in 2001 to help my brother liquidate his business. And he had a business consulting with all the financial firms, he was working for Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs, and people like that. And I lived in the Financial District, I lived a block and a half away from the World Trade Center. And I would stare at it every day when I walked out my front door, I’d look up and to the left, and there it was. And I left New York City in August of 2001, and I came back home to North Carolina, and I watched the planes hit the Twin Towers just like everybody else. And it felt like they were attacking my home, and in a lot of ways, they were, they attacked all our homes. It was very much an attack on our homeland, and that’s how we all saw it, the entire nation did. Nobody had any other thought in their minds, it was, “How do we strike back?” And although life got in the way for a couple of years, I didn’t sign up right away, that still persisted in my mind for years and years. And by the time I had a child, it made me rethink everything. And I started wondering how I was gonna raise this child and what sort of values I was going to instill in him.
0:11:32 MK: And despite the fact that my dad and I didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye, I thought of the military, still, as honor, integrity, things like that. When I thought about raising my child, those are the things that I wanted to raise him with too. I enrolled in the military, I enlisted in March of 2007, then in a few weeks, I was shipped off to basic training.
0:11:56 PA: And you found yourself then in two different combat situations, in other words, you went the first time. And just kind of walk us through that process a little bit, when… I don’t have much familiarity to this. When you commit to going to a place… Did you go to Afghanistan or Iraq?
0:12:12 MK: I went to Afghanistan. And I’m kinda glad I did, because Afghanistan was something that I saw as a just war, because we were attacking the source of… The people that actually did damage to us, the people that brought down the Twin Towers came from there. They were Saudi, mostly, in their nationality, but that’s where they lived. So we were attacking the source of the aggression, and I thought of that as a just war. Iraq, from the beginning, I knew that it seemed wrong. And I thought that I would do much better in Afghanistan, because I believed in what I would be doing.
0:13:02 MK: By the time, at the end of my military career, I wanted to be deployed to Iraq too, because combat’s kind of addictive. And if you fought one person, you wanna fight ’em all. I enlisted in March of 2007 and I maxed out the ASVAB, the entrance exam in order to get in, so I could literally pick any job that I wanted. And they put a whole bunch of things in front of me, and every single one of ’em just seemed kind of boring. I was signing up to fight. I didn’t want to get sent to analyze water or drive trucks or do any of these other things. I didn’t wanna do intelligence. Even the Navy came in and they tried to just scoop me away from the army because I had the ASVAB course to qualify for their nuclear program. None of it sounded good to me. I asked my recruiter, “Do you have anything more high-speed that that?” and he said, “We have an infantry [unclear speech]” ’cause he was an infantry guy. And I asked him what was the job description, and he said, “We kick down doors, we blow stuff up and we kill people.” And I said, “Okay, sign me up.” I didn’t exactly know what I was getting into at the time. I thought I knew. Most people think they know, coming into the service, what they’re getting into, but very few people actually do, actually understands what it’s gonna do to you.
0:14:28 MK: So yeah, the preparation for that. I had 13 weeks of basic training. Most people have about nine. Infantry troops get an extra four. They’ve extended that even further now. Infantry troops get even more than that. And then, after that, you also have a little bit of time in AIT, which is your training for your specific job. The extra four weeks of training in basic training, it’s called OSUT, One Station Unit Training, and they train you all the way from beginning to end without having to send you away to another different AIT school, and it’s just a lot of shoot and move and communicating. When you get to your unit, I was sent to my unit, and I got to my unit in August of 2007, that’s when your training really actually starts. That’s when you start getting integrated into your unit and you start running drills and exercises in field problems that test you on your ability to be able to shoot and move and communicate under intense stress and live fire.
0:15:38 MK: So we’ve spent quite a bit of time doing that and I went to the schools that they wanted me to go to. I was the guy with the highest ASVAB score in my unit. So they always sent me to all of these schools and they say, “Hey, send Kahl to it. He’ll learn it, and then he’ll teach it all to us.” So they’d send me to these schools and I would learn whatever new technology, new weapon systems that were coming in, and I would disseminate that information to the rest of my unit. But very quickly, I got to my unit in August of 2007, and by March of 2008 we were deployed to Afghanistan for the first time. So it was a pretty quick turnaround.
0:16:30 PA: And so one thing that really stuck out to me and in a way gave me some chills, was when you said people think they know what they’re getting into, but they don’t really know what they’re getting into. And just, can you go a little bit deeper into that in terms of what was that gap for you like, in terms of what did you think you were getting into and what did it end up really be?
0:16:58 MK: Our culture is steeped in killing and violence as a form of entertainment. It’s in every movie that you watch, it’s in every video game that you play, it’s… Almost everything in culture is designed to either mimic combat in some way, or try to show the realities of it without actually showing the actual reality. Even games like football, and which is our national religion, seems like sometimes, it’s designed to create a combat situation without making it deadly and trying to create a combat environment in which the least number of people get hurt. And people think that violence is cool, violence is glorified in our society. And so a lot of the people signing up in order to get into the infantry, they’re thinking that they’re gonna go out and do something glorious, something fun. And I won’t lie, it is fun, there’s a lot of fun things about it, but there are a lot of things that are just absolutely heartbreaking and hard and painful, and things that tear your soul to pieces. I don’t think people really take that into account, and they should. They should understand truly what they’re getting into. Taking another life is not something to be done lightly, and too often it is.
0:18:44 MK: My first deployment was to Afghanistan. It was slated to be 15 months. We got off easy, I think it was about 13 months. And I got home to the States and reintegrated with my family. Everything seemed to be great, was this beautiful honeymoon period, but within about eight months, I started sliding down into a deep, dark hole, and very soon I decided that this wasn’t worth it and I tried to commit suicide for the first time on December 24th of 2009.
0:19:26 MK: That was between my first and second deployments. Yeah, I did it on Christmas break, so I was able to keep it fairly hush-hush. What had happened, exactly what was going on, and I pulled myself together, mainly for the benefit of all my other men. I just… I knew that my experience would probably be able to save a couple of lives and bring a few more people home. So I pulled myself together, and I deployed again eight months after my suicide attempt. The second time I deployed, we deployed to a different area around the Pakistan border and it was extremely hot. There was a lot of action going on all the time. Taking sniper fire while you’re taking a dump in the porta potty, you name it, there was all kinds of stuff going on all the time. Sometimes we would get hit every couple hours. And I was medevac-ed from that one. We were actually rolling out to pick up a friend of mine who had been shot and killed, and another friend who had been shot in the leg.
0:20:42 MK: Doc Byrd was killed. He was trying to attend to the man Sisteda, who had a gunshot wound to the leg, and he was shielding him with his body and he was shot and killed. And we were rolling out there to pick them up. I was in the ambulance vehicle and we were rushing, we were going recklessly across a field and we hit an irrigation ditch, which threw me out of the gunners turret and I struck my face on the turret shield, which is about a half-inch thick plate of metal. We were going about 35, so it did significant damage to my face, and to my neck, and to my back. And, of course, the damage to my psyche was already done, but it was enhanced and amplified a thousand fold by all of the different medications that they put me on afterwards. I was taking 20 different medications every single day. There were at least three opiates and two different benzodiazepines. I was on 30mg of Valium three times a day; I was on 160mg of OxyContin with 60mg of Roxycodone for breakthrough pain; I was on Xanax at the same time as all these things. Any doctor will tell you it’s a bad idea to combine all these, but I was on it. I was on them all.
0:22:17 MK: And then I had the medications for the side effects, and then the medications for the side effects of the side effect-relieving medications, it just went on and on and on. And my liver started to fail, my kidney started to fail, and I knew that something had to change. I got out of the service in December of 2011, and I went back home to North Carolina. It was a really, really dark period of my life, I just… The only thing I was trying to do was to run away from the things in my head, run away from the things that I’d seen, run away from the things that I’d done, and run away from the pain of everything. And I just sort of circled the drain there for a long time. And eventually I had a friend suggest cannabis to me. And, you know, I was already on so many psychoactive drugs, it was kind of a hard sell. Despite the fact that when I was in college I’d used cannabis and it seemed to be fine. There was no problem with it. But to me it wasn’t a medical substance, it was a recreational substance. And I asked him, I said, “Why? Why would I add one more drug to my already grueling regimen of pharmaceutical drugs?” And he said, “You know, you don’t have to. You know you can try it and if it doesn’t work for you, just stop.”
0:23:58 MK: And not one single doctor that I’d gone to, up until that point had said that. They had never said, “Here, try this and if it doesn’t work, we’ll try… You don’t ever have to take it again.” It was usually a commitment, you know. I had to commit to at least 30 days of a new SSRI in order to see if it works or not. And it was not easy to convince them to take you off of a drug once they put you on it. So, you know that little statement really kind of made sense to me. And I ended up smoking cannabis illegally in an illegal state, and I tried it. And within 5-10 minutes… At first, I just sort of sat there and said, “Well, is this gonna do anything? I don’t feel anything. I don’t know… What am I supposed to feel here?” And maybe about five minutes after that. I found myself daydreaming about just stupid stuff. Insignificant trivial things that had happened in the past couple of days. I was just daydreaming. It was… It was beautiful. It was a moment of absolute peace and that’s when I knew that I was gonna have to pursue this track a little bit further. And my wife was there, she actually saw me and she told me later that the stress, and the anxiety, the obvious pain just sort of melted away, and it was that moment that she also was like, “Oh crap. We’re gonna have to move somewhere where this is legal.”
0:25:24 MK: So yeah, we uprooted our lives in 2013 and moved to Colorado, where cannabis is legal.
0:25:24 PA: I think yesterday Canada legalized cannabis as well…
0:25:24 MK: Yeah, yeah.
0:25:24 PA: Which is like huge. It’s a huge step.
0:25:24 MK: Yeah, so… It’s a gigantic country, and it’s bigger than us, not people-wise, but the landmass is, so…
0:25:24 PA: There’s a lot of polar bears and…
0:25:24 MK: Yeah. I mean, get them all high, right?
0:25:24 PA: Yeah, exactly.
0:25:24 MK: Maybe they’d kill us people then?
0:26:15 MK: But yeah, so we moved to Colorado and I started growing cannabis immediately, and I got one of the first research and development hemp licenses in the country in 2014, and I started growing hemp outdoors and I was growing marijuana indoors, the high THC stuff and in order to make sure there’s no cross-pollination, or anything like that. And both things helped me, they helped me immensely, I was, gosh, I was… My tactic at first, I really didn’t know what I was doing, I just, my tactic was carpet bombing. I just, I was eating it, massive quantities, I was smoking it, I was, gosh, I was smearing it all of my skin just trying to get it in in anyway I could, you know, and eventually, I got to the point where I was cutting medications right and left. I actually asked my VA provider, when I first got here, I asked him, “Hey, this is Colorado. I definitely… I have to ask you man, what do you think about cannabis, medical cannabis?” And he said, “Well… ” To my surprise, he was just like, “Well if you haven’t tried it, I think you probably should, but I can’t give you the opiate narcotics while you’re on it.” I was like, “Okay, fine, take me off.” And so, I went cold turkey and it was really, really hard for a little while, but cannabis helped. It helped me come off of the opiates, and it was the best step I’ve ever taken and I never looked back.
0:27:50 PA: And so, how many, you know, prescriptions are you on now?
0:27:55 MK: Zero.
0:27:57 PA: Which is unbelievable.
0:27:58 MK: Yeah.
0:28:00 PA: And fucking amazing.
0:28:00 MK: Considering it was 20.
0:28:00 PA: Yeah.
0:28:00 MK: It was 20 before, and now it’s zero. I have a few things that are still in my medicine cabinet and they’re there for a reason. If you have an emergency rescue situation, having one of these pharmaceutical interventions available, it’s really a valuable thing. But I just don’t need it anymore, and so I don’t ever use it, it’s just gathering dust. So yeah, it’s been a fantastic transition. I’ve gained my life back and more than that, I’ve gained my family back. I couldn’t even hold a conversation, I would be falling asleep in the middle of my sentences, drooling on myself, I was not fit to be around anyone, and I couldn’t interact with my kids, I was losing my kids day-by-day, and now I have them all back and I’m able to go to soccer games and watch and cheer and clap and then hug ’em afterwards when they’ve done good. It’s fantastic, it’s… Life is a far better drug than anything they give you in a pill bottle.
0:29:15 PA: Absolutely, absolutely. And I think that is why these healing stories, and why your power… Your story is so powerful, because I think all of us, all of us can relate to that, can relate to wanting to spend quality time, engaged time, connected time, with our loved ones. And I think this is what drives a lot of people, like myself, in the psychedelic space, is a big element of that social fabric, that community fabric is kind of reversing narratives around both cannabis and obviously psychedelics and I mean just to clarify, was cannabis, the only plant medicine you used then, or was there, were there other…
0:29:57 MK: At that time.
0:29:57 PA: Medicines…
0:30:01 MK: At that time, it was the only plant medicine I was using, I used cannabis to get off of all the medications and then I started asking the question, “Do I really need all this cannabis, do I, should I really be ingesting these mass quantities of cannabis, do I need this still?” After all of this… All this way that I’ve come, I’ve come so far and the other question that I was asking is, “Is this all the better it gets?” Because to tell the truth, you know, cannabis is an amazing medicine, don’t get me wrong, it saved my life. But there are limitations. It is still sort of a band-aid. You have to use it every single day and you have to keep using it in order for it to ameliorate your symptoms, all the symptoms that you’ve been struggling with, whether it’s pain, and whether it’s the social anxiety, whether it’s looking for threats, the hyper-vigilance, the anxiety, all these things, like you have to keep using cannabis in order to suppress these symptoms. So, you know, it’s the best band-aid we have, but it’s still a band-aid. I started to ask the question, “Is there anything more, is this all the better it gets? There has to be something better, there has to be something more, I have to be able to somehow get back to the person I was, or god forbid, maybe even better than the person I was before.” So I started asking questions about psychedelics, and I had been exposed to psychedelics when I was young, when I was in college.
0:31:40 MK: But again, it was a recreational thing and dabbling your toes in the water, back then, doesn’t really make you an expert on how it can help you today. So I started seeking out people that were talking about it and people that were actively using it and asking questions and I came across a filmmaker duo, and… Janine Sagert and Luc Côté. Amazing, amazing people. They… I met them in late 2014 at a Conscious Cannabis ceremony, it was with a Native American Affiliated Group and we took cannabis. There was some topical application on our foreheads and a ceremony involved in it. And I really didn’t think much of it at the time, but I kept the communication lines open and, sure enough, they approached me later and said, “Would you be willing to try ayahuasca?” I said, “Yes, absolutely. If it can help me, I’ll do anything. I’ll do anything to get better.” And in early 2016, they said, “Okay, it’s time.” And they sent myself and Michael Cooley, who’s another veteran here on the front range down to Soul Quest Ayahuasca Church in Orlando, Florida, and we both undertook our very first ayahuasca circle or ceremony. It was hard. It was hard but it was amazing at the same time. I went through a lot of resistance, to tell you the truth.,
0:33:46 MK: I drank the first cup that came around and I drank the second cup that came around and then I drank the third cup the came around and the whole time I’m just shifting in my seat and I just wasn’t comfortable. I couldn’t quite get comfortable. I felt really, really profoundly just, ah, man, I don’t know why I’m so uneasy. And the head of the church, Chris Young, he came around and he said, “How are you doing, man? How are you really feeling right now?” And I said, “Uncomfortable. I’m really uncomfortable right now.” And he said okay. And he came back around with some of these, gosh, I forget with they’re called. They’re like kashakas or something like that, palm frond leaves that make a noise.
0:34:36 MK: And he came back around with those and sprinkled them with some scented waters and was shaking those around my head. Almost immediately I had a purge. It was a pretty intense violent purge and I felt like I was puking up my guts and everything else, so much deeper down to, it was emotions, it was pain, it was suffering. I was just puking it all up. And after I was done vomiting in this bucket, there’s a camp fire there used as a focus, which I really appreciate, the fire focus. But I could see my vomit. It was like this black tar in the bottom of the bucket. And it looked like a demon to me almost. It was black and it was kind of moving because of the influence of the ayahuasca. And it was personified as a demon. It was personified as all of this pain and suffering that had happened to me for the past four years, five years, six years. And I realized that I had put that demon into myself and I had to apologize to myself. I had to say I’m sorry. “I’m sorry that I did this to you.” I’m sorry I did this to myself. And then I made the realization that I did that to that demon too. That demon was forced to be in my body and it was trapped there and I’ve been fighting it ever since.
0:36:27 MK: It has been trying to get out, trying to be released and my struggle with it, the struggle to keep it down, to keep it under control, to keep it locked away was what was tearing me apart. And I realized that I had to apologize to the demon too. And I said that I’m sorry and how can I ever make it up to you? And he said, “You need to forgive yourself. Forgive yourself and forgive everybody else too.” I asked, “Can I do that? Is that even possible?” He said, “Yeah. Yeah, it is possible. You just do. Just let it happen.” And I stood up and I looked at the stars that moment and I said, “Okay. Okay, I wanna do that.” And I gave it up then and I’ve never looked back.
0:37:25 PA: Just like that. You released it.
0:37:27 MK: Just like that.
0:37:28 PA: You let it go.
0:37:29 MK: Yeah.
0:37:31 PA: It just wasn’t there and you were able to move through it and grow. I mean, that’s just so… It’s like one of those moments in life where it’s just the shift, this change, this immediate kind of 180 or 90-degree or whatever it is. That’s so powerful.
0:37:52 MK: Yeah.
0:37:55 PA: I mean, what was that integration process? When you came down from ayahuasca, the next week or so, what was going through your head and your heart as you were trying to process what had just happened and occurred?
0:38:12 MK: Oh, I started almost immediately. I called my wife the next day and I was ecstatic. I was a little bit… I was probably a little bit aggressive about my joy. I thought to myself. It was the same thing with cannabis too. When cannabis really started giving me help, I thought that everybody else in the world, “Man, you’ve gotta try this. You gotta try this thing.” And so I started giving away cannabis on the Front Range and that’s sort of how I build in the organization that I was part of then and the organization that I started myself. And when I talked to my wife the next day, I told her, I was like, “You gotta try this. You absolutely have to try this. It’s miraculous.”
0:39:04 PA: And this time you didn’t have to move to Peru, right? It’s not like you had to move to somewhere where it’s legal.
0:39:09 MK: Yeah.
0:39:10 PA: You worked within the boundaries a little bit, right?
0:39:14 MK: Yeah, yeah. And she didn’t have to move to Peru. She didn’t have to do anything like that. But if we found the opportunity to. I really wanted her to try it. And at first, she was absolutely resistant. I don’t think that she had any interest or a desire to start exploring herself in that way. But I had four ceremonies for our four circles there at the Soul Quest Ayahuasca Church and some of them were good and some of them were confusing, to tell the truth. The second experience that I had was the daytime ceremony. It was just after I talked with my wife on the phone in the daytime ceremony. It felt like I had purged up all of these negative thoughts and feelings, and emotions, and this demon and that made me empty, I had space in there.
0:40:18 MK: And the next day, it was a daytime ceremony and I felt all of this love trickling in, the sunlight and the nature, and I found myself thinking, “God, I love everything. I love this ant that’s crawling on me right now.” And I heard a woman off to my right, she was crying, she was crying desperately and that crying was a call to me and I just found myself… I even said it out loud and I said, “I love you, I love you, I love you. Please know that I love you.” And I heard another guy giggling maniacally over to my left and I chuckled and I said, “I love you to, man.” And there was this rooster that would crow at all times in the day and night and this rooster, god, he was so annoying. And he crowed during that ceremony and I laughed, and I said, “I love you to, man. Even you, Mr. Rooster, I love you, too.” I loved everything and everyone.
0:41:27 PA: And that takes a lot. I just wanna emphasize, it takes a lot to love a rooster because roosters are like the bane of everything, from my perspective. And those feelings of overwhelming love, when was the last time you had felt that?
0:41:46 MK: I’m not sure that I had felt it any time in the previous decade, at the very least. Nowhere in any time during my military service. I wanted to kill everything in my military service, I did not wanna love anything. And love was an impediment to me doing my job. So, it was a revelation. It was an absolute complete rebirth almost. And in the weeks following that, there was a lot of reintegration that had to be done. I had to actually talk to my family and show them that I was a different person now. I had to actually walk the walk. And it was very obvious that I was a different person. I was spending more time with the children, I was laughing more, I was showing more overt love; hugging them, kissing them, saying goodnight to them, reading books in bed with them and showing my wife the love that she really had deserved all along but I just wasn’t able to give it to her.
0:42:54 MK: So, there was all of this and they really… I think that part of the reintegration process is how the people around you are actually reacting to you and some of them are really put off. If you come back like that, if you come back just so radically different, people don’t always react in a good way. They’re like, “Who do you think you are?” And you have to explain it to them and you have to do it… You have to come from a place of love. And a lot of times, when you do that, they start asking questions about themselves and that was one of the things that happened with my wife.
0:43:38 MK: My wife started asking questions about herself and she really had to come to terms with the fact that she was severely damaged not just from what I had done to her. I had tried to commit suicide twice and she had to deal with the aftermath of that. But it wasn’t just that but the fact that she had childhood trauma of her own and that she had to come to face it in order to become a better person. And she saw me becoming a better person. And when you see the people around you becoming better people, it’s sort of a call-to-action. And she had come to the place where she was ready to start trying to become a better person as well and fix herself. And that was part of the reintegration process. It wasn’t just me, it was about the people around me too.
0:44:33 PA: And I think it often is when we… For many of us, when we try psychedelics for the first time, it’s, in some ways, in an isolated context. It’s not like we’re doing it with our family or with our church, or with people from school, these communities that we grew up in and around. And often times, we come back from these psychedelic experiences changed. And many of us change for the better. And often times, the hardest part is stepping back into normal reality, so to say, with an understanding that you’ve changed but chances are, most other people haven’t. And that’s when it becomes difficult because at that point, you then have to make a choice of what you do. Who do you decide to keep in your life, who do you decide to move on from.
0:45:22 PA: Because in this process of waking up, so to say, and healing ourselves, what I’ve found is that the core of it is self-love. And in loving ourselves, we naturally wanna surround ourselves with people who also love us and we love them. And I think many of us had been raised in communities and churches, and households where that just hasn’t been present. And to embody that, I think this speaks to what you’re saying, to then come back from an experience and embody that is threatening to a person’s ego because…
0:45:55 MK: Very much so.
0:45:55 PA: It puts them in a situation where they have to say, “Well, either I need to step up and also look at myself or, you know, this, or I need to step away from this relationship, and then that’s not usually a conscious choice, it’s more of a subconscious sort of stirring. But I think that’s what a lot of people go through, in the community center.
0:46:15 MK: A lot of people say that Ayahuasca can strengthen an already strong relationship, or it can break apart a negative one. In a lot of cases, that’s exactly what it does. If you come back and you start presenting yourself this way and people are not ready to ask themselves the question, wait a second, am I damaged and if… Can I get better from the damage that has been done to me? If they don’t really step into that role as a self-healer also, it can really break apart a lot of different relationships and I’m just fortunate to have the wife that I do, that she has stepped up to the plate and really started taking on her own problems and her own problems in relationship to me, there’s a certain amount of… A lot of this movie has to do with relationships, you know. And she had to understand that when I got hurt, and I was just not fit to be a human being, she had to step up, and she had to take control of a lot of different things, and in the aftermath of psychedelic exploration, she had to sort of start taking a step back and not exerting so much OCD sort of control over everything, over me. And that was very difficult for her to do and it was difficult for a lot of different people to do, but it’s been immensely rewarding. The journey is worth it, I’m telling you, I’m telling everyone that’s listening to this, it is worth it, it is worth it.
0:48:11 PA: Hey, listeners, just a brief interruption, a really brief interruption quick, just as a reminder, if you enjoy the podcast and want to support us at Third Wave as a non-profit to change the cultural conversation around psychedelics, we would appreciate that support by going to patreon.com/thethirdwave and you can make a small donation to continue to support this. Also, as a reminder, we’re now running, or you know, are gonna… Partner organization Synthesis is now running psilocybin retreats, legal psilocybin retreats, in Amsterdam you can apply for those retreats, we have spots open in January, February, March and onwards, and you can apply for those retreats by going to synthesisretreat.com and just mentioning that you found the application through Third Wave. So if you wanna work with psilocybin legally, that’s a really great place to do it. And finally, a little bit of an announcement, which I’ll talk more about in a future podcast is I’m opening up some of my own personal stuff. So we’re launching a new personal website fairly soon, and I’m offering some personal coaching, so if you’d like to work one-on-one with me in a capacity around microdosing or generally coaching, I’m not cheap but I’m very effective at what I do.
0:49:34 PA: So, we’ll have more details about that in future podcasts. And that’s it for now, we’ll get back to the show.
0:49:49 PA: So one thing we haven’t yet spoken about, which I just wanna spend the last 5 or 10 minutes on, is I think, one topic that’s hot, both within the psychedelic space, but also that… It’s on a lot of people’s minds, is the fact that we are healing veterans with plant medicine. And I just wanted to hear a little bit from your perspective in terms of how your views have changed, if your views have changed, about the relationship between yourself and your country? Because I know early on in the podcast, in the conversation, you mentioned obviously with 9/11, we felt like we were attacked. We, as a country, our homeland. And I agree with you, when… I was much younger than you, I was, I think, 11 at the time, and I felt that same way and my family felt that same way, yet, in the past few years, especially after Afghanistan and Iraq, these two wars, a lot of people have become more or less kind of, what’s a good way to put this, quite unhappy with being American, I would even say with identifying as an American. Because it’s become very clear that the system that American power was built on maybe wasn’t really the healthiest system. And so, I’d just love to hear where you’re at in that process, in terms of what’s your relationship like with your own country, previous to the war, compared to… Compared to now.
0:51:32 MK: Yeah, self-hate is a very fashionable thing to do these days, including hate for your own country. I don’t really subscribe to it. I love my country, and I raised my hand in support to defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic. And that means a lot to me, it really does. Nobody’s ever relieved me of that oath, so when I came back and I started healing from all these things, it became very obvious that the onus was on me, now, if you want to see the world change, you have to make a change. And you don’t have to just make others change, you have to be the change yourself, and you have to embody that for everyone else around you as an exemplar, as an example of what can be done and I…
0:52:34 MK: I believe in the United States of America, believe it or not it’s not very fashionable to say that kind of thing right now but I believe in the idea of the United States of America, I believe in the Constitution of the United States and I believe that it’s been horribly, horribly violated by the people that are in power and it’s all done in the name of all of these different wars. There’s a war on terrorism which America has essentially declared war on the entire rest of the world. It doesn’t matter where terrorism lies we’re gonna go find it, we’re gonna fish it out, we’re gonna destroy it. That is a declaration of war on the entire world and years and years ago we declared war on drugs and it’s really just a war on the people of our own country. We are taking militarized police forces and kicking down doors using explosives to blow up doors, doing things that I did in Afghanistan and we’re doing it against our own citizens who are simply trying to treat themselves with something. Okay, yeah, most people are not pursuing the right avenues and a lot of people are caught up in cocaine and heroin and things that aren’t the best option if you want to get better but what those things are, are symptom management devices so I wanna end the drug war in its complete entirety, there’s not one portion of it that I want to stand.
0:54:21 MK: I don’t care if we’re talking about civil asset forfeiture I don’t want our prison industrial complex driven by for-profit prisons, I want restrictions removed against not just the natural plant medicines but on all of them because I think that if people were taking any of these substances under the supervision of a doctor we wouldn’t have an opioid epidemic today. The fact is, is that there’s 121 people killing themselves every single day in the United States of America, that’s a massive number, 22 of those are veterans but we also have 190 people who are overdosing every single day and the only thing those people are trying to do, they’re just trying to treat their trauma that’s what it’s about, it’s the same thing with suicide. So we have many hundreds of people that are dying every single day for one problem and one problem only and that’s untreated trauma. If we can simply end the drug war and the war on terrorism and go back to a point where we’re simply defending ourselves from threats coming from the outside world and we’re defending the constitution against the enemies that would destroy it whether they’re in another country or whether they’re in our own government ’cause we got a lot of those, we’ve got a lot of those and I think more combat vets need to step up to the play run for office and change the system from within it’s the only way that we’re really going to be able to do anything great and good in this country.
0:56:10 MK: I’ve seen rebellion, I’ve seen failed countries, I’ve seen the blood running in the streets, I’ve seen children impaled, I’ve seen them blown apart, I’ve seen… I’ve had to gather their pieces up it’s not something that I want in my neighborhood and I don’t think anybody here in America really, truly wants that in their own neighborhood. If you’re an American there’s all these, these crazy extremist groups who are like, yeah, rebellion, rebel against the the evil great government, I don’t want that, I want us to have some sort of a peaceful solution, the only way that’s gonna happen is if people get out and vote and more veterans actually stand up, get up and off the couch and start running in their states, in their local municipalities and even for federal office, we need to change the system from within. It’s the only way anything is gonna change so I wanna be part of that change, I wanna be the change.
0:57:19 PA: Be the change and I think that’s all we can expect from ourselves is to first, this is kind of what we were talking about earlier we can only first focus on healing ourselves and giving ourselves the autonomy and the agency so then go out and contribute in a way that’s positive and then that impact, that leadership will ripple out slow but sure into our family, into our extended circles and into our larger friend groups, into our larger community online through the Internet and the more people who believe in these concepts of love and connectedness and community because when you were talking about things like the opioid crisis and suicide, trauma I think that the core of that as well is this existential crisis where people just or loss for purpose and meaning they just feel like, where is this coming from and I think this is also why I’m such a huge fan of psychedelics because not only can they heal the body, physical trauma, not only on the heel of mind from emotional trauma but they also I think most importantly can heal the spirit by connecting us directly to source and some people will call that God, some people that Alpha and Omega, some people will call that Buddha whatever you call it, it is healing in itself and the more that that word is spread the more that we can just let people come to those terms, and come to those understandings that I think the more that society itself can heal itself.
0:58:55 PA: I’m not myself particularly patriotic, I have lived and traveled to many other countries so I recognize the upsides of nation states, I also recognize some of the current downsides of having a nation state. I’m more fond of local governance, city-state level almost and less strong Federal government, I think they’re just more flexible and more adaptable to the needs of local people but at the same time I hear you that… For all the criticisms that I might levee on this podcast and elsewhere, and the criticisms that many people levee against the United States, I still am a product of America, and I’ve been privileged and fortunate enough to have been born and raised in a place where I can do whatever the fuck I want, more or less. And not everyone can say that, and this is what comes in to the drug war, and minority populations, and… And I think what I’m hearing from you is, this is why it’s important for those who have healed themselves, and those who do have the privilege. It’s important for them to step up and start to change things in a big way.
1:00:07 MK: Yeah, I think we need to return a lot of the control back to the locals. The federal government is far overblown, and they are stepping into all kinds of different areas where they really have no business being. I think that almost everything would be much better off if it were controlled on a more local level, whether it’s state, or whether it’s actually your local municipality. Things would be immensely better if we return to a system in which that was the norm. It’s great, because psychedelics, actually, it doesn’t really matter what you call it. You can call it source, you can call it God, it’s a very loaded word. You can call it the universe, which is my favorite moniker. When the universe calls, you accept the call. It doesn’t matter what you really call it, but this process brings you closer into contact with everyday life, the moment now. And when it does that, it brings you into contact closer with the people that are around you right now. And that’s your local community, and that’s where you’re really gonna make the most difference. I think that if more veterans just stepped up to the plate, and were willing to challenge the status quo, and attempt to make their mark on society and on government especially, we’d see a more responsive government that is more likely to listen to its people and involve the people in the decisions that they’re making every day.
1:01:53 MK: And that’s what I’m dedicated to do right now. I’ve found a lot of healing from the actions of going to the Capitol, in lobbying, citizen lobbying for the issues that I believe in, being cannabis, for one. As soon as I got here to Colorado, actually, I started wondering, “Why the heck is PTSD not a covered condition for medical marijuana, because it works.” There’s no question in my mind it works. It healed me. And I started pushing for change on that level very quickly when I got here, and it took a few years, but in 2017 we got a law passed, and now PTSD is a covered condition in the State of Colorado. And it’s not just for veterans, it’s for anybody that has PTSD. It was really important to me. I actually sued the state in order to get that to happen. And it was really important to me to have at least one civilian on… In the group of people suing the state, because as… We’re kind of the poster voice of PTSD right now. Veterans are the poster children of PTSD, but it’s our job as that to bring attention to the fact that so many individuals in our greater society, so many civilians have had trauma in their lives, real, real trauma. There are so many people that come to me and say, “I can’t imagine what you’ve been through.” But if I sit and listen to enough stories, I’m gonna come across a lot of them, then I’m gonna say, “I don’t even know how you made it through that.”
1:03:38 MK: It goes both ways. There are horrible stories here at home, and there’s horrible stories abroad, but the common element is pain and suffering and what we are doing to ourselves as a result of these things that have happened to us, the things that we have seen, and if we could just heal it all as a society, we’d be better off.
1:04:03 PA: And I think that’s a great way to end this episode. So Matt, I just wanna, I wanna thank you for sharing your story, for having the courage to come on here and talk about these things for the role that you played in “From Shock to Awe.” And just before we leave, if people wanna find out more about the documentary, if they wanna find out more about your work, what are the best places for them to go?
1:04:30 MK: Yeah, please come out. November 12th, the day after Veterans Day. Veterans Day is on the 11th, but the day after Veterans Day, it is being released nationwide. If you go to fromshocktoawe.com, go all the way to the bottom where it says “Watch.” Click on that link and it will come up with a list of every American city that it’s being screened in on that date, and find the city closest to you, buy a ticket and come on out. I guarantee you, this movie will change lives. It’s changing my life as we speak, still, even though it’s already filmed, it’s already cut, it’s already done. This is still changing my life in real time, and I believe it’ll change yours too. The organization that I started and that I represent, is called Veterans for Natural Rights. You can find it by going to veteransfornaturalrights.org, or you can go on Facebook and find Veterans for Natural Rights. We have a lot of very controversial topics that we talk about. Natural rights goes far beyond just plant medicines. It is definitely a natural right to stick a seed in the ground and watch it grow, and then use the products for it for healing yourself, and for nutrition, or for clothes, or whatever the heck you wanna use it for.
1:05:58 MK: But it’s only one part of Natural rights. Natural rights are the things that we are all born with as a result of being human beings. I don’t have freedom of speech because the government grants me it, the… I have freedom of speech because I have a tongue and lips with which to speak. And the only thing controlling what I say, is my thoughts of what the repercussions might be. So the natural rights is a very expansive topic, and it’s something that I think that we all need to get very much more acquainted with as a society, and we need to all start re-asserting our natural rights, ’cause a lot of them have been taken away by the infringements on the Constitution of the United States that I was sworn to protect. So please come to either our website or our web page. There’s actually a lot more activity on the web on the Facebook page. We have a lot of political debates and things like that. I’d love to see you come out and check out what we’re doing. We do a lot of different events all over the country. We have chapters springing up in different places all over the country, Nebraska, Omaha, Houston, even Nashville’s coming online. But please, share your two cents too. Everybody’s voice matters. And it would please me nothing more to hear everyone in America start asserting their voice and their rights as a people.