Harm Reduction

Transcript: Healing Veterans’ Mental Trauma Through Ayahuasca – Jesse Gould

The Third Wave · October 13th, 2020

Please enjoy this transcript of our interview with Jesse Gould.

After returning from his third deployment to Afghanistan, army ranger Jesse Gould struggled with PTSD, eventually recovering from his trauma through the use of Ayahuasca. Today, as founder and president of the Heroic Hearts Project, Jesse is dedicated to advancing the acceptance and use of Ayahuasca therapy as a treatment for veterans’ mental health. In this podcast transcript, he and Paul discuss the interdependence of the mind and body, the potential connection between Ayahuasca and gut health, and the incredible results veterans see with Ayahuasca retreats.

Highlights include:

  • A holistic definition of “mental health”.
  • Upcoming research on Ayahuasca’s effect on gut health.
  • The interconnectedness of physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being.
  • Microdosing Ayahuasca.
  • How Heroic Hearts Project helps veterans with PTSD through Ayahuasca therapy.
  • The benefits and limitations of talk therapy, and how psychedelics facilitate talk therapy.
  • Overcoming negative thought patterns and habits.
  • COVID’s role in bringing mental health to the forefront.
  • Spreading the message about the benefits of psychedelics.
  • The impact of group dynamics at an Ayahuasca retreat.

00:00 Paul Austin: On today’s episode, we have Jesse Gould, founder and president of the Heroic Hearts Project, a 501 [c] [3] non-profit, pioneering psychedelic therapies for military veterans. We’re gonna talk about Ayahuasca, Jesse’s personal story with psychedelics and how this plant medicine is so, so great for healing deep, deep trauma.

[music]

00:21 PA: Welcome to The Third Wave podcast. I’m your host, Paul Austin, here to bring you cutting-edge interviews with leading scientists, entrepreneurs and medical professionals who are exploring how we can integrate psychedelics in an intentional and responsible way for both healing and transformation. It is my honor and privilege to bring you these episodes as you get deeper and deeper into why these medicines are so critical to the future of humanity. So let’s go and let’s see what we can explore and learn together in this incredibly important time.

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03:28 PA: Hey, listeners. So in the past, we’ve had a few veterans on to talk about psychedelics and plant medicine, but it’s been a minute. I think the last one we had on was Matt Kahl, who was a feature in Maxi Cohen’s film, and Maxi is lovely, I was just sending her an email, From Shock to Awe. And From Shock to Awe was an incredible documentary about the healing that so many veterans went through after working with Ayahuasca and plant medicine. So Jesse reached out towards the beginning of COVID asking if I’d be down to hop on a podcast and jam, and he’s been working on the Heroic Hearts Project, which he started in 2017, and already they’ve raised over $350,000 in scholarships from donors, including Dr. Bronner’s and partnered with some of the world’s leading Ayahuasca retreat centers. So Jesse’s role in this program is to help shape the treatment protocols and spread awareness of plant medicine as a therapeutic method. Jesse’s work can be seen and heard in the New York Times, he spoke at Breaking Convention, he’s been on several other podcasts in the psychedelic space, and we have the honor of having him on for Third Wave’s podcast.

04:47 PA: And the stuff that we got into was super interesting in terms of Jesse’s journey. He was deployed as an army ranger in Afghanistan three times, suffered from extensive PTSD. He was like many veterans are, just could not find a way back to health and healing after returning from those operations until he found plant medicine. And Jesse is doing much, much better now. So we had a chance to drop in, go into his story, learn about why Ayahuasca is so effective at treating PTSD, learn more about Heroic Hearts and the work that they’ve done, including some of the stories of veterans that they’ve sent down to Costa Rica and then hearing about Jesse’s vision, what this could become, where he sees this going and why it’s so, so important in a world where veterans just don’t have access to a lot of effective treatments. So, anyway, without any further ado, I bring you founder and president of The Heroic Hearts Project, Jesse Gould.

05:45 PA: What did you learn about time from psychedelics?

05:51 Jesse Gould: I don’t know. It’s more of a lifelong dynamic of just always try to make the most of the current time. The rest of it really doesn’t matter, the before and after. It’s always being present. And I’m sure that’s what a lot of people struggle with.

06:08 PA: Infinitely present.

06:10 JG: I don’t think it’s possible personally to be infinitely, but I think you can always make moves to be more and more.

06:16 PA: I thought that was enlightenment. I thought that was the whole point. Then you’re infinitely present.

06:20 JG: Maybe some people. I’m not setting that high of a bar.

06:23 PA: Jesse’s cool hanging out, down… A little down with the humans, right?

06:28 JG: I’m gonna stay with the mortals.

06:30 PA: Alright. It’s a fair choice, I respect that.

06:33 JG: But, yeah, even in the process of creating a business or creating this non-profit, there’s… I’m sure it’s the same with you, there’s just a lot of pulling your hair out and hating life, but it’s a lot of the moments that you’re gonna miss and will fly by once it’s all said and done, right?

06:51 PA: Boundaries. That’s my thing, that’s what I’ve been learning the last, definitely the last year and a half, but even more acutely in the last, I would say few months, is respect my time more than anyone else’s. ‘Cause I’ve gone through the hair tearing out phase. I’ve gone through the highly anxious and burned out phase. I’ve gone through the I’m not getting a lot of sleep phase and I still self-medicate with Cannabis quite a bit just to help with anxiety and chilling out a little bit. So I definitely… I hear you. There’s a sensitivity to the chaos that’s going on and I can only speak for myself. When I’m in a more regulated, healthy rested state, I’m just not as doomsday, I guess. I’m more optimistic, I’m more hopeful. I feel like a lot of people who are in this space, in particular the psychedelic and plant medicine space, I think there’s something genuine about the mission and its ability to hopefully help people live a little bit more in a sane way ’cause life feels pretty insane right now.

07:52 JG: Yeah, for sure. I guess the one silver lining is that mental health is becoming a little bit more in the conversation.

08:02 PA: Hopefully a lot more. COVID kinda fucked shit up.

08:05 JG: Yeah, for sure. It’s the first time…

08:08 PA: How do you define… Jesse, how do you define mental health?

08:14 JG: I think it’s sort of the full dynamic. Obviously, it takes place in the mind, but it obviously includes the body and everything else as well. So I think it’s just that all systems are green light or as green light as possible. If you look at any machine, even like a car, you can’t just have… If part of the engine is messing up or there’s a loose pin, then it messes up the entire car. You can’t just say like, “Well, at least the muffler’s good.” You have to focus on the entire body of it, and since the mind is mostly in control of the being, it does these check-ups of what’s good, but you need to have the body be healthy. You need to have your diet be healthy. You need to have spirituality in whatever context you take that in, be healthy. And so I think if all of those are working together, then that’s what you’re achieving in terms of mental health because you get to that stability. And like you said, you get to that spot where you’re valuing yourself and your time more, and you’re not letting stress and all these other things overcome you.

09:26 PA: It’s like interdependence, right? The mind is part of the body, which is… We have a gut, there’s the mind, there’s the brain-gut connection, which a lot of research has come out of lately. Super, super fascinating. And I feel like that’s the next big round of psychedelic research is, okay, we have a fairly cohesive comprehensive understanding of how psychedelics affect neurotransmitters and depression and addiction. And I would say it’s substantial. It’s not complete, but it’s substantial. We need to start doing research on inflammation on the gut and a lot of these things.

09:58 JG: We’re actually in the process of doing that, glad you mentioned it.

10:02 PA: Hell, yeah. I was hoping you would say that. What’s going on with Ayahuasca and the gut? Do you have any sort of inklings or understanding to that?

10:08 JG: It’s too early to tell because we’ve had… I think we have about 20 plus samples right now. So we’re working with the combination of University of Georgia and University of Colorado in Boulder. And in Boulder, they have one of the leading microbiome experts and labs. But the thing is, because it’s such a sensitive test that every time you run a test, there is inherent error. And so you wanna try to… You don’t wanna just test one sample then test another sample, you wanna do it in batches and so they all have that same error. So then you can factor that out. So we’ve just been trying to get a big enough sample size to where we can do that. And obviously, COVID kinda slowed that down, ’cause in March, we were set to do sort of a big across the board study with a group of veterans in Costa Rica.

11:00 JG: So we had the combination of the two universities, we had the review board approval and we were gonna just do a whole slew of tests because the veterans were willing to do it. And that’s kind of the hard part. You don’t wanna make people feel like lab rats especially when they’re trying to get healthy. But this group was all about it, and so we were gonna run a portable EEG or whatever, the brain one, I forget. We were doing the fecal samples for the gut microbiome. Potentially, we were gonna do some blood samples, some saliva, some urine samples, and just try to get as many physiological points and changes as possible. Specifically, what got me interested in the microbiome is, if you’ve experienced Ayahuasca, there’s definitely some sort of storm going on in your stomach.

11:49 PA: That’s an understatement. It’s like a fucking hurricane.

11:52 JG: Right. I just can’t see how it doesn’t affect…

11:55 PA: It definitely does.

11:56 JG: Your stomach.

11:57 PA: It definitely does, absolutely.

12:00 JG: Even if there’s not anything to directly correlate to behavior, I think it’s still an interesting piece of data. ‘Cause as you said, I think that’s what’s lacking is the psychological things are one piece of the puzzle, but they tend to be pretty vague.

12:15 PA: We now have the tools to have much more precise measurements like what you’re doing with the blood tests and the microbiome and cortisol levels through saliva and bowel stuff and all of that is… That is the future of medicine. That is where medicine is headed. And from my perspective, that is the most immediate way to prove the efficacy of something like Ayahuasca, because all these FDA… The FDA is sort of a shit storm for Ayahuasca because they’re so focused on the molecule rather than really looking at the entire plant medicine. If you can get an independent research body to start to do this type of research with Ayahuasca and you prove this with the medical oversight, whatever you need for the certification, for the validity of the research, that’s phenomenal research. And that I think can then be utilized from a legal perspective to get people more access to this medicine.

13:09 JG: Yeah, I think it’s more irrefutable, too. If you show a change, a consistent change in an inflammatory marker that’s undeniable and that has some sort of effect that you can trace. If you show a change in a survey based off of somebody’s mental health, that can have a lot of variability ’cause it’s like any given day, you’re gonna answer… A perfectly healthy human’s gonna answer in a spectrum of how happy they are, they’re feeling depressed or whatever.

13:43 PA: Real-time feedback. It’s important.

13:45 JG: Yup. Yeah, so we’re trying to push that. But yeah, I agree with you. And one is just, it’s fascinating, too to see how it works. That thing that’s sort of been lacking in terms of mental health and how we deal with that is the psychology world has always tried to treat mental health as close as possible to any other issue like a broken bone. And so it’s like, “Okay, let me prescribe this one thing that affects this part of the brain without understanding… ” Obviously, I’m not trying to dismiss it, there’s obviously understanding, but I think it’s too narrow. So it’s like even with the discussion of PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, it’s really focused on, “Okay, what specific incident caused you to have the specific after-effects that are affecting your life?” Whereas a lot of the veterans that we are working with, maybe it’s not technically classified as PTSD, but they’re suffering and they’re struggling for many reasons. Partly, it might be a traumatic experience, but there’s all sorts of other issues going into it. And as we mentioned, it’s kind of this self-fulfilling sort of thing. As you start getting depressed, you’re more likely to eat unhealthy, you’re more likely to get less sleep, you’re more likely to make bad decisions, which then feeds into the depression and then you find yourself in this hole.

15:06 JG: And that’s such a hard thing to get out of. But with these pin-point medications or these assessments, I don’t think it does justice enough to understanding the whole dynamic of it of what you’re eating, what’s your social life like? And even back to the physical side…

15:24 PA: There’s too many variables.

15:27 JG: Right. And what they’re finding out with veterans is actually a lot of the symptoms around PTSD are related to traumatic brain injury, even small, just constant exposure to concussive force, not necessarily any sort of physical damage, but that concussion can really affect people, throw off the balance of chemicals in the brain and eventually cause depression. And you’ve seen that with athletes as well.

15:55 PA: So I have a question. Is microdosing Ayahuasca a thing?

16:01 JG: Yeah, you can microdose anything. I’ve actually been doing that a little bit myself, not here at home and not… I try to keep as big of a separation between recreational use as possible, given what I’m doing and really trying to promote this for a treatment or a potential therapy down the line. But obviously, given the nature of what I’m doing I have to go to a lot of these centers, check them out, make sure that I feel comfortable sending veterans there. Or I will also go with groups of veterans just to make sure if it’s a bigger group that there’s somebody there that understands them and can help be a presence in the [unclear speech] because a lot of veterans, it’s a very strong trauma, and just to add that extra security. I don’t wanna be one of these ceremony counters or how many times I’ve done this that you’re seeing a lot. And just for my own sake and for my own respect of the substance, I very much limit how many times I partake and only if I’m either bonding with the group or trying to get something out of it personally, which I have to go through my own preparation.

17:09 JG: But so in recent times, what I’ve done is actually just microdose during the ceremony, so I can still be somewhat connected to the group, whereas I’m not just doing these full-blown experiences every single time. And it’s actually been pretty interesting because as most who microdose you don’t go into it, but it is enough to stimulate your brain in an interesting way. And there’s still a lot of processing and all that, that you can get out of it. So I’ve actually had some pretty great experiences just taking a very subliminal sort of dose.

17:43 PA: There’s this guy who I saw speak at Breaking Convention in 2017, his name is Benjamin Mudge. Maybe you know him.

17:50 JG: Yeah.

17:51 PA: And he had a really interesting presentation about how he created many rituals with microdoses of Ayahuasca to treat his bipolar disorder. That was more or less I think, one of the first times I heard about microdosing Ayahuasca. I had also heard that sometimes, obviously shamans, I have friends who sometimes co-facilitate certain ceremonies, they might microdose during ceremonies. Oftentimes they just drink full cups, but sometimes there’s an element of microdosing there as well. If it’s done from the right energy, if it’s done with the right intention, if it’s done with the right medicine, however you wanna define that for your own situation, then it feels like it could be a potentially… Again, there has to be a lot of thought and care and intention put into this, but some sort of healing benefit from developing a deeper relationship in that way.

18:45 JG: Yeah, for sure. Just across the board, there does seem to be some early, but pretty interesting research on the microdosing side. There’s obviously, there’s a survey out of the UK. I think a place in Canada is trying to push some research and it’s interesting. I wanna be hesitant on that because anything that can go into dependency, I’m always a little bit hesitant on Where people rely on something to get things done, but there is a lot of evidence that…

19:17 PA: That’s life, dude. I feel like that’s life. That’s tea, that’s coffee. I smoke cigarettes. That’s exercise. There’s always gonna be things that we are dependent on because we are interdependent with our reality, and it’s better that those are medicines and healing things than they are things that take away. So I think with microdosing, that’s my perspective. I microdose just like I take fish oil or just like I take Ashwagandha or just like I intermittent fast, or just like I do anything that generally from science and our understanding of the human biome and physique is healthy and good for me. And I feel like that’s a relationship, that’s not a dependency.

19:55 JG: Yeah, for sure. I agree. But I also think it’s worthwhile to know what those substances are if you’ve… Even coffee now, people recommend that…

20:07 PA: Totally.

20:07 JG: If you can, take a break from it. The same thing, any person with microdosing is like, “If you’ve been doing it for a while, maybe take some time off and see where your life’s at and then also redevelop that relationship when you go back on it.”

20:23 PA: Yeah, it’s like assessing in your baseline. It gets back into what we were talking about before with the research you’re doing with some of the Ayahuasca. This is what I’m really interested in developing. What’s the bio-hacking approach to microdosing? How do we gather data on when someone does a microdosing protocol where they do this three times a week for a month, how does that change their gut biome and these other lifestyle factors? And I feel like we’re gonna find out a lot more in taking those smaller sliver sizes rather than some of the microdosing research which has been published so far is like 1500 people taking a survey. I’m interested in the individual. I’m interested in those really interesting stories, ’cause I think that will tell us a lot more than trying to take a sample size of fucking 1500 people.

21:06 JG: Yeah, I agree. And there’s… Any survey is automatically gonna be limited in what it tells about a person, whereas I think there’s just a lot of potential with the microdosing in terms of traumatic brain injury or what effects it has on neurogenesis or healing the brain. I think that could potentially be the most fascinating.

21:30 PA: Yeah, I’ve heard a lot of people with TBI, traumatic brain injuries, who start to microdose and it helps significantly. And I can personally attest that microdosing is obviously a key component of my own wellness and cognitive well-being regimen, and I’m someone who’s been microdosing now for six years. No, five years. Five years, on and off, but mostly on, but also off for some significant periods of time. And in that time frame, I’ve just noticed things feel good and my energy is fairly balanced, and I do have a tendency to push myself a little bit. So I’m a pretty high dopamine person, so I think sometimes it overdoes that, and that’s when I maybe burn out. Like any other sort of substance, like caffeine, like you were saying, with coffee, always having the chance to reset and have that new baseline and be able to do, “Is this really useful or is it not serving me right now?” And then you can make that decision as you would make that decision.

22:26 JG: Right, it’s like an intention-filled life as much as possible. I think in all aspects of life, if you… Instead of just going into robot mode all the time with what you do, and the habitual obviously has its role and it’s great, but I think more time spent on understanding and bringing intention into what you’re doing. I’ve just found that personally keeps me in the here and now, and keeps me from just getting into these routines that can be self-defeating a lot of times.

22:58 PA: So tell us about Heroic Hearts. We haven’t explicitly talked about it yet. We’ve obviously been surfing on a few topics like obviously Ayahuasca and the research you’re doing, but what is Heroic Hearts? How did it get started? What’s sort of the back story behind it?

23:10 JG: Yeah, definitely. So Heroic Hearts Project is a 501 [c] [3] non-profit in the US, started in 2017. Started it ’cause of my own background I am a former army ranger. I had a few deployments to Afghanistan, and when I got home, tried to go back into the civilian world as smooth as possible, went back into corporate finance and pretended everything was alright. But under the surface, everything wasn’t alright. As much as I tried to ignore it, and as much as on the surface, I could project that I was doing okay, this dark cloud around me just got worse and worse and I couldn’t shake it. I tried all sorts of stuff, a lot of just general, well being, eating better, exercising, journaling, meditation. And it all helped to a degree but nothing set me free of whatever that was lurking in my subconscious. And it didn’t help that as I continued on with the job, I got more and more miserable. And so I went to the Department of Veteran Affairs, and that was essentially a dead end. They said that they didn’t really have the capacity to help me unless I was willing to go on a medication protocol, which I wasn’t.

24:27 JG: And so Ayahuasca came across my radar at that time. And I came from the DARE generation, just say no. And so I had that pretty strong in my brain that for me, it was fine if people wanted to do whatever they did in their own time, but I always saw it as an escape or just really had that entrenched like, “This is an illegal drug and you’re doing a bad thing,” kind of thing. And so when I heard about Ayahuasca, I was just like, “Oh, that’s not for me. That’s for whatever,” but I needed something. I was at that turning point in my life where I knew that just bad life habits would start entrenching themselves. And so fortunately, I ventured there and I’m sure many of your listeners have experienced it, and so I had that typical Ayahuasca story where very profound, changed my life, saw some amazing stories and just had that idea of, “Hey, I have a lot of veteran buddies that are struggling on the verge of themselves doing some bad irreversible decisions.” And so that’s the inspiration of Heroic Hearts is really connect veterans to these modalities, these alternative non-accepted currently modalities, which mostly focuses on psychedelic, especially Ayahuasca. And so through the development of the non-profit, we’ve created a whole sort of program or protocol where veterans come to us if they’re at that time and they’re interested and we provide them information and answer their questions.

25:55 JG: And if they’re interested in doing this, we vet them, make sure it’s safe, make sure they’re at the right phase of their healing for this, according to what we’ve seen, and then we connect them to centers that we’ve also vetted and we provide them support throughout. So integration coaching, preparation coaching, financial scholarships is a big part, ’cause a lot of them are financially hurt. And so as much as we can, we try to set them up for success and connect them there and then follow up with them afterwards and make sure that they integrate it and that they make the decisions in their life that they’ll get the most out of the healing. And as we mentioned before, we’re trying to hit it from all sides, so not only spread the message and share these veteran testimonials with the general public but also track the results through some studies that we’re doing with these universities to try to add that scientific dynamic and contribute to the body of research. That’s sort of the nuts and bolts of the organization.

26:58 PA: What’s been the most inspiring story you’ve heard so far?

27:02 JG: It’s hard to pinpoint just one. Starting a business, especially a non-profit that lives up to its name of not having a profit is definitely an uphill battle. As with any business, there’s always these moments of doubt and there’s these exhaustion points and all that good stuff. And so you can almost lose faith in yourself or what you’re doing it at some points. And so going to these retreats every once in a while with these bigger groups is really that kick in the system that enforces this has to be done, or this is necessary and these stories are just too powerful for this to not continue on. So one retreat we had with a group of veterans. And after just the first ceremony, the first ceremony was pretty wild. Not in a bad way, but everybody just got very intense and deep into it. And obviously these are some pretty big combat veterans.

28:00 JG: So one of the guys was a 20-year army ranger with over 15 deployments under his belt. We had an Australian special forces guy with multiple deployments. So a lot of guys that have seen some stuff. And after the first ceremony, three of the veterans came up to me individually and said that before this, they had had many moments of suicidal ideation and they didn’t think that they would ever go through with it, but they’re on the edge. And they said after just that one ceremony, the idea of suicide was just such a ridiculous notion that they couldn’t even fathom it anymore. And to this day, they’re still on that path and it hasn’t returned. So just profound impacts after a night is one of those things that it’s amazing and it’s awesome to see, and it’s great that it is that effective across the board on the veterans we serve.

29:01 PA: So I’ve gone on a couple of different Ayahuasca retreats. One in Soltara, which is great. I love Soltara. They have smaller groups, 12 to 14 people. One at Rhythmia, which is much bigger. When I was there, there were probably 40 to 50 people. I did, I think four ceremonies there, and then one with a group called One Heart in Costa Rica which was with maybe 40 people. I would say Rhythmia, the energy was a bit more intense. There’s a lot more healing, they’re a lot more…

[vocalization]

29:28 PA: The energy was interesting. One Heart was much more like people had their shit come up and went through their shit, but also a lot more love, a lot more light, a lot more like a beautiful, connected, coming together energy, which was great. And then Soltara was very individual. It was very like, you’re in your own work. You’re on your own mattress, you sit back, boom, that’s it. What’s the energy when you’re in these situations with people who are dealing with suicidal thoughts and PTSD, and what’s that like?

29:53 JG: So it depends also on the center that we’re at and the group energy, it changes, so as you experienced. So we do work with Soltara every once in a while. It’s a great center, and I know the founders, and they’re great people, and they really have a good ethos around what they’re doing. And so when it’s bigger, even on the 14, 15, it brings certain intensities but it dilutes other intensities. And so like you said, it can be a very individualistic experience. And so with those settings, people tend to be more isolated. And every once in a while, somebody will come up. There’s a place in Peru that we use a lot and we love, Fal Bamba Resina, and it tends to be less commercial than a lot of the other ones, and it’s very small and intimate. So it’s like a very small loca. Max capacity, like eight, nine individuals, and so that… It’s just very intense. And so that’s where the story I related earlier, that happened there. And so it’s still very individualistic. People are still going into their cave and fighting their demons, but with that smaller setting does tend to be the group energy dynamic, too. So that’s the group support, but it can also be if a lot of people are struggling, that energy comes out as well. Even with the vets, some… Most of them, really take it internally.

31:18 JG: Some you can see on the surface, but some will relay what they went through the next day and they were completely silent during the ceremony but the story they’re telling is almost horrific. And I think that’s just that sort of, especially on the special ops side, that’s that training of, they’re going in there, they’re gonna do their thing, but still keep composure. And that’s also part of the dynamic and of the personality that I think a lot of these veterans really take well to something like Ayahuasca because it can be very difficult. It’s empowering as much as it is frightening because it allows the individual to go into their subconscious and figure out and almost fight their own demons hand-to-hand as opposed to sitting passively and hoping a therapist can help them push through it.

32:08 PA: Yeah, which can also be part of the process obviously in integration, but I think there is an element of you gotta face your demons.

32:17 JG: Yeah, 100%. We want people to have a therapist before and a lot of them start or continue afterwards because the talking part and having a trained therapist is all part of it. But what I think we have nowadays is that a lot of talk therapy hits a wall because without the tool of a psychedelic or something similar, it’s very hard for the individual to go into that world or even understand it or read the language. I kind of relate it to psychedelics almost offer like a Google Translate of the brain from the subconscious to the conscious. These two can be hard to talk to each other. They might be disconnected, given the trauma, but the psychedelic state somehow allows them to communicate on a different plane.

33:07 PA: Yeah, that relationship between the subconscious and conscious is interesting. I’ve looked a little bit into NLP Neuro-Linguistic Programming, as I’ve had a few close friends of mine who have done trainings or whatever. And I haven’t done it myself, I’m not super familiar with it, but I think hypnosis does this as well. There’s so much in the subconscious that just we can’t get into with normal talk therapy without the catalyst of something that helps us to go deeper. Breathwork can also be this catalyst. Yoga, meditative states, but it’s really about depth therapy. Helping people to go deeper and deeper into themselves as a way to better understand what they need to heal, where their trauma has been, where their wounding has been.

33:48 JG: Right, and it also… What you’re seeing with like MDMA and some of these other… It allows them to put down their guards and it allows them to open up more to a therapist. That’s a hard part with any talk therapy, especially veterans. They tend to be very skeptical and closed off to therapists and often have more of a, “I’m forced to be here” relationship that can take years in some people to get around. But with what they’re seeing through MAPS with MDMA, it takes down those barriers pretty quickly and then also promotes a trusting relationship and so it allows that therapist to get in a deeper level than they would be before.

34:31 PA: Yeah, because we hold a lot of those traumas in our unconscious. I think of the analogy of when we use psychedelics, we’re sort of opening the basement that we’ve kept locked away. The trauma that we’ve repressed, the emotions that we just haven’t really integrated and dealt with. And I think for many people, I know I speak for myself, definitely that process could be very scary, but it’s also the only way out is through… You have to face it. That’s the difficult part. That’s where it’s not so fun and nice. I think there is a tendency for people, a lot of people, to bypass and think this is all fairies and other stuff, but for people who have really had shit, this is healing. It’s super healing.

35:20 JG: And it can be very difficult, but in the same sense, it always… You’ll come out the other end. It always empowers you in some way. Like with Ayahuasca, it’s notorious for… They call it mother Ayahuasca a lot in certain cultures because it has a severe kind of mother where it will be harsh, but it will never let you fall too far. And so you see that a lot with these Ayahuasca ceremonies of people struggle and it’s because they have to struggle and often because the trauma is so severe. And these people have spent their… So much time entrenching these habits, these negative thought patterns in their brain. Of course it’s gonna take some struggle to get out of that trench to change the narrative. And so you see that people will struggle. They’ll hit walls, they’ll keep repeating things over and over again until sometimes they’re just exhausted and they have no ability to fight anymore. And it’s at that time that they’re able to move on to the next chapter. They’re able to accept it and change the narrative and change all these things, but oftentimes it takes that hitting your head against a wall for a while until you realize that you don’t need to.

36:39 PA: What’s your preferred beverage? Do you drink coffee? Do you drink tea? Are you more of a mud water type of person? What’s your sort of morning thing?

36:49 JG: Yeah, I do. I drink coffee, I like the routine. The caffeine side of it, really, if I have too much, obviously it’ll affect me, but just on a… I’m one of those that can drink coffee pretty late and still sleep pretty well.

37:05 PA: And you live in New York?

37:08 JG: I know.

37:08 PA: Man, you’re a warrior. I don’t know how you do it.

37:10 JG: I like drinks in general. So I always have water, or coffee, or sparkling water, especially if I’m talking. And so I always have to be conscious because then I have a tendency to drink too much coffee. Or if I’m having a beer with a friend and we’re in a conversation, I’ll just drink and not notice how much in the conversation. So that’s hard to say where it stems from, whether it’s just like a nervous habit or what, but it’s just drinking or having some sort of drink is very part of my day.

37:44 PA: On the range of super healthy drinks to not healthy drinks at all, what’s your range? Is it mostly healthy sort of nourishing stuff, a few beers here and there? Maybe some nice coffee?

37:56 JG: Yeah. Generally, a coffee in the morning and then just a lot of water during the day. I drink a lot of sparkling water, and then maybe a soda every once in a blue moon, but really don’t drink that much. It’s pretty limited within that, either that. And then at night or if we’re out with friends, a beer, cocktail or wine with dinner, try to keep it within bounds with everything.

38:20 PA: I’ve tried lately this thing called Athletic Greens. Have you heard of it?

38:25 JG: Uh-uh.

38:28 PA: It’s like one of those green all-in-one supplements. So if you look at the listing, it’s like minerals and vitamins and all these other… Like mushrooms and all these other things that are in this one scoop. And I take it, I fast every day till 12 and then take that, and usually most… I’m still drinking oolong tea, which is why I asked you. About two months ago, I switched from coffee to oolong tea. I had an incredible experience with body work and made some significant changes immediately after that. And basically noticed that because I kept drinking high, coffee in particular was spiking my cortisol, was leading me to have more anxiety and that one of the best ways to mitigate that would be to get off of it. So I switched to oolong and that’s been useful, I’ve slept better. So I tend to be a very high energy, high intensity person so I’m a bit more sensitive. So like when I lived in New York, I could not drink coffee. I actually didn’t drink coffee when I lived in New York because it was already so stressful for me in New York that I was miserable. I felt like when I lived in New York for about two years, I felt like I aged about 10 years in that process. And then got my sanity back when I moved to Oakland and I actually started to take care of myself.

39:36 PA: It’s a very stressful city and I wonder, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on this, how do you think COVID will change New York City? Do you think a lot of people are going to leave? What’s sort of the beat on that?

39:46 JG: I don’t know. I love New York City, I’m living here now. I’ve lived here in the past. I kind of agree with you, it always has sort of a timer on it. I don’t see being here for a very extensive period of time, but I always like living here for short periods of time. Within the stress of that energy, there’s a lot of great things about the energy and inspiration as well. I don’t know, it’s hard to say. There’s definitely a palpable tension in New York, and it’s very sad of even just the other week going to Times Square where everything’s just a ghost town and shut down. I can’t imagine owning a business, having to pay New York rent and not having any income coming in from it. And also that existential dread of not knowing when it’s gonna change, having no control over that. I just can’t imagine.

40:37 JG: So there’s a lot of suffering here as well as around the world, obviously. And if we do go into this recession, I think it’s gonna hit New York hard. There’s obviously gonna be a lot of restaurants, a lot of… It’s gonna definitely change the landscape of small businesses and restaurants. I think the skittishness that people are feeling with the whole social distancing, if you get too close to them, and I think that’s gonna remain in people’s psyche for a while in terms of almost having that hesitation to embrace or get close to people. But New York is resilient and it is because I think of that fast-moving nature. I think a lot of those aspects will shuffle through the system fairly quick as opposed to some other places.

41:26 PA: It seems very clear that we’re headed for, I would say, a depression. That’s my read on it. We’re still sort of fluffing in the wind to see what will happen, but once the reality really sets in for people, which I think will happen very soon, it’s going to be clear that we are… What’s the saying? We are up river without a paddle?

41:45 JG: Right.

41:46 PA: I think there are more vulgar ways to say that as well, but that’s essentially our situation, especially in the United States, and especially in New York ’cause New York is the epicenter of the United States, especially it’s financial element. So it will be interesting. I think cities won’t be great places for the next 10 years. And I think the quality of life will sort of see a dip because all these businesses, how are they gonna get back to life? And some places will adapt better than others. I think places with good public transportation so I think that’s what New York has going for it, but I don’t think the full reality of what we’re about to enter has sunk in for most people. I don’t think most people are aware of it still. They’re still so focused on sort of the immediate short-term sort of fear, it’s like there are much worse things coming.

42:29 JG: Yeah, definitely.

42:30 PA: And that’s getting back to the topic of choice, Ayahuasca, Heroic Hearts Project with you, Jesse. What gives you optimism about this work? What fills you with hope and why do you do what you do? Why do you believe in this mission?

42:46 JG: It’s really on the individual basis. I think one of the hard parts about right now too, is just, as well as the COVID and just everything going up. Obviously, the US is very politically charged and it doesn’t help. We’re in an election year, and just with the COVID, there’s all sorts of different conspiracy theories. This whole generation is dealing with how social media impacts our life and just loud voices that are empowered to say anything, but also the freedom of speech side. There’s just a lot going on for all of us. And with the COVID dynamic, obviously, I think mental health is coming a little bit more in the forefront. Now, there’s obvious discussions about the people on the front line, in terms of medical professionals and first responders, but also just on the individual basis of people are at home where they feel caged. They have probably less distraction to distract them from their own mental well-being and for the first time they’re having to come to terms with probably a lot of suppressed issues. And so hopefully, from that, there does open up a conversation. So what gives me hope, even when there is a lot of negativity, is just really the individual of… The aspect of this that I can have an immediate impact on right now. If a veteran comes to us and we’re able to help them and they do have a tremendous impact on their life, that’s all I need. That’s what gives me hope.

44:22 JG: And at the end of the day, if you can help yourself and make sure you’re good, and make sure your immediate circle, friends and family and a little bit of extension to that, if everybody did a little bit more to focus on that, then that would instantaneously make the rest of the world better. That’s what everybody says. You have to start small, you have to figure out what you can control and how you can better it. I think a lot of the stress and the dread that’s happening now is this lack of control, is all these things are happening, and there’s all this fear and just this inherent stress in the world and we just have no control over it, which makes it even more stressful. But there are a lot of things, like you said, like in your life, controlling your day. So what do you drink in the morning? How is that affecting you? Can I change this? Can I make these different habits? Can I go to bed earlier? And if that makes you healthier, that makes you happier, then that gives you more space and more ability to then help the next layer of people. And then you can help them, and then hopefully there’s some sort of pay it forward going.

45:32 JG: Another story is, we helped a Green Beret recently. And he’d joined straight out of high school. Again, another guy who was a Green Beret sniper and just tremendous amount of experience, and has seen a lot in that sort of field. And he took to Ayahuasca, changed his life almost immediately and just continued to have positive results. And he just always relays when we talk about how it’s changed his family dynamic. ‘Cause he has a 10-year-old daughter, and this daughter has only known him as military Rudy. That’s her whole life of this very stern, exacting military stereotypical person that you view with that word. And when he came home, he was almost like this different person. It was almost like pre-military Rudy. So that silliness and still able to do his job and still can follow in the military things when necessary, but a little bit less constricted and uptight. He said it was a little bit of an adjustment for his daughter ’cause it’s almost like introducing her to a stranger. But now I’m always hearing these stories of them making pancakes in the morning and going on hikes and all this kind of stuff, and that’s beautiful. And that’s something in the immediate control that we are able to do at this foundation, but I think a lot of people are able to do.

47:03 PA: And what are your next plans over the next year? What are the main things that you’re working on doing for Heroic Hearts?

47:11 JG: The main game obviously is just try to figure out ways to spread our message, reach communities that might be hesitant or have negative views around psychedelics and tell them a different story. Bring people like Rudy to these groups and have him speak out of, through his first person, and then try to use that to get people to support, more donations. Like any business, we need money to run and to continue this mission. And so always trying to figure out ways to push that forward to enable us to do our main mission. Fortunately, we’re in the process of expanding and starting a branch in the UK, potentially down the line in Canada as well, and so that’s had a lot of momentum. We actually got some people or MPs in politics that are interested in helping out in the UK, and some pretty notable people. So we’re excited about that, and hitting another target because there’s a lot of veterans that are in the same boat there.

48:11 JG: Continue the study that I mentioned and try to expand it as much as possible, and we’ll be able to publish that once we have enough results, which will be pretty great. And then we’re, like I said, we’re just trying to explore different opportunities. So right now we’re starting an ambassador program. So if anybody really wants to help out in the psychedelic space, but they don’t know how, we’re trying to empower people to help others, and especially veterans in their local community by doing events and outreach and maybe potentially local fundraisers once the dust settles on all this stuff. And we’re also exploring sort of different retreat styles as well. So what we’ve been successful with is these executive-style retreats where we combine executives, or traders, or Silicon Valley people, and even athletes with veterans at these retreats.

49:10 JG: So we host these small intimate groups. The execs or the athletes help supplement the costs and so it’s more affordable or free for the veterans and then they all bond in this sort of dynamic. They have similar personalities and so the one side can learn from the other side and be empowered by that spirit and come together in this sort of warrior dynamic, which is very powerful through the Ayahuasca process, especially. So we’ve been exploring that. Those have been doing really well, a little bit more sustainable economic model and just adds an interesting dynamic as well. Always trying to throw nets in different direction and hopefully continue on this mission as best as possible.

49:55 PA: Beautiful. Well, I appreciate you hopping on, sharing a little bit about microdosing Ayahuasca and obviously, Heroic Hearts and the super important work you’re doing with veterans and your perspectives on coffee and what you drink. Yeah, I just generally had a great time chatting with you the last hour. If listeners wanna go find out more information about your projects, if they wanna potentially donate to Heroic Hearts, what are the best next steps?

50:22 JG: Yeah, of course, and it’s been a pleasure talking to you. Always good to catch up and just spend an hour hanging out. So our website is heroicheartsproject.org. We’re on all the social medias, mostly Instagram’s our main one, and you can find it on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Heroic Hearts Project should be pretty easy to find. We have a Patreon and the same applies. For donations, Patreon or straight at the site, there’s a donate button. All our proceeds go directly to veterans. It’s all volunteer, none of us get paid. It completely just enables whatever veterans on our wait list to go to this. And we have hundreds of veterans that are waiting to go to this therapy so every donation, no matter how small, helps. And at the same time, if there’s a veteran or somebody that wants to check out the ambassador program and help out in other ways, there’s applications on our website. And so it’s all there as well as information and testimonials.

51:30 PA: Beautiful. Well, listeners, go ahead and check that out. I will also include show notes, if you wanna check out The Third Wave later and see the show notes. Jesse again, just wanna give my thanks and appreciation for all the work that you’re doing. The plant medicine is so, so important, especially in healing these wounds and these trauma, and every effort that helps people to heal is appreciated in a time like now. So again, thanks so much for coming on.

51:54 JG: Well, thank you for giving us the platform.

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