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No Barriers Podcast Episode 142: From Warrior to Healer with Dr. Zach Skiles, PsyD



From Warrior to Healer through the medium of psychedelic assisted therapy with Dr. Zach Skiles, PsyD. Dr. Skiles is at the forefront of entheogenic drug treatments for veterans suffering from PSTD. These mostly plant based drugs have been used since prehistoric times across the planet. Thanks to their psychoactive properties they induce alterations in perception, mood, consciousness, condition, and behavior. Oregon became the first state to legalize psilocybin and is currently setting up a regulatory framework for psilocybin services in therapeutic settings. But, ultimately why do we care? Here’s a stat.
Going through trauma is not rare. According to the National Center for PTSD, 60% of men and 50% of women experience at least one trauma in their lives.

The work Dr. Skiles and others are doing are opening the door to breakthrough treatments and even complete paradigm shifts in the way the medical community looks at not only PTSD treatments, but how the brain can physically rebuild a healed version of itself.

Connect with Dr. Zach Skiles

Dr. Zach Skiles on Linkedin

Translational Psychedelic Research (TrPR) Program at University of California San Francisco

The Mission Within

Heroic Hearts Project

National Center for PTSD

Fantastic Fungi Film

Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies

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Episode Transcript

Zach Skiles:
There is the old ideas of that if we give people psychedelics, they're going to lay down their weapons. It's just not true. It's an idea that somebody had but we never really tested it. The history doesn't speak to its authenticity either because we used it in warrior societies for centuries. How I've explained it to folks is that you open up these different parts of yourself. That psychedelics are consciousness amplifiers and we all have protectors inside of us. We all have warriors inside of us. We also have lovers, we also have kings and queens. We have these kind of archetypal figures, these identities in ourselves. That need to come out and be expressed in order to integrate all the roles in which we play in our lives.

Eric Weihenmayer:
It's easy to talk about the successes but what doesn't get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is Eric Weihenmayer. I've gotten the chance to ascend Mount Everest, to climb the tallest mountain in every continent, to kayak the Grand Canyon. I happen to be blind. It's been a struggle to live what I call a no barrier's life, to define it, to push the parameters of what it means. Part of the equation is diving into the learning process and trying to illuminate the universal elements that exist along the way. That unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in and the summit exists a map. That map, that way forward is what we call no barriers.

Didrik Johnck:
When it comes to treating post-traumatic stress disorder, AKA, PTSD, most treatments fall into these two common buckets, medication and or psychotherapy. Simply said it works for some but not for all. Today, we meet Dr. Zach Skiles, who is at the forefront of entheogenic drug treatments for veterans suffering from PTSD. If you're Googling entheogenics, so was I a few months ago when we started planning this episode. These mostly plant-based drugs have been used since prehistoric times across the planet. Thanks to their psychoactive properties, they induce alterations in perception, mood, consciousness, condition, and behavior.

Didrik Johnck:
Zach's focus is on Psilocybin, which as some of you might know, is the psychoactive substance in magic mushrooms. Once on the fringe of medical practices, research with these types of treatments are becoming more mainstream. Oregon became the first state to legalize Psilocybin and is currently setting up a regulatory framework for Psilocybin services in therapeutic settings. But ultimately, why do we care? Here's a thought. Going through trauma is not rare. According to the National Center for PTSD 60% of men and 50% of women experience at least one major trauma in their lives. The work Dr. Skiles and others are doing are opening the door to breakthrough treatments. Even complete paradigm shifts in the way the medical community looks at not only PTSD treatments but how the brain works and can rebuild a healed version of itself. Both Eric and Dave are on the road, so our regular co-host, Jeff Evans, picked up the mic to fly solo with Zach Skiles in this interview. I hope you enjoy it. I'm producer Didrik Johnck and this is the No Barriers Podcast.

Jeff Evans:
All right. Hey, everybody. Hi, No Barriers community, Jeff Evans here. We have a pretty unique environment today. I think this may be the first time that we've ever had a solo host episode of the podcast. For one reason or another, I'm not even sure, maybe Eric didn't like me anymore. Dave's busy, I'm not sure what it is but it's very convenient. I'm not going to complain because I feel like it's important to say last year when we were wrapping up 2021, the production team said hey, what topics do you want to hit next year? We threw some spaghetti on the wall and saw what would stick. The guest we have on today and the topic that we're going to discuss was my number one pick. I'm really, really excited and honored because as you'll come to find, this gentleman is a busy fella, he's doing a lot. He's got a lot of irons in the fire and for him to carve out some time for us and our community today to really, I think paint a picture and perhaps even fill in some gaps. I think this could be a really profound and meaningful conversation.

Jeff Evans:
So no further ado, we are honored to have Zach Skiles with us today. Zach is an extraordinary young man. My script here, Zach says that you are a former Marine but I know there's no such thing as a former Marine. Am I right?

Zach Skiles:
Fair, yes.

Jeff Evans:
Okay. So Zach is let's say called retired Marine, he was an Iraqi veteran. You served up until... Give me the year, So I don't butcher it.

Zach Skiles:
2004. December of 2004 was my EAS.

Jeff Evans:
So you got out of EAS in 2004 and you had served for how many years?

Zach Skiles:
Just four years, that was a short term.

Jeff Evans:
Okay. Yeah, but you did experience quite a bit in those four years as one would imagine because you were in Iraq. Did you do one deployment in Iraq?

Zach Skiles:
That's right, yeah. So I initially joined when I think gosh, 2000 December timeframe. So this was pre-9/11 and I had no idea that a war was going to be a part of my journey when joining. I like to tell folks that I in no way was a hero of any kind. That I was just kind of in this place at the time and ended up invading Iraq in 2003 as a motor vehicle operator, what they call a driver.

Jeff Evans:
Yeah. Just so we can understand the backdrop though, you grew up where?

Zach Skiles:
So I bounced around a lot. I was actually born in Kansas City, Missouri, and my family moved out to New York. We lived in Times Square in the mid-80s. Bounced out to... Yeah, it was quite wild to live in-

Jeff Evans:
Times Square in the '80s, man, lively. For being a young kid, bouncing around in Times Square. Okay.

Zach Skiles:
Those are some of my first memories as a human being and they're lively to say the least.

Jeff Evans:
Yeah, lively. Yeah.

Zach Skiles:
So we lived on top of a homeless shelter that my dad worked at and it was kind of a two or three-part community. It was a homeless shelter, a kind of artist performance collective, and a church. I believe my uncle was actually working at the church at the time. So we inevitably moved out to California and I ended up in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles area for a few years. Then moved up to San Francisco in 1989, just in time for the earthquake.

Jeff Evans:
Did you know that you were going to enlist pretty right out of high school? Was this something that kind of popped up and you decided to do after you graduated?

Zach Skiles:
So I actually didn't graduate, I dropped out of high school after my sophomore year. So I, at the time, was working a few different jobs. I was 16 years old at the time and I had a job working at Blockbuster Video. I had a Marine Corps recruiter walk in one night and say, "We're looking for a few good men." Gave me the spiel.

Jeff Evans:
Yeah. Did he use the line looking for a few good men? Just go yeah, the answer is yeah. Probably let's just for the legend of the story we're going to say yes. You said, what was your reply? Had you considered it or were you just-

Zach Skiles:
I was really considering it because at the time I was trying to take my girlfriend out and pay rent at the same time. Which just wasn't possible on the salaries that I was getting paid at the time. So I was thinking to myself-

Jeff Evans:
Yeah, Blockbuster didn't pay that much.

Zach Skiles:
No. Yeah, so I was already thinking to myself okay, school, what am I doing here? This Marine Corps recruiter looking like Denzel Washington and dressed in blue uniform walks in with the line and says, "We can help you out with school, we can give you some discipline." In my line, my life at that time, that was exactly what I needed. I needed some discipline, I needed some structure. I definitely needed to go back to school and kind of better myself. So I always used that as my kind of touchstone as I moved through this whole process. This is my intention actually when working through whatever was going on for me in Marine Corps.

Jeff Evans:
Yeah. So the tapestry that will ultimately prove today's Zach Skiles and the listeners are going to appreciate this. Right now, all they know is that you were a young kid who worked at Blockbuster making seven bucks an hour. You're like yeah, I think I'm just going to go join the Marine Corps. A lot happened and your journey and your road since then has been remarkable to say the least.

Jeff Evans:
I bet you if I... Just because I'm trying to look at this from a listener's perspective. If I painted Zach's picture right now and who you are and then put the 17, 18-year-old Zach right there, I'm not sure those two things are congruent. Even though we know they are because that was a part of this. But when you look back because the mystery of you is yet to be unfolded so far. When you hear the story of you and where you were and now where you are now, is it congruent in your mind? Do you see the connection? Does it seem like a former life to you? Does it seem like somebody else's life perhaps in a certain degree?

Zach Skiles:
There's aspects of it that definitely are... So the fact that since that time in my life, I've always held the want, the need, the desire to learn from my surroundings, learn from people around me. I lived in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and I was very used to being like the only white kid in class. So learning from those who are different around me became a much bigger thing in my life as a young adult. So that kind of aspect has stayed with me into the realms of psychology and learning from those around me and how best to help folks. There is so many other growing points where you do step back in those moments of awe and say man, I did not see this coming at all. The growth there is something very amazing to me.

Jeff Evans:
But you have to be receptive to it, wouldn't you? I think, for instance, you and I'm sure many people who can relate to the idea of being thrust into these environments, that it's obviously mandatory change. It's mandatory learning but it's whether you are fully receptive to the evolution of you in becoming who you are. Were you receptive to what would ultimately become where you are right now?

Zach Skiles:
I'd say so. I'd call it, actually, I stayed present with it. Open-minded, that was kind of the key. As I've moved through, there were definitely times and people in my life where we did not see eye-to-eye. Neither of us really would back down from whatever philosophy we were pulling from in the Marine Corps or otherwise in my life. But at some point in time, in the respite of breaking bread with this a person, I didn't leave. I didn't discount them and discredit and walk away. I stayed with that because that's what you do when you're in the Marine Corps. You work with those that are around you, you're part of a tribe, and a team. That which hurts the other person ends up hurting you. So having this ability to sit and stay open with another person's experience, I think was actually fashioned very succinctly in the Marine Corps.

Jeff Evans:
Yeah. So much of what you're saying now is really, obviously, played into your role now as a teacher, as an advisor, as a guide in what you do. Obviously, I love suspense, so I love the story and the narration line. So let's keep filling it in because people are like who the hell is this guy, man? So the idea of a four-year stint, very, very heady. Lots of very, very heavy and heady things took place as it has with a lot of our veteran space and those stories. That's why I felt like it was important for you to sort of color in that part about being receptive. It's not what you ask for, these things happened to you, and happened around you. It sets you off on this trajectory that led to this place.

Jeff Evans:
I just think that some people's storyline is maybe more traumatic and profound than others but we all have the same story. We all have this like you get your ass kicked, it's the hero's journey. You accept the battle, you get your ass kicked, you create alliances. Then you come back and tell the story. If anything, I know you said you're not a hero but you're living the hero's journey to a true. George Lucas would be like fuck yeah, man, good job.

Jeff Evans:
So that being said, after you got out of the Marine Corps, after those four years. Can we say that things weren't like unicorn farts and cherries on top for a hot minute?

Zach Skiles:
Yeah, for sure. So there are multiple points as I'm thinking about now staying open to and the journey in the military. How it kind of impacted the aftermath and kind of life after the Marine Corps. One of the things I just wanted to mention that you reminded me of was my time in Okinawa, Japan. So pre-9/11 and then post-9/11. So when 9/11 happened, I was actually in Okinawa, Japan. I discovered that Psilocybin was legal at the time in Okinawa. You could go out on town and actually get it and experience it. One of my friends introduced me to it. There was this ability that I think actually really helped me stay open and continue to connect with the unit that I was in. The unit I was in was actually really... It was under investigation at the time for having one of the higher suicide rates on the island. We were struggling and most times-

Jeff Evans:
This was pre-Iraq deployment too, right?

Zach Skiles:
Yeah, pre-Iraq, yeah.

Jeff Evans:
Okay, yeah.

Zach Skiles:
So for a while, for several weeks we were actually having Psilocybin sessions together as a unit.

Jeff Evans:
But loosey-goosey, just kind of lossey-goosey, just getting high?

Zach Skiles:
Yeah. Unbeknownst to leadership and all of that, I slowly titrated myself in different ways as an experimenter. Slowly but surely those depression symptoms alleviate, your appetites come back. The unit that I was with really formed together a tight bond that still exists today.

Jeff Evans:
Was everybody in the unit doing these sessions with you and just sort of taking these deeper dives? By the way, for everybody, I think it's has to be said, Psilocybin is the component, the compound that's in what most people think of as magic mushrooms. It's a psychoactive property. We're going to get into a little bit more of that and the science behind it. But I just want to make sure everybody was aware of what we're talking about here. I'll geek out with you a little bit. What kind of doses were you taking? How many grams were you taking when you were titrating up?

Zach Skiles:
Yeah. So titrating started off with like a gram and that became kind of okay, I can feel this in my body. This feels nice, I like this. The next weekend or the next couple weeks later, you go up another gram, two grams. You start to kind of have a little bit of visualizations that will happen. You're like okay. Then the three-gram experience was my first mystical experience ever actually in Okinawa. A profound kind of spiritual experience that really hit home in many different ways. That I think started to form and helped me fashion that openness that we talk about when staying open to whatever's going on. There's a great way to kind of accept all things, be it hardships or joy.

Jeff Evans:
Wait, now, hold on a second. That's interesting. So it's hard to accept whether it's pain and pleasure? Keep going on that, tell me more.

Zach Skiles:
So specifically when you are in a place of hardship, you're used to the hardship. You expect nothing but it. So when you are experiencing joy, that can be a little off offsetting. What is this? Is this a good thing? Am I supposed to be enjoying this? This is positive and I'm not used to it.

Jeff Evans:
Okay.

Zach Skiles:
Being able to stay open to these kind of experiences, take some therapy. As we know, we'll get into it further in the practices.

Jeff Evans:
Yeah. So you weren't necessarily integrating any of this process when you guys, as a unit. You were just getting quite high but the neurobiology was taking place. Whether you knew it or not or understood it or not. Was everybody in the unit taking place or the majority? What was that like?

Zach Skiles:
So that was a small group. So within I'd say my platoon, the unit was much bigger. But my platoon specifically, there was I'd say two fire teams with us who were having journeys with us in Okinawa.

Jeff Evans:
So right then, this is pre... I know it sounds like there was some heady times in Japan but this was still before shit got really... Until you went way down range and things got super heavy. A lot of traumatic experiences took place. So you had these experiences that would ultimately come back and show their fruition a lot later. So from a chronological perspective, get us from Okinawa to Iraq and then what happened after Iraq.

Zach Skiles:
So again, I'm not a hero in this life but I ended up joining a unit after Okinawa, Japan in Camp Pendleton. I was told this unit was non-deployable wasn't going anywhere. I was going to sit my butt in San Diego. I was like all right, cool, that's something I can do. In the first deployment this unit ever goes on is to invade Iraq. So I was like, well, this is my life right now, I'm going to take this on.

Jeff Evans:
Once again, you didn't ask for it but there you are, right, bam. All right.

Zach Skiles:
So again, the openness, the presence. I would tell folks in my life bring it on, this is clearly something that I need to move through. I had signed up, I had given my word to follow through on my obligations. That's something that I hold to the Nth degree in my life. So 2003, I show up and start to help out with different units. So as a driver, I get detached a lot to many different units, helping out MHG, 9th Com, 27. There were a number of different units that I would drive for.

Jeff Evans:
So that's interesting. So you had a significant, heavy, comradic experience with your Okinawa crew due to your Psilocybin journeys that you were taking. You probably felt a pretty strong connection to these men at that time. Then you're in Iraq, you're thrown right into the shit. Not only that but it sounds like you're popping, you're like a utility guy. Are you able to develop some pretty strong bonds while you're there? I'm guessing you did but what was that like for you?

Zach Skiles:
Yeah, I feel like the... So the social impact has been something historically that folks have talked about in different literature circles. But since our tribal beginnings of warriors using any kind of entheogenic medicine before going out into war. One of the aspects and benefits was that people would bond before doing so and have a tighter unit to work with. Then coming back, you have that kind of bonding ceremony again. So having the kind of lessons of bonding to be able to jump into multiple units. Utilize those kind of dynamics or aspects socially with people was incredibly valuable.

Jeff Evans:
Well, let me ask you then. So if you're the guy who's popping from place to place and you've had these experiences, you know something, you've been somewhere. Deep in the recesses back here and you know at least the anecdotal efficacy for yourself that you've had. But you're popping into...

Jeff Evans:
... For yourself that you've had, but you're popping into the 27 and these guys don't know Zach Skiles and you're like, hey bros, let's eat some mushrooms and let's have ceremonial experience so that we can go out and put the drop on these... You're not doing that necessarily, are you?

Zach Skiles:
No.

Jeff Evans:
No.

Zach Skiles:
I went into different units because well, 27 specifically there was a guy I knew from Japan, from my old job. And so we ended up finding each other, he needed some help and so I did my thing with him and I had these kind of ins that were more socially based and being able to sit back, I think just as a human being, allow people their experience and work with what's present. Again, staying present and open.

Jeff Evans:
Well, the listeners are going to find out who ultimately, like we've said all along over the years after you got out of the corps, you went into being a healer and a teacher and a guide but, sounds like you were doing it then too, right? Were you reaching out and making these connections? Whether it was using medicine or not but you were listening, you were processing with guys were there with.

Zach Skiles:
Yeah, definitely. So after every attack we usually had a debriefing session and after the debriefing session then you have kind of a social debriefing session in the smoke pit that would take place. Where guys could say things that they couldn't say to leadership and kind of publicly that they were scared to kind of let things know or just didn't feel comfortable to let everything out.

Zach Skiles:
And the majority of folks invading Iraq at the time were in a similar boat to me, they actually signed up in peacetime and were not expecting this at all. So they had a lot to divulge and kind of let out and continuing to have these check-in sessions I think was a real growth point that continued to usher me into where I am today.

Jeff Evans:
But I mean, that just probably showed you who you were and who you could be just from, like we've talked about before, just your ability to listen and to ask and to say, I'm here with you and for you which I think... And you tell me Zach, but I mean, that's a hard thing for a man to do with another man, right? To show that vulnerability, like man, brother, I'm here for you and I want to hear what you have to say. Because I think especially with military, I think perhaps even more so than any culture, that doesn't truly exist or maybe the optic of it isn't as... At least when you're in, maybe when you get out, I'm I right? So, tell me what your thoughts are on that.

Zach Skiles:
It's a balancing act with that because, I think a lot of the time the position that I was in, I was a bit of a rebel, clearly I had such an experience during my time in Okinawa. There's an aspect to me that I was doing my best to remain true to myself throughout all these experiences and hold what I felt was right. And sometimes that clashes with what's needed from leadership.

Jeff Evans:
Interesting.

Zach Skiles:
And so having that pull that I'm going to remain authentic and present no matter what the fuck anyone else says was my stance continually and sometimes I did not get promoted for it. I took that from leadership and continued on my path, which honestly just gained more respect and credibility for people to continue to open up in certain steps. And there's an aspect of that that I truly see the other side to, we do need to maintain some sort of discipline, some sort of fighting spirit, and there's a balance to being able to allow somebody to vent, to open up, to express and then jump back into what they need to do. And there's a lot of folks who don't have that kind of unique or nuanced.

Jeff Evans:
To compartmentalize really, right?

Zach Skiles:
Yes.

Jeff Evans:
Yeah. So many things that you've said, I think that if you go back and I want to get into the legalities too here at some point of everything. But if you look back on the stigma that was set on psychotropics, even back in the sixties, the big fear was from the government as we know is like, we're going to turn these guys all into pacifists, right? No one's going to want to fight, and we can't have that, we need fighters, we need warriors, right? So that's what you're saying right now is like, that had to have been like, you even mentioned is like, you understand that part, right? The balance of warrior versus what? So tell me about that, how does that fit?

Zach Skiles:
I chuckle with you because there is the old ideas of that, if we give people psychedelics they're going to lay down their weapons. It's just not true, and it's an idea that somebody had but we never really tested it and I don't believe it to be true and the history doesn't speak to it's authenticity either because they used it in warrior societies for decades and centuries. And so how I've explained it to folks is that, you open up these different parts of yourself, the psychedelics are consciousness amplifiers, and we all have protectors inside of us, we all have warriors inside of us.

Zach Skiles:
We also have lovers, we also have Kings and Queens. We have these kind of archetypal figures, these identities in ourselves that need to come out and be expressed in order to integrate all the roles in which we play in our life. So going too far in one direction and thinking we're all going to sing kumbaya is simply not the case, there's aspects of this that are unrealistic to think that somehow these are going to, so psychedelics being panaceas, that somehow they're going to solve all our problems and will all be better off. When in actuality, holding the identities of one person is actually what's going to kind of continue bringing a better warrior, a more conscious and present person to be able to make some hard decisions when it comes to, do I pull the trigger? Do I make this decision rather than that decision?

Zach Skiles:
And things that we here in the States have a really hard time focusing on because we get to have so many options, we get to have a choice of Coke, Pepsi, we get to have a choice of Sprite or 7 Up. We get black jeans, skinny jeans, white jeans, red jeans. We don't really exist in a culture a lot of the times where we don't have any good choices. And when you're in a place like a war zone trying to survive and protect those around you, sometimes you have no good choices but to just continue to live.

Zach Skiles:
And there's an aspect of that that is so hard for people because it bumps up to our own mortality that they can't really hold it in a sense to be able to understand it fully. And so it becomes stigmatized when in actuality, it's a fact of life. Now that's kind of a ramble, I'm sorry.

Jeff Evans:
No. Because you just said 17 things that are absolutely memorable for anyone who has stepped over into that warrior place. And let's just say that, your experience was in a combat theater as a lot of our listeners but, there's other ways to step into that warrior space. And what you just explained very, very eloquently is, in order to be the best version of the warrior that you want to become, even if you're a professional ballet dancer, that's a warrior. That warrior has to have that, that's the Yin and Yang, that's the black and the white, that's the different layers of character that exists in us, and that these experiences you're talking about allow these parts of you to percolate to the top, right? And then through the integration you're able to marry them together and make this person that is the best warrior, the best ballet dancer, the best musician, right? Because you're balancing these parts of you.

Jeff Evans:
I wanted to say one other thing that you brushed on that I know that you know a lot about and being an anthropology major I geek out on this, I think this is fantastic stuff. The ceremonial warrior traditionally, and we're backing up thousands of years to kind of feed into that narrative of, I'm going to take these deep psychedelic experiences and then I'm just going to be a pacifist on the contrary, am I right? Think about whether it's Native American culture, right? Or eastern warrior culture, It's like they would have these heavy, heavy psychedelic experiences prior to battle.

Jeff Evans:
And exactly why you're saying it Zach it's like, bringing unity, like I love you and I will fight for you, right? And I will bring the best version and it was North America, it was Asia, it was South America, it was all over Europe, these experiences were quite universal. Talk to me about that.

Zach Skiles:
My aspect and kind of the short version of it, I'll get into the long version. But, what I always like to tell people is that, when I experienced this and when I do experience it in veteran communities, it's not put down your guns it's love each other, it's really come to connect and you can do both. There's a way that these practices amplify your power, that's needed to make those kind of decisions to move through really difficult experiences and also to continue to return to love, because ultimately that's why we're fighting. Nobody likes to fight, this is something we have to do to be protectors and to hold what it is that we love.

Zach Skiles:
And so these really big ceremonial aspects from ancient Gaul when Celtics were going against the Romans just to save their own land and ultimately had to have a scorched earth kind of policy, the first to enact it. These were times where psychotropics were being used in order to rally the troops, to be able to have experiences that looked like life and death, to have a rebirth experience or a death rebirth experience.

Zach Skiles:
And having gone through kind of an ego death or death experience, you were able to walk onto the field of battle knowing, I have passed this before in my lifetime, I have been here before and I will be here again, and I will move through this with love and confidence. And that's kind of what we go for, that's the baseline neurologically that we've found with people when you step back from all your experiences and have, gosh, have a large dose and be able to kind of ground yourself in what it is that's really important and what it is that you actually love and what you want to protect in your life.

Jeff Evans:
I think there's a lot of that story but this thread is very important, and I'm afraid if we don't go into little bit of the neurobiology right now that we may miss it. So, I've talked about it before on the podcast, if you haven't read Pollan's book, How To Change Your Mind I think that's sort of the beginning place for a lot of people to understand neuroplasticity, neurobiology and the potentiation of what you and I are talking about here. And I think that's a good spot, highly recommended for anybody. But Zach, you mentioned it, the death of the ego and the preparation of who you are and who you will become.

Jeff Evans:
So a lot of sort of soft experiences, a lot of psychotropic experiences are being shown to be very efficacious in the community of folks who have a diagnosis, that the mortality rate is 99%. And it's a terminal diagnosis and they're scared, they're afraid, and they're afraid of death. And then the data would show anecdotally at least like you take these big, huge experiences and have a full integration with it, that they come back out and they're more prepared for this next part of this journey.

Jeff Evans:
Now, I had never really thought about what you're talking about right now in connecting those dots as that warrior, right? That ego death. So please just give me a little bit more color with that and the way that you're thinking that is integrated into the community.

Zach Skiles:
So, when it comes to, gosh. When it comes to-

Jeff Evans:
I mean, where do you even start that? Sorry. That's a big one bro, I'm sorry. So you take a stab at it. By the way, I hope you got three hours carved out because it's a lot of material here. Keep going though, I'm sorry.

Zach Skiles:
So the aspect of, again, staying present with something, staying open to it, also comes from your ability to approach it from multiple angles in my belief, being able to see things from more than just your own perspective. That ultimately is what helps us grow to be able to take in different lines of thoughts, they call it the theory of mind to understand someone else's. And being able to do that actually comes from a practice, so far what we're seeing with some of the research, from the activation of the locus coeruleus, this is part of the brain that allows folks to have nuanced experiences or novice experiences, have these kind of what feel like new and reborn experiences when approaching things that may be entrenched in their life, that they have experienced over long periods of time.

Zach Skiles:
And so having the ability to remain what's called plastic with it is something that then promotes growth, not only dendrite growth which it's what we're seeing from a lot of different student cycles right now. But personal and social growth when it comes to being more flexible, being able to stay open to what's possible to love, what's possible to care about and protect and where a person would like to go with that.

Zach Skiles:
Because ultimately what is at the core of any kind of stuck point or disorder of some kind or disuse, is a concreteness and inability to remain flexible or present with something in order to understand it better or grow.

Jeff Evans:
Well, you even mentioned it and I think it's important for folks to understand as we sort dip our toe into this is that, there are actually on a neurobiological landscape, there are structural changes that take place in your body, in your neurochemistry, right? You mentioned that the dendritic changes and on a cellular level like these dendrites actually grow, right? Through these experience there's growth. And so for me, I really appreciate that there's actual physical cellular growth that takes place in conjunction with this emotional growth or psychological growth that takes place with that.

Jeff Evans:
We don't mean, we might lose some people if we go deep down into that hole, I'm I right though? It's like there are things happening though, that are happening on the cellular level that last. Let's kind of pause for one second and then, go over back to you again, and your sort of journey that led us to understanding everything that you're sharing with us right now. So, when you got out, you had a hard go for a while as many veterans that have the experiences that you had, they do. And it sounds like a pretty typical sort of path that we've heard many times you go to the VA, you get your therapy, you get prescribed some meds and then you start relying on alcohol and drugs.

Jeff Evans:
And so as that happened to you and you felt things spiraling, wasn't there a part of you that said, hold on a second. I remember this tool that I had that really took me to this place, was that gap that I read about with you and I know that it happened to you. Were you acknowledging the fact that you knew there was a medicine that was out there that was way more efficacious than just doing the thing that you were doing at that time? Or did you not want to go that way? Or where were you?

Zach Skiles:
I had no idea this was an available practice. Because of my experiences in Okinawa, the fact that I was 19 when I was having them with no real framework as to what was going on, that was kind of it for me, and I moved on not really fully aware of the power that that held. I think one of the more potent things that actually really helped when moving through was meditation. So when I got back from Iraq, I was very, very lucky. I had created a memorial for one of my very good friends, he was my rack mate in Iraq and, I got to meet his extended family and his mother-in-law was actually quite privately a practicing shaman who did some cleansing rituals with me and taught me how to meditate.

Zach Skiles:
And at the time still I'm a 22 year old kid who wasn't really sure what the cleansing rituals were about but I really found something in the meditation practice. And I tried to hold on to that as much as I could, but in actuality meditation's not a panacea either, these things are all integrated and can help out and be great as a team but then they weren't the number one savior. I think slowly but surely I was able to find my way to a private PTSD clinic that was doubling in as a homeless shelter for Iraq and Afghanistan guys.

Jeff Evans:
Had you exhausted all your time or what you thought was effective at the VA? Was the VA really, like you'd done all you could do there?

Zach Skiles:
Yeah. So there is multiple aspects to that. I think I had a hard time just communicating in general how much help I needed, as I would show up to the VA and not understand how to fill out certain forms or say, I'm good, I just need a little help but I'm good, don't worry about it. When in actuality I needed a significant amount of help and I didn't know how to commute that with folks. So slowly but surely I lost the abilities to go to work, to pay bills, to function as a person, and then ended up homeless and being homeless I couldn't actually continue going to the San Francisco VA and so I ended up in the Pathway Home out in Napa at the California Veteran's Home.

Zach Skiles:
And so there was an amount of therapy that wasn't even available to me at the time, because this was 2008, they were still figuring out a ton of stuff that was going on 2009 ish. And I think what I also didn't realize is that I needed to hear things from another veteran, and actually be in my own community in order to have the credibility to honor my experiences because I got out and a good chunk of my platoon kept going.

Zach Skiles:
Some of my guys have gone on for an entire career and at the time were probably on their fifth or sixth combat tour. And so I come out of that having done one tour thinking, okay, I need to really get it together, I've only had one tour. I was not in the Battle of the Bulge, I was not in the jungles of Vietnam, I really just need to move past this. When in actuality I had actually been through something very significant. We had, I stopped counting after 30 heavy artillery attacks, we had a staff sergeant say we had over 200 small arms attacks and, there was a piece of me that simply didn't have anything to gauge that with because I didn't come from a military family, I was working in Blockbuster Video.

Zach Skiles:
And being able to sit with other veterans who could come over and say, Zach, your tour, that initial invasion was why I joined the Marine Corps, your experiences are something that I hold in reverence. And I started to have a better understanding of what I had been through and that I actually needed to respect some of my own experiences.

Jeff Evans:
Yeah. It became validated for you because maybe you were trying to not validate it for those reasons you explained...

Jeff Evans:
Maybe you were trying to not validate it for those reasons you explained. Okay. So you were homeless, you were skidding out big time. And just to be able to be clear, you were still... The experiences you had in Okinawa, from a medicinal perspective, you didn't connect those dots at this point.

Zach Skiles:
Nope. Yeah.

Jeff Evans:
Okay. So was meditation your gateway drug? Was that what really-

Zach Skiles:
Yes.

Jeff Evans:
Okay. So what happened with that?

Zach Skiles:
So after, initially... I think it's also good to say that I'm very lucky that I've come from the family that I've come from as well to continue recovering because it's also something significant that they've been through as well to have one of their own go out to war and to go through a traumatic process that they don't get benefits for from the VA. They have their own stuff now that they need to handle and heal from. So I always, I want to mention that in saying that's also kind of a hope that I hold onto for our future practices to bring in families and spouses who have historically not gotten the support that's needed because Hollywood shows us the veterans story. And we have this kind of credibility to receive a significant amount of care for it.

Zach Skiles:
So moving through that, mindfulness practices, but more so meditation practices when it came to my massive recovery process. So after that inpatient experience, I got out and I was meditating with Buddhist practitioners and Hindu practitioners on a weekly basis. I had started a meditation group on ocean beach that met every Saturday as the sun was going down on the beach, which sounds amazing. And it was at times, but in the wintertime when it's raining and you're still sitting out there like you're a monk on top of a mountain, that's a whole other level of commitment. And I think it served me even more so when continuing the consistency of a needed practice of relaxing the nervous system, staying present, staying open to what was going on. And as I challenged myself further to go to [inaudible 00:48:28], I ended up at what's called Upaya in New Mexico and Esalen in California.

Zach Skiles:
And so going to these kind of week long experiences where I could meditate for a significant amount of time, I ended up having again, some mystical experiences, some really significant altered consciousness experiences that I had never had before and this was without psychedelics. This was without any substances at all. So this was just after meditating for days at a time. And bringing that back into my community as a doctoral student and working and being trained at different VAs was medicine in itself as well because it had clearly helped me out and being able to help others with it became this whole other kind of healing process.

Jeff Evans:
And you very promptly found this channeling, this modality of meditation, the opportunity to find that, but to find that space, that healing space, but that took you days. And then that day's retreat was honestly, that was after months, if not longer of practicing, because as anybody who meditates knows, that shit ain't easy man and it takes a while and it is a practice. And I love like you're sitting on the beach in the rain and it's like, that's life, but that's the way it's hard. Like you're sitting amongst the storm trying to find neutrality, trying to find this place, and that's not easy to do. So my question to you would then, and I feel like I may hopefully know where you're going with this is it would take you months if not years, to find that space after a several day retreat. That's big time investment and a lot of discipline to be able to reach that. Then maybe you realize there's a little bit of a hack to be able to get into that place. Now take me home.

Zach Skiles:
So I should caveat that experience is that it did take me six years of meditating on a regular basis in order to have these altered states of consciousness, very profound, mystical experiences. So as I'm running these mindfulness groups at the VA, I get a call from somebody who's heard about an Iraq veteran running these mindfulness groups. And they'd like me to come down to a clinic in Mexico called The Mission Within that was treating US special forces with different psychedelics. And at the time it was ibogaine, 5-MeO-DMT, psilocybin and MDMA. And I went down there. I think they're just an amazing group. One of the things that they have you do, if you want to be a facilitator or work in the program is to experience the medicine for yourself so that you know what folks are working with.

Zach Skiles:
And I was able to really come in, they brought me in with open arms and were really, really helpful when ushering me through my first 5-MeO experience. And I wanted to stay open to continued healing. And I didn't realize actually, after doing years of meditating, after doing eight years of trauma related treatments even after the inpatient program, I thought that this was as good as it gets. And I was sitting on a mountain Mexico and I realized then and there that I had just been healed of things that I no longer had to hold onto, that it gets better actually. And this was something more profound than I knew was possible. And it was the hack that you speak to.

Zach Skiles:
It was the ability to have 10 years of a meditation practice in a few moments. To be able to sit so presently and to have the ability to take in what it is that you love, what it is you need to be healed from and then to work through it, to do the work. For me, that was something so profound that I decided to take a left turn and realize, okay, psychedelic assisted therapies, this is something I need to dedicate my time to and the rest is pretty much history.

Jeff Evans:
Yeah. So the Mexico was, that was the, you said the left turn. I mean, that's where it really, everything kind of hit for you and you said, "Oh, okay. Even though I know after six years I can get there, I've got a community around me that may not have the... Afford the opportunity for six years of deep meditative practice. But wait a minute, here's a modality that we can use if used appropriately with the appropriate intake, the experience and then the integration, all these components that we can get them there." And is that what hit you? And then while you were sitting on that hilltop and you realized like, okay, we can do this.

Zach Skiles:
Yes. I still had a lot more to learn. I just knew that it was something profound. So what came after that was the education of what's appropriate preparation for it.

Jeff Evans:
Did you have your undergrad at that point?

Zach Skiles:
Yes. So I was working at the VA during the week, and then on the weekends, I would be working at the Mexico clinic. So The Mission Within.

Jeff Evans:
Okay. So by the way everybody, you member Zach that dropped out his sophomore year and was working for six bucks an hour at Blockbuster? Yeah. Dr. Zach now. So Dr. Zach went and got his... Did you go into a graduate level program and then go get your PhD?

Zach Skiles:
I did my bachelor's and then went into a doctoral program. And then while I was in that program, I was working with folks from different jail facilities in Solano county, in the Bay Area, and then moved into eventually the VA system where it was my goal to work there and continue to bring in different kinds of community based care.

Jeff Evans:
And so did you do post doc stuff or?

Zach Skiles:
That's what I'm doing right now.

Jeff Evans:
You're doing it right now. Okay. I thought that was the case. Right. But you got your PhD and maybe I'm being too Hollywood with this or maybe I'm trying to dramatize it a little too much. Did you see that or did you know that sitting in Mexico? Was that something that came to you or did that happen after you fleshed out the epiphany that you there? Did you say, "I'm going to go on and I'm jumping into the deep end right here, and I know what I can do, and I'm going to go down the academic didactic components of this, and I'm going to come out and I'm going to be a healer and a guide. But it can only be based on this sort of..." You've got all of it. You've got the street cred dude, you got the academia, you've got the veteran experience, but did it all like galvanize there for you in that moment or did you start to fill in the pieces when you got home?

Zach Skiles:
I really wish that I had had the ability to make those kind of plans.

Jeff Evans:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It wasn't that clear, but there was something there, right? There was something there, right? Okay.

Zach Skiles:
Yes. So I humbly was already on a trek to continue working at the VA as a psychologist, running meditation, mindfulness groups, and continuing to work in trauma related treatments. And it just so happens that I got an invitation that again I stayed open to, I stayed present.

Jeff Evans:
You were open. Yeah.

Zach Skiles:
And then moved into what opened up in front of me. And I didn't realize how well prepared I was for it when looking at my bachelor's. And most of it was in transpersonal psychology as well as humanistic and existential. So working with spirit, working with depth psychology-

Jeff Evans:
Bro I mean, you may not have known it on the outside, but inside you knew what you were doing. Right. I mean, obviously it was something you were interested in, but I mean, you were painting your tapestry long time ago. You just maybe didn't even piece it together right here in the front, right?

Zach Skiles:
True. College is following your heart, your intuition sometimes where this is what feels right to you. This is what inspires you and this is the path to take for each individual. But that doesn't always look so clear and with the outcome at times, and it then became very clear while I was sitting on that mountaintop in Mexico, all of a sudden I realized, oh my gosh, this is why I'm here. This is why I studied this to here, to now the consciousness aspects, the educational benefit. There was a lot of parts that have created what is now a very impactful practice that I get to help people with.

Jeff Evans:
Yeah. But let's just say the backbone of all that is Zach was receptive. Like you were open. And I think that that's something that I think we could all learn from. Right. And part of it you may not have even known you were open to it. Like we were saying, I mean, there's some little things that were sprinkled around in there that were happening because you were. But I feel like all of us could take a page out of that book and say, "Let's just continue to keep our eyes open metaphorically and be receptive to that." Can we pivot just a little bit to a little bit of the, I don't want to say the industry, because that seems so sterile and bullshitty, but the industry of therapy, right? And of therapy and how these alternative modalities of therapy are just now...

Jeff Evans:
And maybe it's because I'm more receptive. I'm into this field, but I see it everywhere now. Everybody's like, "Oh, this could be really efficacious. Oh, this has got a lot of long term potentiality." Right? There's all this stuff. It seems like it's fairly mainstream. And it's like, oh, I want to go buy a Ford 250 and you don't see them on the street. And then all of a sudden you want to go buy one, you see it everywhere. It's like, oh, I see. So now I see it every day, all day, but maybe some people don't. Maybe some people aren't as tuned into it as you and I are, but it is gaining traction. And I guess my first question to you would be, the psychology cookie cutter psychology approach, which the VA often has been implementing, no fault of anyone's own.

Jeff Evans:
It's just, we bring people in, we have different forms of psychological intake from a professional. We talk, we process, we manifest, and then you come back the next week and we do it again and we do it again and we do it again. That's a business model. And big pharma has included their component into there with their Prozac that was introduced decades ago. And oh, this is going to be a mental health savior and turns out it wasn't. And it never... It's really not at all. It actually sets people back if you ask me personally. But all of these things had sort of had their walk and they were moving along, and this is not that, and this breaks the mold, and this is a challenge to convention when it comes to a lot of different aspects.

Jeff Evans:
I think psychology in general is a little bit threatened by this because you're a not coming to see me twice a week now, Zach, for your therapy session. And talk to me about that, because I think that's sort of a big picture item that needs to be addressed, and then let that bleed into that long term potentiation and the efficacy of these deep psychedelic therapy treatments that we're talking about and marching them out weeks, months, years later. It's another big one for you. So keep it up. Good luck with that.

Zach Skiles:
Thanks. I think it's so something to mention with a lot of humility too, because there are aspects of western medicine that really have helped a ton, and there are places of growth in everybody's life, just like in that system. We can always do better. I think as well, there is more work to be done with within the psychedelic community and understanding what is appropriate structure and work when it comes to preparation and integration so that it can sound and look like we have these experiences that the researchers are saying that the benefits last from two to three months, and sometimes more than a year, depending on the dosage and on the pathology. That also needs to be looked at with what kind of therapy is being paired with it and how is it that we get those benefits to last, so that the system doesn't have to have such a taxation of folks coming every single week or every single day in some cases, to be able to have a medicine that you only have to take periodically instead of every day is something that can be increasingly beneficial for everybody.

Zach Skiles:
But again, it's not a magic pill. It's not a panacea, and it is about pairing it with what kind of therapeutic practice and what kind of daily practices you are utilizing with it. Because in any medicine ceremony that I've learned from and the elders that have taught me, the ability to actually listen to the messages that you have to give yourself as well as any divine messages that you feel you're granted in a psychedelic session, the work is putting that to action in your daily life.

Zach Skiles:
And so it may seem like folks are no longer showing up on a weekly basis to our system, but in actuality, they are showing up in their own life. They're showing up in ways that are still being worked through. And so it doesn't look like the current model and I'm happy about that, but at the same time, it's still a model and it's still something that we need to start to understand better. And I really, really hope that that is something specifically we start to look at and research what kind of practices folks are using in order to have these two to three months, sometimes a year impact from ceremonies.

Jeff Evans:
There have been some studies and matter of fact, not too long ago, I don't know if it was in the Lancet or what it was, it was talked about a follow up group of participants. And they were testing a metric with regards to... These were people with previously diagnosed major depressive disorder. And they go through a medicine treatment and they marked with a certain set of questions, are you happy? Are you good? And then what was it like two months later, yeah, I'm good. And then took that same group, that cohort of 24 I think it was, a year later. Are you good? The answer is, yeah, I'm good. And like you said, it wasn't just this one off. You can't just expect it to work.

Jeff Evans:
And then I'm good, I'm putting it on autopilot. It's like being on a climbing rope. You clip into it. Just because you're on the rope, doesn't mean that you're squared away. You have to pay attention to the tension of the rope between you and the other people. It can't get too loose. It can't get too tight. It deserves that. It requires that respect and I think that's what you're saying. So that daily practice has to be an integrated in with that. And that's why it sounds like you're saying that there's a model that can work in a way like a hybrid opportunity with conventional western psychology and those approaches that come with seeing somebody, a professional and being able to communicate, but then also have these experiences that takes these dives.

Jeff Evans:
So you're working right now with the VA and you have both as a patient and now as a clinician. Do you run up against the standard old stigma, no way bro. This is like, this is not part of our convention. And it sounds like if you did, you figured out a way to get in there anyway. So talk to me about that and what that was like and how did you do that? How did you create that relationship where they trusted you enough to start working on this level? Because this is no joke, man. I mean, this is very, very heady, pioneering, pioneering stuff that you're doing.

Zach Skiles:
Yeah. Thanks. I attribute that to other people staying open and present honestly, and the kind of blessings that I have to be able to connect with those in the system. I ended up... So as I was finishing my academic process for my doctorate, I was going out for an internship. And so there are many places that wanted to have me work at their VA all over the country. And at the time I was still doing the weekends in The Mission Within and I wanted to start to build a community around me, of people who actually saw some value to this. So as I was flown around the country to interview at different VAs, one of the things that I stayed really open about was my interest in hope for psychedelic assisted therapies. And so in doing so, you're going to have people who don't know a heck of a lot and they're still operating around the same stigma and that's fine, but that's not where I'm at and it's probably not a good fit and we can go our separate ways. Thank you very much. Goodbye.

Zach Skiles:
And there were luckily, surprisingly, a lot of people all over the country at VAs who were very open to it, but they couldn't be public with it. When it comes to federal employment, there's a lot of amazing things going on all over the country, but because they are federal employees, they're not allowed to talk about it. And there's aspects of that I then took on as a organizer to be able to bring people together in a safe place where they feel like they could kind of share their experiences and work together kind of in the underground and slowly but surely I was, with the help of a wonderful group of people of Reconsider, Steve Apcon and Marcina, they are the producers of Fantastic Fungi. They allowed us a space to start to bring in VA researchers-

Jeff Evans:
That's a documentary by the way, for folks and highly recommend. Yeah.

Zach Skiles:
Yeah. It's on Netflix. So we started having these meetings with VA researchers and learning from each other, from people who are really leaders in the field like Lynette Avery at the Houston VA and Chris Stoffer at the Portland VA and Rachel Yehuda at the Bronx. I really was taking pages from their notes because these are folks who have been really-

Zach Skiles:
From their notes, because these are folks who have been really, really pioneering and ahead of anything that I was doing. And it was inspiring and continues to be. So they're really great friends now. But being able to take in their lessons as credibility and understanding into any kind of conversation I've had with folks at other VAs has been a huge benefit. Just bringing together community.

Jeff Evans:
Well, was there a time when finally like a VA said, all right, Dr. Skiles, come in. Sorry, I know they ask you, they say, we want you, are you full time with any particular VA at this point? Or was there finally one VA that almost said we're taking a chance on this because we see the data. Did that happen?

Zach Skiles:
So that's happening right now. So I'm working at the translational psychedelic research program at UCSF and they have a really good partnership with the San Francisco VA. And one of the things that we're starting is psilocybin trial. The first psilocybin trial at the San Francisco VA, that's looking at treatment for methamphetamine addiction.

Zach Skiles:
So again, finding the right people who are open to it and also learning how best to work within that system. Because the people who are open to it and wanting to research it, are opening their doors, but they cannot actually allocate any funds. Because then it looks like the VA is supporting the use of schedule on drugs.

Zach Skiles:
So a lot, if not the majority of all our research has been through different grants and philanthropic donations. So having a multifaceted community that is supporting you and I get to come to the table and say, this is what other people are doing right now and it looks like potentially we might fall behind the curve.

Zach Skiles:
When in actuality, I think VAs are set up perfectly for psychedelic assisted therapy specifically for their long term psychotherapy elements. With other civilian healthcare systems that are operating on 8 to 10 session visit. There's such flexibility at VAs when it comes to psychotherapies that you don't really have a set date where you need to stop going. With a lot of veterans, you get to continually show up and continue those kind of integration sessions. It's something that I think that the VA is set up really well for when it comes to integrating this into the general population.

Jeff Evans:
Well, it seems as though, like so many other things that are groundbreaking or pioneering, they just, hopefully over time you'll have enough data. You'll have enough, even if it's anecdotal data, personal data and follow up data with individuals that can report directly back and over years of that, finally they say, okay, you can't ignore, you can't ignore that. And you can't ignore it. So, I mean-

Zach Skiles:
I think too. I'm sorry to cut you off. I just realized that. So one of the aspects too, is the approach to the gatekeepers. They have their own kind of anxieties and concerns and understanding about psychedelics. So one of the aspects in this approach is to just check in with them as a person and help them kind of question what it is they think they know about psychedelic assisted therapies, because we are still dealing with a lot of stigma from the 1960s and '70s and being able to actually research it is going to be the key.

Jeff Evans:
Yeah. And I think the additional layer of that is, yes, we need time. We need data, but you know what else is the big is the big turnkey here, man, it's money. Right? It's understanding that we're realizing that we want to help people, yes. But there has to be a business model where not necessarily the VA, but if we didn't extrapolate that out to civilian therapies, there has to be a business model.

Jeff Evans:
It's like, oh, turns out because Big Pharma has controlled so much of what's happening the complete narrative, right? With psychology, with psychiatry and how it forms. Right? And so we got to break some change, just like we talked about like breaking those unhealthy places, those brainwaves and those things, those activities that we look at that are toxic for. We got to break those things in half. Well, we got to break this sort of system too, right? To be able to start integrating things that work, that actually work.

Zach Skiles:
Yeah. I feel like there's this great bit of wisdom I remember hearing from John Lennon is to not smash the entire system because parts of it actually work and parts of it are going to be really beneficial and to just rake it all down, you're throwing the baby out with the bath water. And so there's a piece of me that is, I think, gotten to this point by staying open to the experience, but also staying open to where I fit and where I can be the most impactful.

Zach Skiles:
And then you start to find out how best to operate. And I feel like that's where we're at right now with psychedelic assisted therapies is, we are seeing a multitude of different ways in which this fits. And I think everyone involved with our healthcare system on many different levels, caretakers and clients are tired of an old system and it comes out in different ways of like burn it all down. When in actuality, some of it's working, it's really damaged right now.

Jeff Evans:
Yeah. And if you went in like a cowboy and were like, fuck all that. This is what works, man. Look at the, you, there would be so much pushback that you wouldn't find the ability to foster relationships with a massive entity, like the VA and it turns out you're you're doing it right.

Jeff Evans:
Man I've got 20 wrap up questions and I don't know which one to go with. So I'm going to do this. I'm going to pretend that I am one of our many veterans, which many of them are my friends that are listening right now that have been downrange and have been in the shit. And that would have, I've talked to them about this and it's such a daunting thing. And because it is leaning towards going a little bit more mainstream as we've discussed. It's maybe not yet.

Jeff Evans:
So it's a twofold question. For a civilian and a veteran and this is for somebody who's been through the shit we've all been through it. It's just the profundity of it, right? It's like, what's the, how deep did you go with it? Right? And we've all had traumatic experiences and then therefore dot dot we all could truly benefit from this.

Jeff Evans:
It can seem daunting to enter into it because what we don't know about what we are UN unknowledgeable about is fearful, right? It's scary stuff. So would you care to take a spin at the channels and the places that both a vet and a civilian could start to explore?

Jeff Evans:
And if you don't mind the nuances between the different medicines and modalities, and maybe I know it's very nuanced. But maybe you could point to what you've seen anecdotally as being the most effective for some particular, whether it's PTSD or whether it's major depressive or it's addiction and stuff. What you've seen it really works for people how they get there and what works?

Zach Skiles:
Yeah. It's such a case by case basis.

Jeff Evans:
Yeah. It's once again, there's no panacea, right? There's no easy answer with this and I'll let you off the hook just by saying like, there is not that, but if you could maybe just a 30,000 foot view of, I guess the most important thing is where, how? Give us a channel and not necessarily a website or some like that, but like who do they talk to both veteran and civilian spaces, if they want to kind of, sort of go this direction and if you feel like it, or if you don't have any sort of answer the different medicines for the different disorders or issues.

Zach Skiles:
Absolutely. So the people that I've been introduced to who are doing the work right now, are the Heroic Hearts Project. Jesse Gould has been a good friend and-

Jeff Evans:
Do they have a web present Heroic Hearts Project?

Zach Skiles:
Yes. Yeah.

Jeff Evans:
Okay. So somebody could find them, should they want to?

Zach Skiles:
Yes.

Jeff Evans:
Okay. Sounds good.

Zach Skiles:
Yeah. And the mission within they, both those programs have done phenomenal work within the veteran community and they are continuing to lean on the elders who have practiced this from far beyond when it came into Western society who are supporting indigenous cultures and the wisdom they bring into our therapeutic practices.

Zach Skiles:
So those are a couple ones that I say everybody needs to check out as well as yourself. So there is an aspect to this. That's kind of been a theme unspoken at times, is being able to follow your heart and your intuition. And to note when you're able to be free, when you're able to be open and authentic with the process and to be where, what helps you dive into something to sit with it and be fully present to note when you cannot be and when you need to step back and take care of yourself.

Zach Skiles:
These are two pretty powerful aspects that I feel like a lot of guys and girls from the veteran community have almost like an adjustment to make, because we can go from zero to 60 really quickly. There's so much love and passion within this community that we want to take it all on. We want to do so much for ourselves and others. And I think it's good to take baby steps when it comes to that. To really start small titrate, start to understand the experience and not jump into the deep end.

Jeff Evans:
Yeah. Because there are different little layers to it. Right? You talked about meditation. There's breath work that can go into it. You don't have to just go and like eat five grams of mushrooms and just be like, oh whoa, here we go. Like you say baby steps.

Jeff Evans:
What about the maps program? The multidisciplinary association of psychedelic studies, have you had much connection with them because they're it's I think it's international. It's definitely NA it's international and they do a lot of good work. There's one piece up in boulder where they have a clinic there and they do a lot of good work and send people in different directions. What's your experience with them?

Zach Skiles:
Rick has been a really good collaborator with the veteran community. He's been able to have some conversations with me and help me understand the lay of the land as an incoming postdoc. And he's dedicated so much to Rachel Yehuda's program as well as Christopher's program, and then just throughout the VA system. He's continued to donate his own funds to be able to continue helping veterans and continuing to have trials, to heal from post-trauma. And I believe he's beginning to start for a couple of this therapy.

Jeff Evans:
Well, so that is one channel definitely for the civilian population. Because I know that they can at least have suggestions for where you can go. And I think as we, would you not agree that from a social, a societal standpoint that we are going to get, we're already seeing components of it in Denver and Colorado.

Jeff Evans:
I live up the hill from Denver in the mountains and we're seeing it in the West Coast that here in the next few years, we're going to see a big jump when it comes to sort of at least managing that stigma that was created be a little bit more mainstream and accepted because we've seen this the efficacy over years and years, would you agree that's, that's definitely happening and going to continue to happen on a pretty steep parabola?

Zach Skiles:
I hope so. There's a piece of me that wants to take it one step at a time because like the advice I was giving earlier, one of the things that I think we still need to work through is making sure that we have the right people in place who are appropriately trained to work with psychedelic care as well as what those practices look like.

Zach Skiles:
We're still in the infancy stage of what is a best practice in psychedelic assisted therapies. Some friends who are working out those guidelines right now after helping out with the ethics committee with the American practitioners, psychedelic practitioners association.

Zach Skiles:
So there is a great hope that this will continue helping people. And I just hope that we take it as thoughtfully as possible because just like anything it's going to have its challenges and due to the vulnerability, the impact, the true potential. I think it's something to respect just as you would, anything

Jeff Evans:
It deserves the respect it does. And I told you I was going to keep you here for a half a day bro and I'm sorry.

Zach Skiles:
That's all right.

Jeff Evans:
So I know that you have another appointment coming up. So I just want to, as we could think about how to wrap this up, I just want to get your thoughts on the journey that is possible for an individual to take. It's not easy and anything worth doing I think we would all agree is not easy.

Zach Skiles:
Yeah.

Jeff Evans:
The easy way is going to continue to be the easy way. And the currency, psychological, emotional currency that can be created through experiences are oftentimes not easy and they're hard. And I think as we continue as a society to open up to these forms of therapy, we have to understand that, to do the work. We have to do the work to come out on the other side, different changed, evolved, open, receptive, all these things that you and I've been talking about. Right?

Jeff Evans:
So I'm scared. I don't know what this would be like, Dr. Skiles right? I don't know if I can handle. I'm not sure that I'm cut out for this. I'm really frightened about what I might discover. I'm scared of what I might see. I don't want to go back there to that, because that was shit. And I don't want to do that and I'm really frightened. Tell me what's what's that advice?

Zach Skiles:
Oh, I'd say you're in the perfect place for it because it's the folks who think they're ready that I'm really concerned about.

Jeff Evans:
Oh, that's fantastic. There's a respect for-

Jeff Evans:
Humility.

Zach Skiles:
Looking before you leave. Yes, exactly. And so being able to hold that fear then becomes a part of this journey and to respect not only your own humility, your own kind of place in humanity, but also to be mindful of how it is that you want to experience this because it's not for everybody.

Zach Skiles:
And if you think that at this point in time that you are not ready to take the leap, I'm going to walk right with you. And we don't have to take the leap. That's kind of the expectation is that I'm not going to sell this to you. You are going to do it yourself. I just hold space. The practice of psychedelic assisted therapies is more about the participant, the person in the medicine and their own inner healer that takes control and allows them to experience things that they're ready to experience.

Zach Skiles:
I'm not the one doing anything, but making sure you're safe. That you're processing what you want to process and being able to help you work through anything that might be difficult.

Jeff Evans:
Amen, brother. Wow. I know that what I'm about to tell you is going to make you feel uncomfortable. And I know that you probably, you might squirm a little bit. But I know just from talking to you this period of time, I'll say that when you take these big journeys, which I've taken several that at times, if you're fortunate, you get shown a previous version of yourself.

Jeff Evans:
You can see a hundreds, if not thousand year old version of you. I have and I think that you would say that does happen sometimes. I don't think there's any questions Zach, that you've been a healer. Ancestrally you've been a healer. But see you're just, you're a warrior and a healer and there's not too many-

Zach Skiles:
Both things can be true.

Jeff Evans:
They can be true, right? You are the dichotomy of that. You can be a warrior and a healer and that is a beautiful thing. And the world is a better place in this moment that we live because Zach was open and receptive to being a warrior and a fighter. And then understanding that he truly in his heart is a healer. And you found your space to do that.

Jeff Evans:
And I've commend you man, for everything that you're doing and everything you continue to do. Even if folks have not met you, we're all grateful to you because you're making this space a better space. So thank you for spending some of your time with us and sharing your space because you've improved people's lives. You will continue to do so. And thank you for connecting with our community.

Zach Skiles:
Thank you. I really appreciate it, man. This has been a great conversation.

Jeff Evans:
Same here. Thanks everybody.

Didrik Johnck:
The production team behind this podcast includes producer Didrik Johnck, that's me. Sound design, editing, and mixing by Tyler Cotman. Marketing and graphic support from Stone Ward and web support by Jamlo. Special thanks to the Dan Ryan band for our intro song, Guidance.

Didrik Johnck:
And thanks to all of you for listening. We know that you've got a lot of choices about how you can spend your time and we appreciate you spending it with us. If you enjoy this podcast, we encourage you to subscribe to it. Share it and give us a review. Show notes can be found at nobarrierspodcast.com. That's nobarrierspodcast.com. There's also a link to shoot me an email with any suggestions for show or any ideas you've got at all. Thanks so much and have a great day.



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