How Veterans are Using Psychedelics to Treat PTSD

An Interview with Heroic Hearts Founder Jesse Gould

Photo of Jesse Gould, credit: Nune Garipian

Team Wiener intern and University of San Francisco student Jehieli Luevanos conducted an interview with veteran Jesse Gould, founder and president of the Heroic Hearts project. They discussed his work to decriminalize psychedelics and support veterans in seeking mental health treatment.

Senator Wiener is authoring Senate Bill 519, which would decriminalize the possession and personal use of certain psychedelic substances. The legislation would also require the state health department to study how California could regulate safe and equitable access to these substances in permitted legal contexts.

SB 519 passed the full Senate, and through two policy committees in the Assembly. It now must pass the Assembly Appropriations committee before it heads to the Assembly floor for a full vote.

SB 519 would not have been possible without the help of veterans such as Jesse Gould, a retired Army ranger and founder of the Heroic Hearts project. These veterans came together to support and advocate for the legislation. The Heroic Hearts project is a non-profit that connects military veterans struggling with mental trauma to psychedelic therapy options such as ayahuasca, psilocybin, and ketamine therapy. I sat down with Jesse to learn more about the Heroic Hearts Project and his legislative work:

How did you get connected with psychedelic therapy to combat your PTSD?

I was an Army Ranger, I had three combat deployments to Afghanistan as a commissioned officer. When I got out of the Army, I went back to working in finance, which was my original background. I just started to hit some real mental health walls. I had some red flags that started to go up, and I realized I was unhappy with life. That was my turning point.

I tried a lot of holistic health and went to the VA and saw a social worker. I told her I was really struggling with these things, and at that point I was disinterested in going on any prescription medication. I then went to see a therapist, and unfortunately she told me that they were pretty much at maximum capacity and unless I was willing to go on the full evidence-based treatment protocol, which more often than not ends up involving medication. So there was very little they could do for me.

That’s what led me to ayahuasca therapy in Peru. I came in very skeptical, I never had interest in doing any sort of drugs, but out of necessity the idea became more prominent. Next thing I knew I was on a plane to Peru going through the ceremonies.

When did you realize you wanted to start the Heroic Hearts Project?

After going through a couple of ceremonies, it became abundantly clear that these substances were not what I thought they were, and they were so different from all the stigma I had heard as a kid. They actually had a profound impact on my life and truly saved my life in a lot of ways. So that was the inspiration behind Heroic Hearts.

I went into it black box, trying to figure out psychedelic therapy for myself and not really having any support. I was trying to build that infrastructure that just wasn’t there for me.

You have had great success so far with your efforts to support SB 519. What do you want to see in the future in regards to psychedelics?

The problem with any substance prohibition is that it just makes everything more dangerous, and prevents research. These very effective treatments have been made essentially less effective because without protocols, knowledge, and communities of support, people have to experiment and do this on their own, which can have mixed results.

I want to see more communities and protocols developed to make psychedelic therapy the most effective it can be. I want there to be more avenues for people who are seeking this type of mental health treatment. I want people to have options, access, and support.