Psilocybin and ayahuasca are some of the most powerful psychedelic substances currently being explored in studies and clinical trials across the globe. You may have heard about, or read, some new, inspiring research that explores these psychedelics’ vast potential to help us to heal and grow.

But what happens when we examine psychedelic use outside of the glistening, sterile halls of research institutes and look at how regular people are using these compounds in their day-to-day lives? We spoke with two people who have used psychedelics to find themselves, reconnect with their inner spirit, and heal from the trauma of war. These are their stories, raw and unfiltered by the academic lens.

A Midwest Mom Uses Psilocybin to Reconnect with Her “Best Friend”

Midwest Mom with Best Friend

Kayla Crawford, from Omaha, Nebraska, is a stay-at-home mother of two. Like so many parents across the country, her life revolves around her family, especially her children. According to Crawford, her family is “her everything,” she says. Adding, “my kids have always come first.” However, in the last few years, Crawford says she was “a little adrift” and sensing that a “part of her was missing.” She felt like she had been consumed by her role as a mother to the point that the inner her–that fundamental, unique part of herself that had always been her “best friend”–was getting lost.

“I just think that you can get consumed by your routines, you start to forget how to be ‘you.’”
– Kayla Crawford

Crawford says, “Over the years, I got to a point where I felt like I was just a mom and a wife. I started feeling like a part of me was getting lost in the routine. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family more than anything, but there was this nagging feeling that there was something more I needed to explore. Like a deeper understanding or connection to the world I was missing.”

Having grown up in a conservative household in Massachusetts, she says she never considered taking psychedelics.

“Where I grew up, and with my family, you just didn’t do drugs,” she says. “It was pretty much a non-starter for my family. My dad was a very, very conservative guy. He believed in family, god, and work—and not much else in between. Part of that, you know, his way of living carried over into my life for a long time. Even when I was in college, before the kids, I didn’t smoke, and I didn’t drink.”

Crawford says she felt like she “didn’t have an outlet” or a way to escape her daily routine. Describing it as “the sort of thing that just builds up.” Adding, “You get the kids ready for school and make lunches. All that. And then when they get home, you do it all over again. It’s not that I have a bad life, I just think that you can get consumed by your routines, you start to forget how to be ‘you.’”

According to her, she tried talk therapy on her own and with her husband. Something that she says made her “realize that I wasn’t taking time for myself. Ever.”

Eventually, Crawford started listening to a podcast run by Michaela Carlin, aka the “Psychedelic Mom.”

“One of my friends is really into everything wellness, organic, and natural,” she says. “She told me about a podcast that she had been listening to and how Michaela’s journey sounded a lot like mine. She’s a mom, and she understands what that struggle can be like.”

“My trip gave me the sort of space and the break I needed, and it [psilocybin] let me see things from this huge perspective. It’s like I’ve reconnected with a long-lost best friend: and that friend is me.”
– Kayla Crawford

“She talks about how she uses mushrooms [psilocybin containing magic mushrooms] to help her take these mini vacations,” Crawford continues. “Not that she goes anywhere, but she uses them to give herself these breaks and these little resets. That really caught my attention, I was like, ‘I need that, I need a break.’”

Eventually, Crawford says she started microdosing with psilocybin. Microdosing is the practice of taking very small, often sub-perceptual doses of psychedelics to get certain benefits like increased energy, focus, or creativity. Some people also believe that microdosing can help with the symptoms of depression or anxiety. According to Crawford, she feels a real difference after just a few weeks. Saying, “I just felt better. I was getting more in tune with myself, my kids, and my husband.”(1)

She says that her husband started to notice.

“Steve and I have always been like that,” she explains. “He just knows when something is going on with me. He could tell I was feeling a little better, and he started to get interested, too.”

Over time, Crawford says that she and her husband began reading about and researching magic mushrooms more. This led to her discovering Moms on Mushrooms, an online community and resource for mothers and parents interested in using psychedelics.

“The more I learned about taking these bigger doses, the more I wanted to try it,” says Crawford. “I talked to Steve about it, and he agreed. He thought it was something I should try. I was drawn to the idea of taking these things and getting that big-picture experience. I thought it could let me step outside the routine I was in and get back to me.”

Crawford and her husband set a date for her to try her first microdose of psilocybin.

“I set up a whole weekend just for myself,” she says. “I let my mom take the kids, and Steve helped me get everything I needed.”

Crawford says she was inspired by some of the music she had heard, which contained small snippets of lectures by Terrence Mckenna, a renowned ethnobotanist and psychonaut at the forefront of psychedelic culture in the ’60s and ’70s.

“Terrence [McKenna] has this whole thing in his talks where he says you need to lay down in silence and just listen to the mushrooms and what they’re trying to tell you,” she says. Adding, “I didn’t do the silence part. I just don’t think I was ready for that. But I did put together my own music—all stuff that I really loved when I was younger.”

Crawford describes her psilocybin trip as “really, really powerful,” likening it to the birth of her children.

Marine Meets Trippy Goddess

“I don’t know if I’d do that much again,” she says. “It was a wild experience. But I think it really did help me. I felt like I had reconnected with a part of myself that I had lost. My trip gave me the sort of space and the break I needed. And it [psilocybin] let me see things from this huge perspective. It’s like I’ve reconnected with a long-lost best friend: and that friend is me.”

A Marine Meets Grandmother Ayahuasca

A Marine participating in an ayahuasca ceremony

Former U.S. Marine Corps. Staff Sergeant Jacob Thompson is, at his heart, a small-town man who signed up for military service in 2009 to escape the mundanity of East Texas.

According to Thompson, he joined the Marines to “get out of the small-town bubble and make something of myself.”

Thompson spent nearly 12 years as an infantryman in the Marine Corps before being discharged in 2020. While in the Marines, Thompson says he struggled with depression that began to get significantly worse after his first combat deployment.

“The things I saw, the losses, they began to take a toll on my mind,” he says. “I was trained to stay strong, to push through—but the weight of that sh*t starts to creep in.”

After his discharge, Thompson, like so many other service members, says his mental health became significantly worse. He says, “The nightmares, flashbacks, and anxiety became pretty frequent. Coming back home, the transition was tough. The camaraderie that was a huge part of my life in the Marines suddenly felt missing. When you’ve been in for a long time, you get institutionalized, and civilian life can feel alien to you.”

“Ayahuasca isn’t a magic fix. It’s more like a mirror showing you what you need to work on.”
– Former Staff Sergeant, Jacob Thompson
A Marine Facing a Mirror

Thompson recounts how he struggled with loneliness, PTSD, depression, and substance abuse. According to Thompson, he felt like “the world had moved on without me.”

Adding, “A lot of guys get out, and they go through the same stuff, but they’ve got families—wife, kids, parents… I was one of those odd men out who never got married, and when I got out, it was just me. It’s like taking a bath in cold water. The loneliness is shocking.”

Thompson says he sought treatment through the Veterans Administration (VA), and while he does think he received good care, it was not as effective as it could have been. Thompson believes part of this was due to the standard nature of care provided by the VA.

“You start to get tired of it,” he says. “The same antidepressants, struggling to get into talk therapy or even group therapy. It felt like none of it was working for me.”

To make matters worse, Thompson was undergoing a crisis of identity and connection.

He says, “I was struggling to find that sense of belonging and purpose that I had while serving. The PTSD made it harder. You know how it goes. You can’t predict the triggers. It could be anything, and it’s exhausting, especially when the isolation sets in after a bad episode. It messes with you.”

Thompson began exploring alternative medicine. Specifically plant-based medicines like the psychedelic brew ayahuasca.

“I was at this point where nothing was really working, you know? The meds, the therapy sessions, they were just like a band-aid on a gunshot,” Thompson recounts. “I kept hearing about ayahuasca from different folks, saw some documentaries, and heard stories of people finding peace and facing their fears head-on. It felt like something I needed to give a shot.”

“It wasn’t a magic cure, but it gave me a glimpse of peace and a hope that healing was possible.”
– Former Staff Sergeant, Jacob Thompson

Thompson was introduced to the idea of going abroad for an ayahuasca ceremony by a close friend of his from the Marines. Who, like Thompson, had dealt with trauma and loss while enlisted and had been using psychedelics to self-medicate for depression and PTSD. Thompson says that his friend had tried ayahuasca.

“He tried it before I did,” Thompson recalls. “And the way he talked about the experience, the sense of release and understanding he got from it, was something I hadn’t seen in him for a long time.”

One of the biggest draws for Thompson was the feeling of purpose and community that he found when he began digging into the possibility of undergoing an ayahuasca ceremony.

As he puts it, “The communal vibe of the ceremonies, sharing that space with others looking for healing, it reminded me of the bonds I had in the Marines. It wasn’t about analyzing what’s wrong on a couch; it’s about diving into it, and facing it. I figured if there was a chance this could help me sort through the mess in my head and help me find some peace, then why not? Plus, I was desperate to find something, anything, to feel like myself again.”

After several months of preparing for his first ayahuasca experience and researching retreats, Thompson found a promising location in Peru, a nation with a long tradition of ayahuasca use.

Marine preparing for ayahuasca retreat scaled

According to Thompson, the ceremony was, at times, “extremely heavy,” but he offers that once he had passed the purging phase of the experience, he began to find feelings of peace.

“When the ayahuasca started working, it was like nothing I’d ever experienced,” he says. “It was a rollercoaster of emotions and visions. At times, it was terrifying, facing the memories and guilt head-on, but there were also moments of clarity and understanding. It felt like I was being guided through the darkest parts of myself, and I was coming face-to-face with my fears and regrets.”

Thompson recalls one particularly impactful moment where he “felt a deep sense of forgiveness” towards himself.

“[It was] something I had struggled with for a long time,” he recalls. “It was like the ayahuasca was peeling back layers, helping me to see why I was feeling the way I was, and how to start letting go.”

Like most Marines, Thompson is an extremely pragmatic man, and he maintains that while psychedelics didn’t cure his PTSD or depression, he does think they made his symptoms more manageable.

Psychedelic Grandmother Aya

Or, as he puts it, “It wasn’t a magic cure, but it gave me a glimpse of peace and a hope that healing was possible. It’s a journey I’m still on, but Grandmother Aya helped me take a significant step toward getting back to myself.”

When asked if he had anything to say to other veterans and former service members interested in exploring psychedelic medicine, Thompson offered this: “If you’re considering ayahuasca, do your homework first. Look into the legal aspects, as it’s not legal everywhere, and find reputable retreats or practitioners. It’s a powerful experience, and having the right guidance and setting is crucial. Talk to others who’ve been through it, especially fellow vets, as they can give you a real sense of what to expect. And be prepared to face some tough stuff. Ayahuasca isn’t a magic fix. It’s more like a mirror showing you what you need to work on.”

Kayla Crawford and Jacob Thompson represent a snapshot of the average American. Whether it’s the day-to-day struggles of a mid-western mom looking to reconnect with her inner best friend or the internal battles fought by a former Marine, these two individuals are us. And it’s us who psychedelics can help the most. It can be easy to lose track of the real purpose of the “psychedelic renaissance.” It isn’t to discover some new, patentable drugs or to revolutionize mental healthcare. Instead, psychedelics are meant for everyone, for the overworked mothers, battered but never beaten veterans, and all of us in between. Psychedelics are, and always should be, tools to help us grow, heal, and live happier, more fulfilling lives.

This material is not intended as a replacement or substitute for any legal or medical advice. Always consult a medical professional about your health needs. Psychedelics are widely illegal in the United States, and readers should always be informed about local, state, and federal regulations regarding psychedelics or other drugs.

  1. Anderson, T., Petranker, R., Rosenbaum, D., Weissman, C. R., Dinh-Williams, L.-A., Hui, K., Hapke, E., & Farb, N. A. S. (2019). Microdosing psychedelics: personality, mental health, and creativity differences in microdosers. Psychopharmacology, 236(2), 731–740.