Author: James Jeffrey

Trauma and the Psychedelic Renaissance

Military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the wildly imaginative British writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley are increasingly finding common ground. In 1954, Huxley published The Doors of Perception, a short monograph detailing his psychedelic experiences on mescaline the previous May, and the book became a bible for the “turn on, tune in, drop out” movement of the 1960s counterculture. Now, the arguments Huxley made in defence of psychoactive drug use are being consulted by doctors exploring innovative ways to treat psychological wounds and mental health problems resulting from military service and trauma. Research into the therapeutic potential of drugs such as MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine) and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) collapsed when the drugs were made illegal worldwide in the early ’70s. However, the merits of psychedelic science are currently undergoing an international reappraisal and renaissance, gaining media attention and traction among scientists, doctors, and in the wider public sphere. Psychedelics first appeared on my radar after I left the British Army in 2010 following tours in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. As I wrestled with …

Starvation and Ethnic Cleansing Stalk Ethiopia

“Forgetful of the world, by whom they were forgotten,” wrote eminent 18th-century British historian Edward Gibbon of the “Aethiopians” as they “slept near a thousand years.” Ethiopia remains the only African country not colonised—its rugged mountainous terrain kept out intruders and helped to preserve one of Africa’s most unique cultures. The country is far more prominent on the global scene these days, in large part due to a terrible famine that seared images of its starving children into the world’s collective consciousness during the 1980s. But more recently, it has attracted attention due to its remarkable economic renaissance. The country was in the ascendant and its tourism industry was champing at the bit. A campaign was launched promoting Ethiopia as the Land of Origins—the cradle of humanity out of which the antecedents of modern humans set off from Africa around 185,000 years ago. But the world’s tendency toward forgetfulness has re-emerged since Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered the military into Tigray, the country’s most northern region, last November. This move has plunged Ethiopia into deepening …

Moral Injury and the Battle against COVID-19

When Odysseus journeyed to the Underworld in search of advice about how to return home safely, he dug a trench into which he poured libations mixed with blood from the throats of a ram and a ewe to summon the dead. As his fallen comrades from the Trojan War began to emerge from the shadows and gather round, Odysseus tried to console mighty Achilles for his death by speaking of the authority he must now hold among the dead. But Achilles replied: “I would rather be alive and toiling as serf to another man, one with no land and nothing much to live on, than be a king over all the perished dead.” These words shatter the illusion that the wounds of heroes ever mend—one of the earliest commentaries on the lingering trauma of war for its combatants. It is now far better appreciated that veterans return from war with psychological wounds in need of treatment. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has become the public face of such anxiety disorders. Far less diagnosed and understood, though, …