Keith Abraham never expected to find himself deep in the Peruvian jungle drinking a powerful hallucinogenic brew from a dirty Coca-Cola bottle.
A former member of the elite British Parachute Regiment, he had enlisted after 9/11 to, as he puts it, “hunt down the bad guys”. After a relatively uneventful tour of Iraq, in 2008 he was sent to fight in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, one of the world’s deadliest battlegrounds. Early on, his unit were ambushed and in the first burst of gunfire he saw two close friends die. Like so many other soldiers, Abraham eventually returned home to Britain wracked with a debilitating cocktail of grief, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
After leaving the Paras he attempted to start a new life with a high-flying city job at JP Morgan, but he knew he was falling apart. He would sit in his office with sweat pouring from his hands and face. His hair fell out in his sleep. He could never escape the feeling that his body was being held in a stress position. Conventional antidepressants just made him feel worse, so when a friend suggested he travel to South America to try ayahuasca – a traditional plant medicine containing the hallucinogen DMT – he figured he had nothing to lose. He flew to Lima in April 2014 and claims he returned a changed man. “Psychologically, I knew that I’d been healed,” he says.