In January of last year, 19-year-old Nara flew from London back to her birthplace in Iraq for her favourite grandmother's funeral. But when she arrived, she found her grandmother very much alive.
She had been tricked by her father, who accused her of becoming un-Islamic and too Westernised. Nara was then locked in a room and beaten by her father for four weeks, before escaping, returning to the UK and going into hiding. She changed her name and her job, and, unable to deal with the trauma she suffered, became depressed and was put on sedatives and regular therapy sessions.
However, it was only after dropping LSD at a friend's house that she began to emotionally deal with what she had been through.
The idea of using LSD therapeutically has been around since the 1950s – psychiatrists Humphry Osmond and Abram Hoffer believed hallucinogens gave patients the ability "to view their condition from a fresh perspective" – but research was halted in the 1960s after LSD was demonised by politicians. However, analysis published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal last year pointed to a growing body of evidence showing that hallucinogens have therapeutic benefits for PTSD, addiction and anxiety.
I met up with Nara, whose named has been changed to protect her identity, to ask her about how LSD has helped her deal with a traumatic experience that left her living in fear of her life.
VICE: What happened when you were kidnapped by your own father in Iraq?
Nara: I had stopped praying and wearing a headscarf, and I'd had a few big rows with my parents because of this. When they told me my grandmother – who I had been very close to – had died, we all went to Iraq for the funeral. But I found out she hadn't actually died and it was just a plan to get me back to Iraq and keep me there.
What did he do to you?
My dad shut me in a room and wouldn't let me leave. Every day he came in and beat me and then locked the door. I'd never had a great relationship with my father, but he was ashamed of me. He let out all his anger. He fractured my left arm and ribs. I was held against my will for a month in my grandmother's house. After four days I was allowed to go out into the courtyard, but I was basically under house arrest. I had no phone, no internet and I wasn't allowed onto the street.
How did you escape?
I had a Kindle that had a browser on it. I found an open wi-fi network and started contacting my boyfriend back in the UK to arrange my escape. He told me the embassy knew I'd been kidnapped and was already searching for me. So I described what the house looked like, but their patrols never found me. One day, dad left the house, and so I thought, 'It's now or never' – although I knew I might never see my family again. I found the key to the back door and got a taxi to the embassy, and they put me on a flight back to the UK.
When did your experiences start to haunt you?
I had to change my name, change jobs, change my doctors. I had to sever all links with my family. My boyfriend was supporting me and, at first, I thought I'd not been affected much by it. But mentally I hadn't dealt with it. Six months after coming back from Iraq I had a bit of a breakdown. I got more and more depressed. I had night terrors, insomnia and suffered PTSD-like symptoms, such as flashbacks. I was getting just three hours of sleep a day. I took two months off work and went to therapy. I was put on sedatives to help me sleep.
And where did LSD come into all this?
By the time my father conned me into going to Iraq I had taken most recreational drugs. I wasn't a big drinker; MDMA was my favourite. I'd done a few quite pleasant LSD trips in the park with my friend, but after having a bad experience with 2CB, I was never someone who took drugs alone.
At first LSD was a bad idea for me. Four months after coming back to the UK I took some acid – well, actually, 245 micrograms of acid – and it was too heavy. I couldn't deal with it. I freaked out. It was overwhelming and I had to take some diazepam to get out of the trip and fall asleep. It set my recovery from depression back a month. But I didn't rule LSD out as being a useful drug for me just because of one bad experience.
So despite the bad trip, you took it again?
Yes, in October last year. I half-expected the same thing to happen, but this time I took 200 micrograms and I'd done some research online about LSD dosing and using it to treat trauma – although you have to take what people say online with a grain of salt. I was more prepared, so I just let go. I was with friends and I just let it do its thing. That's when I made this breakthrough.
When I was high on LSD it allowed me a glimpse at how to deal with the problems I was having, like opening a drawn curtain. For the first time I realised what had happened. It wasn't my fault, none of it was. It was an eye-opening experience. For me, taking LSD – and talking and thinking about what had happened to me – was actually quite a cherished experience. It made me open to other things: one of the effects was to make me a lot more responsive to the therapy sessions I was going to. I found it easier to approach my problems in therapy, because I already had done so on LSD. It was so much easier to talk about.
Why do you think LSD had this effect?
With LSD I get a view from the inside. With other drugs, such as MDMA, you don't get that. LSD is like an emotional bottle opener for me; it helps me see things from a different angle. But I had to find the right dose, the balance between disorientation and self-awareness.
So a year after taking LSD as a form of self-medication, how are you?
Well, on the downside my therapist wasn't very pleased with me for taking LSD, but she said she appreciated my honesty. And I've realised I can never take LSD for fun again – it just gets so heavy; I open up about my family and the abuse. I can't avoid that issue. I'm still not in a very good place, although I'm much better than last year. There's been a lot of progress and the trigger for that was acid. I still take sedatives, although if I'm tripping I have to leave a three day window where I have to not take them.
Have you had any contact with your family?
I've not spoken to anyone in my family since February of last year. I particularly miss speaking to my two younger sisters, and that's not great. It's painful, but there's not much I can do about it. I can't just hop over to Iraq, where my family now lives, and say, "How are you doing?" And there's so much fighting there now. Instead, I've got a network of friends – I've built my own family. But I have to stay low, even in the UK, because if I do "out" myself [my family has] family here, too.
I think there should be more research into the use of LSD for trauma. For me, it's been a crucial part of helping me to deal with what happened to me, why it happened and to move on – to get on with my life.
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