Arizona cops raided US Army veteran Damon Laetzsch's home in 2021 after his ex-girlfriend told them he was making and using illegal drugs. Upon raiding the veteran's home, cops discovered psilocybin mushrooms, DMT, and a flask containing naphtha, which can be used to extract DMT. Laetzsch told the cops that he was only using sub-psychoactive doses of these medicines to treat his painful cluster headaches, but he was arrested and charged with possessing and manufacturing Schedule I drugs anyway.
For those who aren't in the know, cluster headaches may not seem like such a big deal, but the pain brought on by these headaches is even more extreme than migraines. Cluster headaches are well-regarded as “one of the most intense and disabling pain conditions known,” according to a 2017 study from the Harm Reduction journal. The study authors note that “the urgency of the circumstances has led care providers and patients to try unusual or experimental remedies” to avoid this extreme pain.
“It’s the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life,” Laetzsch explained to High Times. “Nothing helps the headache as well as DMT when I’m actually having it. It will abort the headache immediately. A small hit will abort the headache for about an hour to an hour and a half. If I take a bigger hit it can last longer, but some of the headaches last a few hours so I would have to take a few hits during that episode. But, I would be pain-free. It wasn’t even a psychoactive amount that I smoked to abort the headache.”
Sadly, this isn't Laetzsch's first time getting arrested for using prohibited plants as medicine. In 2001, long before Arizona legalized medical pot, the veteran was busted for using cannabis to treat chronic pain, anxiety, and PTSD that he suffered as a result of his military service. He ended up serving two and a half years in jail for using cannabis, which is of course now completely legal in Arizona and nearly half of the entire US.
And thanks to that prior conviction, he is facing an extreme sentence for possessing psychedelics. Laetzsch is now faced with a grim decision – to plead guilty or to stand trial. If he accepts the plea deal, he could end up serving six and a half years in prison due to his earlier convictions. If he goes to trial and loses, he could face an even more extreme punishment.
If the case does go to trial, prosecutors will probably argue that Laetzsch is a drug addict that is simply trying to get high AF. Psychedelics are some of the only medicines in existence that can actually reduce the pain of cluster headaches, though. Nearly a quarter of cluster headache cases don't respond to conventional therapies, but several studies now report that LSD, psilocybin, and cannabis can effectively alleviate this extreme pain with few negative side effects.
But even though psychedelic research is advancing at a rapid pace, DMT, LSD, and psilocybin all remain federally prohibited. This leaves cluster headache patients like Laetzsch forced to choose between living in extreme pain or risking prison time for taking advantage of an effective treatment.
Cluster headaches “patients are in a desperate and vulnerable situation, and illicit psychoactive substances are often considered a last resort,” the 2017 study explains. Again, the researchers made it clear that these patients were looking for relief, not just trying to trip out. “There appeared to be little or no interest in psychoactive effects per se as these were rather tolerated or avoided by using sub-psychoactive doses.”