Cops Demand the Right for Cops to Do Psychedelic Drugs

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Getty

Sarko Gergerian, a Massachusetts police lieutenant, is not your average cop. He’s also a trained MDMA-assisted therapist. His police chief even gave him permission to take a trip with the medicine, also known as ecstasy or molly, during a clinical trial. “It opened my heart and mind,” he told The Daily Beast.

For decades in the U.S., police officers have served as the frontline troops in a militarized war on drugs in which millions were jailed for non-violent offenses. But a small cadre of serving and former police officers, in the U.S. and across the world, are—like Gergerian— finding that when used responsibly and therapeutically, some of the drugs can ease distress and make them happier.

On the sidelines of the United Nations’ annual Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna on Wednesday, Gergerian sat beside three former senior policemen as part of a panel organized by Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) titled “Why Police Need Access to Psychedelics Urgently”. They pressed authorities around the world to swiftly make MDMA-assisted therapy (MDMA-AT) available to their comrades both as a preventive medicine and treatment for PTSD, which is rampant and may affect as many as one-in-two officers. The scale of the mental health crisis in policing means that, in the U.S. and the U.K., officers are more likely to commit suicide than die on duty.

“MDMA can push treatment resistant PTSD into remission,” says Gergerian, who had a postgraduate qualification in mental health counseling before joining the police in 2010 initially as a patrol officer and is speaking in a personal capacity. “Why not create a wellness program for first responders with MDMA-AT built in so cops don’t get to the point where they’re blowing their own heads off with their guns.”

The origin of Gergerian’s training is a story for the ages. He attended a police chiefs’ conference in Florida in 2018 where the psychedelic healing advocate Rick Doblin, the founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) presented clinical data on the effectiveness of the empathogenic stimulant. “I was already a trained psychotherapist and I asked him, ‘How can I help with this?’” Gergerian recalls. “He answered: ‘Become a psychedelic-assisted therapist,’ And gave me his card.” Gergerian duly underwent MAPS’ 100-hour training programme and made an appearance in the Netflix psychedelics series How to Change Your Mind.

A photo including members of the crew

The crew in front of the flags – Woods is the white guy in the middle, blue suit. Sarko second right, Bilheran far right.


Now, Gergerian—the psychedelic healing lieutenant—is perhaps the most high profile advocate among serving police officers for psychedelic therapy. Already he has “held space” for veterans and retired police undergoing ketamine trips, and he stands ready to facilitate MDMA sessions for his fellow officers if the Food and Drugs Administration approves the therapy for the stress disorder in August, as expected. It seems far out—but with the U.S. Veterans Affairs department already funding a pilot scheme providing ketamine-assisted therapy to former soldiers, perhaps police officers will soon be able to access “the love drug” as part of their health insurance schemes.

Gergerian even thinks psychedelic therapy can help to heal the crisis in policing—where accusations of racial bias and fatal shootings have led to the “defund the police” movement. “Psychedelic-assisted therapies are the antidote to highly contagious infections like hate,” he says. “They will help create space so we can carefully move towards one another, listen, accept, and extend a hand in service to each other for the sake of our entire planet.”

Neil Woods, board member of LEAP and a U.K. former undercover detective who co-wrote the best-seller Good Cop, Bad War, also thinks that it may be better to heal police officers, and society-at-large, than defund the police. “The U.N. needs to start removing the barriers to psychedelic research and legalization,” says Woods, who organized the panel. “Nation states need to stand up and innovate for the sake of their cops too. The evidence is here: People are dying and we need to do something about it. We want psychedelic therapy ingrained to protect the mental health of police, as well as everyone else.”

Woods knows several police officers who have undergone psychedelic therapy. One was a detective sergeant at the time who drank ayahuasca, a visionary psychedelic brew from the Amazon, and rescued his mental health, and his marriage. He also became a better, kinder police officer, Woods says. Another is PC Paul Haylock, a serving officer of 22 years who recently told of how his experiences with ayahuasca in Peru. Psychedelics also turned his life around and helped him process trauma accrued from countless harrowing incidents and scant police aftercare. Serving officers in Canada have similar stories.

How MDMA Became the Club Drug of the Century

It’s no wonder so many cops are seeking their own solutions. “Police officers who were exposed to trauma in the war on drugs, now report that the effort did not limit access to drugs, but increased violence. Now they are fighting for psychedelics in the treatment of trauma and other psychological challenges,” Arild Knutsen, the head of Norway’s Association for Humane Drug Policies, who attended the panel, posted on X.

LEAP’s mental health in policing campaign comes as the severe lack of psychological and emotional support in forces around the world is driving an unprecedented exodus where record numbers across England and Wales and the U.S. are quitting. Others, like Fabien Bilheran, a retired French detective who spent eight years in the Paris “narcotics brigade” and was an ardent believer in the drug war when he began his policing career, have dawning realizations that they are part of the problem. He says this disillusionment, and the reaction to his attempts to raise awareness of the suffering resulting from the drug war, led him to attempt suicide in 2020.

“I was a fanatical enforcer of the drug war,” he recalls. “But when I realized that police violence made drug trafficking increase rather than go down, it was really bad for my mental health.” He says he was about to shoot himself while sitting in an impounded car in the police station but just as he was about to pull the trigger, the car alarm went off. “The car alarm saved my life,” Bilheran, who also shared his story during the panel discussion, told The Daily Beast. “It was like a wake up call.”

After that, he sought help outside of the police and received treatment for PTSD, but the sedating benzodiazepine drugs he was prescribed just made him slow and sleepy. He soon discovered that people were recommending other tools for fighting PTSD and he did therapeutic work with psychedelic mushrooms, LSD and 5-MeO-DMT. “I felt that all the people around me were connected,” re recalls. Bilheran says that his experiences with MDMA made it possible the co-writing a book, The Law of Silence, published in 2022, which highlights the issues he sees in the police force. “It helps me speak freely more easily and put words to my suffering,” he says.

Bilheran went to Mexico for some of his psychedelic experiences, but increasingly illegal psychedelic therapy is available under the radar and in some cases aboveboard in the U.S. and across Europe. Some underground psychedelic facilitators are ex-police officers and veterans. Luc Van Poelje—a former soldier who served in Iraq in 1991 and began facilitating mushroom truffle journeys in Holland after transformative 2013 ayahuasca and mushroom trips— has served psilocybin to around 30 serving police officers, from his own country, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. “Everyone is looking for healing, insights and inner peace,” he says. “It’s about remembering you’re part of a magical universe and you belong here, that you are loved. Police officers are often spat at, literally and figuratively, and that’s a lot to deal with.”

A photo including Sarko Gergerian with Rick Doblin

Sarko Gergerian with Rick Doblin


Ben Broughton, a cop for a decade in the U.K., was a proud of his work in the police. He rose to the rank of sergeant—arresting countless people for drug offenses—before going to work for the U.K.’s financial conduct authority. But he says a magic mushroom ceremony “changed his life” and transformed his perspective of himself, his work and his attitude towards drugs. So much so that he soon set about to train with a plant medicine shaman to become a medicine man himself. Fast forward five years and he’s holding his own ceremonies.

Doctors, lawyers and people from all sorts of professions attend, including two serving police officers. “They are both trying to change the police force from within the system,” says Broughton. “They’ve decided to focus on their own personal issues in ceremony and become more conscious police officers. If we can have a more conscious police service, that could be one hell of a change.” One of the officers is actively campaigning for drug law reform, too.

“We should have done things differently, but I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t been through those experiences,” says Broughton, alluding to the fact that he, like Bilheran and Woods, arrested countless people for drug crimes during his time in the force. “That was me once upon a time,” he adds, “but I’ve changed, mostly due to the medicine, and this is who I am now.”

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