Higher Profile: R. Gage Amsler, ‘The Strains of War’

War hero R. Gage Amsler: A tale of war, redemption and Afghani weed.
Courtesy of R. Gage Amsler. Brian “Hershey” Reese (L) and Doc Gage (R) in Afghanistan.

U.S. veteran, combat field medic, sometime paramedic and high security specialist “Doc” R. Gage Amsler, otherwise known as Doc Gage, begins his autobiography, “A soldier going to war knows to expect the unexpected,” with Amsler stating he encountered his share of expected and unexpected trauma during his time in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan supporting U.S. military forces as a special forces operative.

But what he found in the mountains along the border at the mouth of the Taliban Trail between Pakistan and Afghanistan was something he thought may have only existed in folklore.

Courtesy of R. Gage Amsler. Foraged plants Amsler brought back to his hooch from the Afghani Trail, with a soda can for reference.

“I’d heard plenty about this mystical strain of cannabis when I was working as a full-time medic, but had no idea how much of it was true,” he shared. “Could this strain of Hindu Kush be the salvation for PTSD for my fellow Vets?”

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after wartime experiences is common, and Amsler was not spared. Flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, a sense of detachment from loved ones and difficulty functioning in everyday life are just a few symptoms of war that followed the medic home.

Holding himself up on 34 acres in his home state of Michigan upon his return from eight years as a wartime medic, he said he began drinking himself to death. After two years of fighting his demons, he began writing of his experiences as therapy.

“People aren’t getting the help they need when they get home,” he continued. “We are left to fend for ourselves. We are marginalized, isolated and unable to hold down jobs because of the PTSD. My story is about my own personal pain, but it’s also about this powerful plant.”

Gage had a troubled life before he joined the military and became a medic. As many do, he joined the military for a change.

“For me, it was jointing the military or dying in the streets,” he said. “My personal life was chaotic—two failed marriages, lost time with my daughter and losing friends along the way. But in the end, my quest for inner peace and finding a cure for the trauma using cannabis won over. Now I just want to share what I’ve learned.”

Courtesy of R. Gage Amsler. Seeds in his Hooch alongside his tools of war with a bill as reference.

Smuggling Afghani Hindu Kush

As a 1st Recon Combat Field Medic with a secret security clearance, Amsler smuggled the seeds of a Landrace cultivar of Afghani Hindu Kush from the mouth of the Taliban Trail, under the most intense situation, at the end of November with a light snow on the ground and buds loaded with seeds.

“I wasn’t looking for this mythical strain of Landrace cannabis rumored to be hidden somewhere along the 800 kilometer Hindu Kush range,” he surmised from his tell-all book. “I wasn’t looking for it when I found it—I was on a routine mission with my special operations team Task Force Dragon Slayer, scouting locations to build another base for the Afghan Army, in the middle of a modern-day war. But there they were, staring back at us.”

A fellow soldier first spotted the plants in-between a rock formation, with Amsler taking the plants in what he describes as impossible conditions. 

In what Amsler calls “an incredible epiphany and a life changing moment, a decision was made,” he continued. “They were dropping seeds as I pulled them from the ground and brought them back to my hooch on base and took a photo of them on the floor with a soda can for reference,” he said. “I spent two weeks pulling the seeds from the drying plants, then another four months trying to figure out how to bring them back home.”

The history of cannabis is directly linked to its existence and namesake as a landrace found in the Hindu Kush mountain ranges of Afghanistan, Northern Pakistan, and North-Western India, first known to be brought to the U.S. in the late 1970s. 

The range is part of the large watersheds of Central Asia, forming part of the Alpine zone, stretching across Eurasia, east to west.

While hashish made from the flower is more commonly used in the region, the Hindu-Kush flower continues to be cultivated around the world to this day. That said, cannabis has been deemed illegal in the Afghani region since the 1970s.

In a piece by Lucas Strazzeri for Vice, the writer shares his stories of traveling through the region, enjoying cultivars that have remained hidden from the world, mainly due to the civil unrest within the country.

Courtesy of R. Gage Amsler. Doc Gage Amsler (middle) with Team Task Force Dragon Slayer.

Strains of War

After spending the past seven years in research and development of the cultivars derived from the smuggled plants and subsequent seeds, Amsler said his hybrids have tested with THC counts ranging from 25 to 28.5 percentiles.

Each of his cultivars come with a backstory from his time at war. Of the cultivars in discussion are, Trigger Hippie Hindu Kush. 

“While working under a secret security clearance as a world-wide threat security contractor, or WPPS—worl wide personal protection and securities—we were called Pipehitters, pulling the trigger when the gun bolt would engage is called ‘hitting the trigger,’” he added. As an adage, the term Pipehitter has been used since the late 1800s, originally describing someone who would beat you with a piece of pipe.

Today, a Pipehitter describes special operations personnel such as Delta Force, SEALS, the 75th Ranger Regiment and Special Forces. Pipehitters are some of the most elite, highly respected, well-trained and qualified operators in the combined forces (interchangeable within the Navy and Marines), able to go to extreme measures to accomplish the goal at hand.

Another cultivar proposed is Hershey’s Kiss, though that name may face challenges, remembering back to Burner’s Girl Scout Cookies, shortened to Cookies after a legal battle.

“Overseas we only use call signs for safety, never our real names, so everyone had a nickname,” he explained. “My best buddy and Army Ranger was Brian Reese, so Reese’s Pieces became Hershey.”

As Amsler retells the story, once home, Reese was turned away by the VA because of his cannabis use. He suffered from back and knee pain from many airplane jumps, and without insurance or support from the VA, he died of suffocation from an allergic reaction to an oxycodone pill a friend had given him.

“It has been my sole mission to release a cultivar that I believe might have been a life saving alternative to his condition, both physically and mentally,” he surmised. “This is the reason I’ve come this far and why I believe I’m still alive. Brian’s cultivar will be his legacy.”

Courtesy of R. Gage Amsler. Doc Gage Amsler in combat mode in Afghanistan.

From the Afghani Hippie Trail to Market

Amsler is also in talks to grow his Afghani Hindu Kush hybrid cultivars created from the original plants in affiliation with Gold Seal, a boutique flower company in San Francisco established in 2009, by fellow military veteran, Aaron Flynn.

Another agreement between Brothers Mark Cannabis may see the plants growing outdoors on its Patriots Farm in Sonoma County, California, as Amsler was recently hired as its director of field operations by Veterans Cannabis Group, a 502c3 affiliate of Brothers Mark Cannabis Farm, founded and operated by U.S. Military Veterans, run by CEO Aaron Augustus.

Lastly, his seedbank of cultivars from the Afghani and additional strains added since, is branded under MERAKII Genetics with its distributor and shareholder, LilaCanna of Los Angeles.

Some of the cultivars were shared with a few VIPs from the Emerald Cup in Northern California last year with a positive response.

“If all goes well, the cultivars will be released to the world in honor of my fallen brothers-in-arms. That’s what this is really all about for me—honoring them. I was just lucky enough to literally stumble upon the plants on the Afghani Hippie Trail.”

Courtesy of R. Gage Amsler. Afghani Hindu Kush, first plant from the first seeds brought back from the Taliban Train in Afghanistan.

To order The Strains of War visit this website.

  1. Well, that’s a great story! And now we are supposed to believe that 40 to 50 years after the first seeds of these regions appeared and were bred in Europe and the USA, there is still a landrace growing there even though e.g. the Strain Hunters spreading their crap pretty much everywhere or what? Screw the plant and the truth, as long as the dollar rolls.

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