Arizona Veteran Faces Prison Time for Treating Cluster Headaches with DMT

A man suffering from a particularly hellish kind of headache is staring down the barrel of his third prison sentence.
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Damon Laetzsch (pronounced letch, like fetch) was arrested while making breakfast on August 11, 2021 at his home in Chandler, Arizona when police raided his house and found psilocybin mushrooms, DMT and a flask containing Naphtha, a chemical used to extract DMT. At the time of publication, he faces a potential prison sentence of 6 and a half years if he is convicted for possession and manufacturing of dangerous drugs.

Laetzsch, 44, says he uses tryptamines like psilocybin and DMT to treat cluster headaches, which are widely considered one of the most painful experiences a human being can undergo. DMT and psilocybin are extremely illegal in the state of Arizona, so Laetzsch is facing several years in prison for what he says is the only way to maintain his quality of life.

“It’s the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life,” Laetzsch said. “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.”

According to Laetzsch, a disgruntled ex-girlfriend tipped off the police that he had a mushroom grow in the house. Between that and his prior arrest record, that’s all it took to trigger a full-blown raid. The kicker here is that the ex-girlfriend who reported Laetzsch to the cops was apparently in his house weeks later at the time the cops came marching in.

“I had no idea man. Me and my ex-girlfriend split up because she was starting to get involved in fraud and shit. I found out so I kicked her out and she was pissed off I kicked her out. So, the next time she got in trouble, she was like ‘I got information on so and so,’” Laetzsch said. “I didn’t know that she had told on me so she would still come over from time to time.”

Cruel irony notwithstanding, Laetzsch represents a very real issue in the criminal justice system. He’s a veteran of the United States Army who came home from two deployments with very real medical issues for which he used cannabis. He faced felony charges almost immediately after coming home, years before the raid in question.

“That first case I [got] caught was in 2001, so I wasn’t even home from the military for a year when they fucking tried to send me to prison for a usable amount of marijuana,”  Laetzsch said, also indicating he had a firearm on him at the time. “I know it doesn’t matter for them but my doctor told me, they tried to give me a bunch of Xanax and painkillers for my chronic pain and anxiety and PTSD and I told them I’m not really big on pills and he told me ‘well you can just smoke marijuana but it’s illegal.’”

Laetzsch served two and a half years in prison for that, and if anyone’s wondering why such a harsh sentence was handed down to a military man who’s just come home, I need only remind you that this was Arizona in 2001, and as Laetzsch kindly reminded me, people were doing hard time for evidence as frivolous as cannabis seeds.

As a journalist, it is my job to give all necessary perspective and while I personally may be sympathetic to this case, Laetzsch is not the portrait of an innocent freedom fighter wrongfully accused of crimes he did not commit and I want to be clear about that. This man has led a lifetime of questionable decision-making. He served another four and a half years in prison later on for running a chop shop, not to mention he was arrested for DUI with his son in the car in 2013 and that would look awful to any jury in any state. It is also important to note here that I have been friends with their whole family for a long time so I’m more than a bit biased here. I’ve heard stories about the guy for years, all a bit stranger and more chaotic than the last. That said, I personally do not believe Laetzsch deserves to spend any more time in a cell than the seven years he already has just for using the means at his disposal to treat his symptoms according to research from documented, peer-reviewed scientific studies. 

A report from the National Library of Medicine found, with regard to cluster headaches: “These patients are in a desperate and vulnerable situation, and illicit psychoactive substances are often considered a last resort. 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. Primarily, psilocybin, lysergic acid diethylamide, and related psychedelic tryptamines were reportedly effective for both prophylactic and acute treatment of cluster headache and migraines.”

Several more studies have been published on the matter, all of which have come to the same general conclusion: people who suffer from cluster headaches, about 1 in 1,000 Americans according to one of the aforementioned studies, will do virtually anything to mitigate or avoid them and thusfar, psychedelics seem to be an effective way of doing that. Of course, because this is America and the vast majority of the country is still fighting Nixon’s drug war, people like Laetzsch face two equally unthinkable options: suffer through months of horrific pain year after year or take drugs and risk prison time.

Laetzsch is currently negotiating through plea deals and such but as it stands, due to his record, he could potentially face six and a half years in prison in a plea deal or go to trial later this Fall where the consequences could be far greater should the judge choose to convict him. Reasonable people can disagree on whether or not Damon Laetzsch is an upstanding member of the community. However, reasonable people cannot disagree that Laetzsch came home from the Army, got locked up for a personal amount of cannabis, and had his life derailed from that point on by the criminal justice system like so many others for something that 38 of 50 states have since legalized in some form or another. Cannabis aside, psychedelics like the ones Laetzsch was caught with are already being touted as miracle drugs by major pharmaceutical companies. Is it reasonable to say that maybe we should just cut the guy a break at this point in time? This humble journalist says fuck yes, please leave him alone and thank him for his service on your way out.

Those sympathetic to this case who wish to advocate on behalf of Laetzsch can send letters to:

Alcock & Associates PC Attn: Vernon Lorenz
2. N Central Ave
26th Floor
Pheonix, AZ 85004

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