Psychedelics for Soldiers in wartime

Psychedelic treatments for soldiers and veterans

Psychedelic treatments for soldiers and veterans against PTSD and suicide. Hallucinogens have been used for centuries, primarily as part of religious rituals, by communities around the globe, from Indigenous peoples of the Americas to the ancient Greeks. The potential for psychedelics to address mental health issues was first realized around the 1950s—the same decade when the word “psychedelic” was coined by psychiatrist Humphry Osmond. By the 1970s, the drugs were labeled controlled substances in the United States, and conducting research with them became next to impossible.

Psychedelic treatments for soldiers and veterans

But as mental health concerns and opioid misuse have grown in recent years, scientists have taken a renewed interest in the drugs. In 2000, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine became the first to receive regulatory approval to restart psychedelics research in the U.S., and they’ve since found that psilocybin can help longtime smokers quit, reduce cancer-related anxiety and ease major depression.

The goal of this new wave of psychedelic research is not mind control or brain alteration, but liberation of the mind from cycles of rumination and trauma and empowerment to change patterns of self-destruction to affirmation of life. Psychedelic treatments for soldiers and veterans

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The impetus for this research is not international espionage but to find better treatments for chronic posttraumatic stress disorder, severe substance use disorders, and treatment-resistant depression that contribute to unquantifiable mental pain, psychosocial dysfunction, and an epidemic of suicide among military service members and veterans. 

Though we have some effective treatments for these often combat-inflicted maladies—primarily evidence-based psychotherapies—yet these treatments are not tolerable or safe, fast-acting, or long-lasting enough to succor each and every troubled soul. The success of ketamine, a dissociative drug, in relieving the most distressing service-connected psychiatric diagnoses has provided a proof of concept to reinvigorate the moribund hallucinogenic research idea.

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The military could be the proving ground for new psychedelic therapies if Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) can convince his colleagues on the Armed Services Committee to add his amendment to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act. Psychedelic treatments for soldiers and veterans

How so? Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL who lost an eye fighting in Afghanistan, wants to establish a $15 million-a-year grant program for Phase II clinical trials for service members through 2028.

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His goal is to combat a suicide crisis among service members and veterans.

The amendment would allow active service members with certain conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, to participate in clinical trials of MDMA, psilocybin, ibogaine and DMT, regardless of how those drugs are regulated.

Service members would no longer risk being kicked out of the military for participating.

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“We need to study this innovative therapy and give our service members a chance to continue that service when they are treated. They deserve that option, and we should not stand in their way,” Crenshaw said during a news conference Wednesday.

He stood beside a photo of Douglas “Mike” Day, the Navy SEAL his amendment is named after, who died by suicide earlier this year. Psychedelic treatments for soldiers and veterans

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Why it matters: Nearly 17 veterans die each day by suicide, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Previous research on MDMA as a treatment for PTSD has shown promise in clinical trials.

Crenshaw’s call to Congress comes during the same week that the Veteran Mental Health Leadership Coalition, an advocacy group, is on the Hill, lobbying for more research into psychedelic therapies and the removal of regulatory barriers that impede researching the drugs for therapeutic use.

What’s next? The Armed Services Committee plans to consider its version of the defense authorization bill on June 21.

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Congress has passed the Pentagon policy bill for 62 straight years, so inclusion in the House version would bode well for enactment.

Suicide rates for American service members and veterans are nothing short of catastrophic, with recent estimates claiming almost 17 vets take their own lives in the U.S. every day. Many of them suffer from post-traumatic stress and debilitating brain injuries, which traditional medications have largely failed to cure.

As many veterans with PTSD remain desperate for healing, a growing number are turning to psychedelic-assisted treatment in Mexico — using substances the government they fought for says are illegal. 

One of those former service members is Herb Daniels, who spent 14 years as a Green Beret and nearly four years in active combat. After he retired from the military, he said he faced a profound darkness that started to consume him. 

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“As I watched more of my teammates…more veterans start to take their own lives, I realized that that’s an option,” he said. Psychedelic treatments for soldiers and veterans

He had a plan one night, he said, as he waited for his wife to come home from a trip out of town.

“I was waiting for her to come through the door, and as soon as I heard it chime, I was gonna shoot myself,” he said. “The flight was late, thank God. And I kept drinking. So when she came home, she found me passed out in the bed, the gun on my lap that I hadn’t used.”

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After another suicide attempt, Daniels found out about VETS, Veterans Exploring Treatment Solutions. The nonprofit organization funds grants for veterans to go to Mexico for treatment that isn’t legal in the United States. Each week, a vehicle transports veterans from San Diego to Mexico for a retreat that uses psychedelics for treatment. Order Golden Teacher Mushrooms with Bitcoin

Marcus Capone, a former Navy SEAL, and his wife Amber founded the organization in 2019. Capone participated in the retreat, where he says he experienced a miraculous transformation thanks to psychedelics.

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“It gets the job done…flat out,” said the veteran, who suffered from PTSD and a traumatic brain injury following multiple combat deployments. “Traditional approaches are very difficult to solve those problems.”

Marcus Capone first went to the retreat in 2017. He was given ibogaine, a hallucinogenic plant mixture from Africa, and smoked 5-MeO-DMT, a substance derived from the glands of the Sonoran Desert toad.

“It just reset everything in a few hours,” he said. “All the stress, anxiety, it just went away. It flew away, fall right off my shoulders.”

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He and his wife now dedicate themselves to assisting veterans in getting the help they need – by helping them get to Mexico for treatment. 

Daniels said it’s disappointing that some veterans can’t get the healing they need in the country they fought for. Psychedelic treatments for soldiers and veterans

“Some gave their lives,” he said. “And…it seems that in return for that sacrifice, you know, our country would be willing to do whatever it takes to bring healing to us, to prevent those suicides.”

“It feels like we’ve been abandoned once we took the uniform off,” Daniels said.

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Daniels went to the retreat in Mexico for the first time in July last year, and recently returned with another veteran, Mike Ortiz.

Upon arrival at the retreat site, the location of which CBS News was asked not to disclose for the safety and security of the participants, the veterans met with a local facilitator, Juan Aguilar, who guided them through the process. Aguilar first focused on setting intentions and preparing the veterans for their experience. The therapy session started with the use of mapacho smoke to cleanse the space, followed by a focused meditation with the medicine.

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The heart of the treatment involves a short, intense, psychedelic experience. Psychedelic treatments for soldiers and veterans

During his session, Daniels went through a range of emotions, visibly moved as tears rolled down his face. The experience lasted about 10 minutes, and he said it felt “magical, like a fresh start.”

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“My heart was just opened, wide open, and there was laid bare so much pain, so much anger and as soon as I let it go, I became aware of my presence again, and I felt my body just relax,” he said. 

“To be pain free for that short period of time was, like, the best feeling in the world,” said Ortiz.

Daniels said he felt transformation with the experience. Psychedelic treatments for soldiers and veterans

“I don’t think it takes long to change your perspective,” he said. “If you believe it can happen, then it can happen. Sometimes you just need a little jump start to help you get there.”

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