Summary: An op-ed from MAPS Founder Rick Doblin, Ph.D., and Brandon Friedman in the New York Daily News calls on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to seek more effective ways to combat PTSD by funding and/or conducting their own research into psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy.
Originally appearing here.
“It allows catharsis in a way that’s otherwise difficult to achieve,” Marine veteran Ryan LeCompte says. “It allows us to see and work through our own trauma.”
LeCompte was referring to ayahuasca, a bitter-tasting psychedelic brew from South America. Typically prepared as a tea, the vine contains dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a naturally occurring psychoactive ingredient.
LeCompte isn’t a guy most would see as an evangelist for psychedelic therapy. He played semi-pro football. He was an infantryman. He worked in the White House.
But the 2008 barracks suicide of a good friend changed all that. Now, he advocates for U.S. military veterans who’ve taken into their own hands what they see as inadequate treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. And they’re doing it through the therapeutic use of currently illegal psychedelic drugs.
Sometimes they use MDMA (otherwise known as ecstasy) as part of limited, government-sanctioned clinical studies. Other times they take ayahuasca with a shaman in Peru. Many are convinced this is the healthiest way to work through the trauma they’ve experienced. Others consider it a last resort.
Is this a healthy way to process combat trauma? If it is, should veterans have to choose between traveling to Peru and skirting the law at home? We believe we should find out.
Despite extraordinary efforts inside the Department of Veterans Affairs, PTSD impacts the lives of more than 300,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, and many more from previous conflicts. For veterans with fewer symptoms, therapy alone can considerably reduce the negative effects. But for those experiencing chronic, stubborn symptoms, doctors often prescribe a regimen of pharmaceuticals.
Sometimes these VA-prescribed drugs help. Often, however, veterans complain of overmedication — of being drugged into a zombie-like state. In some cases, the side effects are almost as unbearable as the PTSD itself. A number of veterans seeking respite and not finding it have overdosed and died.
This is where new research into older psychedelic drugs can provide alternatives for treatment.
Small-scale, government-sanctioned studies are taking place in Colorado, South Carolina, Canada, Switzerland and Israel using the psychedelic drug MDMA. While trials for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy are still ongoing, preliminary results have been remarkably promising.
A full 83% of the subjects in the first completed pilot study of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy no longer qualified for PTSD after just two sessions (compared to 25% in the placebo group). These subjects, mostly female survivors of sexual assault and also a few veterans, had all tried other treatments. They had suffered for an average of 19 years.
Conducting more research is imperative.
But here’s the problem: Gradually increasing government restrictions, culminating in the war on drugs, have left psychedelic drugs like LSD, MDMA, DMT and psilocybin (magic mushrooms) — along with marijuana — classified as Schedule I drugs. This means the U.S. government considers them as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” As a result, clinical research into their therapeutic effects is heavily regulated.
As the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs seek more effective ways to treat combat PTSD, we believe they should either conduct their own research into psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy treatment or provide nonprofit organizations with grant money for the same. Or both.
Government leaders have an obligation to leave no stone unturned in the effort to treat PTSD and prevent veteran suicides. If not, they’ll have to explain it to vets like Ryan LeCompte.