Most veterans have no desire to use the altered states of consciousness associated with psychoactive drugs – psychedelics or otherwise.
That may be news to some mental health researchers, who for years have known veterans are more likely to use drugs like MDMA or LSD.
So when they hear stories from experts that treating mild to moderate opiate dependence, PTSD or depression with psychedelics like LSD or psilocybin mushrooms could reap lifelong benefits for those suffering from the conditions, they know they need to change the perception of those veterans.
“We are concerned about what has happened over the past 30 years,” said Marshall Korey, medical director of Western Washington University’s Veterans Center. “People have been talking about turning a corner and turning the tide, but we’re not quite there yet.”
Korey and other researchers and mental health professionals had the opportunity to change that perception after a panel of Veterans Commission members traveled to western Washington University this summer for a two-day symposium on addiction, recovery and MDMA.
Molly, commonly known as ecstasy, offers its share of pitfalls. Research shows it’s popular among college students and young adults who have difficulty transitioning into adulthood, and it could also be more likely to be used among men because it’s easier to make.
But Molly and other psychedelics such as LSD and psilocybin can be beneficial to veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, clinical depression, a brain injury, Traumatic Brain Injury, traumatic brain injury, chronic pain or PTSD.
“Just think about that person who has had an injury and their brain cells are physically dying on the inside, yet they’re just dying when they go outside,” Korey said. “You will not see an institutionalized person die of a heart attack.”
As Korey explained his thoughts and beliefs, the crowd gathered in the battered halls of the campus’ theater began to ask questions.
Sitting in the stands, Dottie Hazeldine, a nurse with the Navy who served in the Vietnam War, listened intently. The 56-year-old from Georgia faces emotional problems each day, including flashbacks to an incident in 1968, when she thought she was seeing men running toward her helicopter to take off.
“I was scared I was going to die,” she said. “That is something I live with every day. It gets really hard to breathe.”
The day’s symposium, co-hosted by Western Washington University, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and WSU’s Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, attracted more than 80 people.
Participants came from across the country. While many of the panel members are of the scientific variety, others focused more on the psychological side of the conversation.
Mike David Glamour, who serves on the board of the Washington Mind Collective, tried psychedelics for the first time in 1994 while living in southern California. His parents are also veterans.
Although psychedelics have long been associated with nudging society forward and giving guidance on how to achieve personal success, Glamour emphasized that they are no panacea, and that pain and fear will always carry a price.
“You will never escape the past,” Glamour said. “You will never be free of trauma. The price for your experiences is that you will always relive what you’ve done, whether it was one mistake or one action or whether it was a series of mistakes. Nothing is going to take that away from you.”
There has been a push to legalize psychedelics for therapeutic use over the last 20 years, and acceptance of some psilocybin mushrooms continues to grow. MDMA research is still in its infancy.
The military still uses MDMA to enhance recruiting. In addition, Korey said, the DEA still plans to launch a ground-breaking study of MDMA’s role in treating addiction.
Catherine Rowe, the VA’s assistant director for rehabilitative services, said the agency has established a “principle of care” to address people’s psychological needs and that MDMA and LSD will be on the table.
“It seems to be a very real possibility,” Rowe said, “for people with mental health needs to get the help they need.”
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