THE NUMBERS DON’T LIE
Since the start of the Vietnam War 60 years ago, the United States has been engaged in a seemingly endless number of military operations. Whether or not each of these operations were justified will be debated for years to come, but what is undeniable is the toll they have exacted on the lives of millions of servicemen and women in the form of the psychological hell known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.
The number of vets suffering from PTSD is staggering. Of the nearly 6 million veterans who sought treatment at facilities run by the Department of Veterans Affairs more than 535,000 were treated for PTSD in 2014 alone.
And those numbers tell just half the story, for only an estimated 50% of all veterans with PTSD ever seek treatment. Instead, they hide out in their bedrooms, afraid of how they might react to the day-to-day of civilian life. They flinch at every unexpected sound. They go from “zero to a thousand” at the least provocation. They smoke and drink themselves into oblivion. And—perhaps most damaging of all—they spend endless hyper-vigilant nights awake as healing sleep escapes them. In short, even though they are no longer at war, they are unable to find peace within themselves.
The VA is clearly overwhelmed. For those vets brave enough to admit their pain, getting a “psych appointment” can take a year or more. And in many cases, the treatment they are offered does more harm than good.
The ﬁrst line of treatment is pharmaceutical. The vets we’ve talked to who have been ofﬁcially diagnosed with PTSD say they have gone into the VA with deep psychic pain only to come out with a stack of drug prescriptions. A typical conversation consists of: “You’re having trouble sleeping? Here’s a prescription for Ambien. And you’re feeling depressed? Try Zoloft. Anxious? Xanax.” And so on.
Those that have dutifully tried such pharmaceutical cocktails say they end up feeling like zombies, with ﬂat emotions, low sex drive, and little to no interest in those around them. Suicidal thoughts are not the exception, but the rule.
Many vets also receive some form of traditional psychotherapy. Well-meaning professionals offer a variety of approved modalities, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Prolonged Exposure Therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).
And while some vets suffering from PTSD do find healing with this approach, it can take years, time that many of them simply don’t have. Is this what we want—a corps of drugged, suffering, suicidal veterans? How can we ask our war heroes to spend a majority of their psychic energy just trying to get through the day? Is this really the best we can do for them?
THE TIME HAS COME
There are available ways to heal the devastating effects of PTSD, ways that are both relatively low-cost and fast-acting: psychotherapy used in combination with either ayahuasca, MDMA, or cannabis, what’s called “psychedelic-assisted therapy.”
Psychoactive substances—also known variously as entheogens, hallucinogens, and psychedelics, among other terms—have been used to heal trauma for thousands of years. Sparked by Albert Hofmann’s discovery of the psychoactive properties of the synthetic drug LSD in 1943, scientists and psychotherapists (many of them employed by the federal government) spent the following two decades learning exactly how. More than a thousand clinical papers discussing an estimated 40,000 patients, along with dozens of books, were published between 1950 and the mid-1960s, and six international conferences on psychedelic drug therapy were convened.
But the clinical work came to a screeching halt in 1970, when President Nixon signed into law the Controlled Substances Act, which placed drugs into five categories based on perceived medical use and potential for abuse and addiction. Along with heroin, psychedelic drugs and cannabis were put in the “Schedule I” category, for those deemed by the DEA to have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” and to be “the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.” As such, of all the categories, possession of Schedule I substances is met with the harshest federal penalties.
In the past 10 years or so, however, the tide has finally started to turn back. Not only are an increasing number of states legalizing cannabis for medical (and in some cases, even recreational) use, but the FDA and DEA are approving it and a whole range of psychedelic substances for research in clinical trials once again. Researchers at some of the nation’s top universities such as NYU, Johns Hopkins, and UCLA are publishing scientific papers showing a startlingly high level of efficacy using psychedelic-assisted therapy for a range of conditions, from end-of-life anxiety to depression to addiction.
FROM SHOCK TO AWE
The cruel irony is that we train these men and women for warfare, supply them with weapons, trust them to use their judgment in high-stakes environments and risk their lives, then deny them access to treatment they deem valuable. We take away their power when it applies to their own bodies!
We believe that all veterans have a right to choose their own path to healing.
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