Psychedelic medicines hold a great deal of promise for the treatment of veteran PTSD and depression and for the prevention of suicide. However, any new medicine needs to be evaluated for both safety and effectiveness before the Food and Drug Administration gives it their OK. The question to be answered is are psychedelic medicines for PTSD dangers? Fortunately, any psychedelic medicines used to treat veterans for depression or PTSD will be pharmaceutical grade and not a “street drug” containing lord-only-knows-what sorts of other potentially dangerous ingredients. Additionally, treatment with these medicines will take place with professional supervision under controlled conditions. Doses of these medicines will be tailored to levels required for therapeutic effect.
US History of Drug Safety and Effectiveness
At the beginning of the 20th century the federal government had no laws to protect consumers from harmful drugs. History tells us that products like the “Microbe Killer” by William Radam or “Soothing Balmy Oils” by Benjamin Bye were marketed as cures for cancer and just about any other ailment that came to mind. At a minimum these were useless remedies that cost money and were of no use. Unfortunately, these “remedies” could be directly harmful or indirectly so that they caused the person to delay going to a real doctor to get treated. Finally, in 1938 President Roosevelt signed into law the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act of 1938. This law required manufacturers to prove that a drug was not dangerous before it could be marketed. It took until 1962 to add an amendment requiring “adequate and well-controlled studies” showing that a drug was effective for the purposes for which it was marketed. These laws have governed FDA approval for years and will require that psychedelic medicines do not harm patients and are more effective than placebo.
Side Effects of Psychedelic Medicines
The first thing to consider in regard to using psychedelics for treatment of PTSD and depression is that this is not recreational use. Recreational drugs commonly contain ingredients different from what is supposed to be in the drug. Dosages may be dangerously high. And the setting in which a psychedelic medicine is used for treatment is hugely different from a recreational setting like a loud rock concert or a party where all sorts of distracting and random activity is taking place. The next issue is what sorts of physical and psychological problems can occur when taking these medicines? Here is a list of short term effects.
Increased heart rate
Intensified sensory experiences and feelings like colors being brighter
Changed time sense like time going more slowly
Higher blood pressure
Increased body temperature
Increased breathing rate
Loss of appetite
Over the longer term psychedelic drugs can result in persistent psychosis, disorganized thinking, visual disturbances, mood changes, and paranoia. Additionally, there is a condition called Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD). This is the recurrence of hallucinations, visual disturbances, as flashbacks which can recur more than a year after using the drug.
Longer lasting and more severe side effects are more common in individuals with a history of mental illness that commonly precedes their depression and/or PTSD.
Effectiveness of Psychedelics for Treating Depression and PTSD
Going back to the 1950s there is evidence that these medicines using as an adjunct to talk therapy can help both PTSD and depression. Public reaction to recreational drug use in the 1960s and 1970s resulted in medicines like MDMA and psylocibin being made “scheduled drugs” and research halted for decades. More recently there is proof that these medicines are effective in relatively small doses and the therapeutic effects last for up to five years. What is lacking are large scale studies of these drugs under controlled conditions to show that they reliably work on large numbers of patients without causing unacceptable side effects.
The designation of psilocybin as a “breakthrough therapy” is promising as it will accelerate studies needed to confirm routine effectiveness as well as safety. At No Fallen Heroes we are excited about the possibilities of this form of treatment for depression and PTSD in veterans and the elimination of the plague of veteran suicide that takes the lives of so many of our heroes.