At No Fallen Heroes we are dedicated to the elimination of the plague of veteran suicide. A very positive development in this regard is research showing that psychedelic medicines are very effective in helping treat two and possibly three of the major risk factors for suicide. These factors are severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse. When one thinks about psychedelics what typically comes to mind is a hippy taking LSD and getting stoned. This image is at odds with research results showing great improvement for patients with PTSD with one or two doses. What are the effects of psychedelics on mental health?
Naturalistic Use of Psychedelics and Mental Health
A recently reported study published in Frontiers of Psychiatry looked at how naturalistic or non-research use of psychedelics affected anxiety, depression and a person’s sense of well-being as will any harm caused by psychedelic use and patterns of psychedelic use. The researchers found that the same sorts of improvements of anxiety and depression found in highly controlled research studies were reported by people who found and used psychedelics on their own. The question can be raised. If psychedelics are so helpful why not legalize them and make them generally available? The researchers expanded upon previous survey results in order to get a better idea about the relationship between naturalistic use of psychedelics and mental health as well as potential problems.
The researchers studied 2,510 adults who had used psychedelics at least once during their lives. All of the data was retrospective in that people reported results and were not part of any study prior to using psychedelics. Data was collected about self-assessments of emotional well-being, anxiety, and depression both before and after psychedelic use. Across all respondents there were significant improvements of both anxiety and depression symptoms which improves with further use of psychedelics to a point and then leveled off: Across all respondents there was no outstanding difference from one psychedelic to another. About one out of every eight persons reported at least one harmful aspect of taking psychedelics. Those who reported a harmful effect also reported less mental health benefit than others did.
Psychedelics Are Not Just Good or Just Bad
Over the years there has been a lot of heat generated regarding psychedelics and little light shed on the subject. The view of the stoned hippy addicted to LSD or other psychedelics is not an accurate picture of wider use of psychedelics. And some of the current excitement about psychedelics being a cure-all for mental health issues is likely quite overdone. Studies like the one on Frontiers of Psychiatry help us sort this out as does controlled research being carried out today to see if MDMA and psilocybin will pass FDA hurdles to OK’d for regular use in treating depression and PTSD.
What We Know About Psychedelics and Mental Health
The gold standard for deciding if any treatment is appropriate for any mental health or general health condition is a prospective, controlled, double blind study. Studies like the one with more than two thousand people reporting on psychedelic drug use are useful but people do not always report accurately, especially years after an event or may be lying because they fear legal problems. Also, if you are going to use psychedelic medicines to cure human ailments, then you need to test psychedelic medicines on folks with those ailments.
What has excited both researchers and the veteran community is that properly designed, controlled, and conducted studies have shown remarkable results in treating severe depression and PTSD and even good results in dealing with substance abuse. In these targeted research studies only pharmaceutical grade psychedelics are used. That would seem to have reduced some of the harm issues as “street” drugs have uncertain strength and commonly are mixed with dangerous ingredients.
Additionally, psychedelics are only used in a clinical setting with psychotherapeutic support. The support comes from a coach or therapist with the right background and experience to help the patient involved. These studies are being done with the specific purpose of guaranteeing that psychedelics are safe and effective for the narrow purposes of treating PTSD, depression, and substance abuse disorder.
Is There a Place for Lifelong Psychedelic Use?
An interesting question is raised by the study that indicated improvement of mental health with more and more psychedelic use. Use of legal, pharmaceutical grade drugs would probably reduce the risk or harm factor. What we do not know is if this would make a difference in the incidence of several mental health problems in society, cause problems, or cause everyone to quit their job and go move into the woods like modern day hippies. For us at No Fallen Heroes, we are happy with the progress being made toward reducing the incidence of veteran suicide and will leave any “flower child” issues to others to worry about.