At No Fallen Heroes we have devoted ourselves to the elimination of veteran suicide. We are particularly excited about the prospects of psychedelic drugs which have been shown to be very effective in treating both depression and post-traumatic stress disorder as well as reducing the risk of suicide. How can psychedelics prevent suicide? When one thinks about psychedelic drugs one typically thinks about rock concerts, hallucinations, crazy behavior, and distorted reality. With this sort of background how can psychedelics prevent suicide?
How Do Psychedelics Affect the Brain?
The one common effect of the various psychedelic medicines is that they have a disorganizing effect on the brain. Psilocybin and LSD are classic psychedelics that function in a similar fashion to serotonin which is a neurotransmitter in the brain. Serotonin is basic to perception of the world around us and mood. DMT or dimethyltryptamine acts similarly by mimicking serotonin and binds with brain receptors (sigma-1) that facilitate signals between brain neurons. Ketamine acts differently in that it blocks NMDA receptors that work with a neurotransmitter called glutamate.
The main part of the brain where psychedelics work is in the temporal lobes of the brain where emotions and memory function. As psychedelics work in the brain, they reduce the activity of a collection or structures called the default mode network. These structures help people maintain self-focused and self-conscious thought. There is a theory that by down regulating the activity of the default mode network causes a quasi-spiritual state in which a person feels a oneness with the world.
Therapeutic Value of Psychedelics
The first thing to remember when considering how psychedelics help treat depression and PTSD and help reduce the likelihood of suicide is that treatment takes place in a controlled therapeutic setting with pharmaceutical grade medications. Psychedelics used for recreational purposes commonly contain impurities which may be other drugs. They may be above or below what would be a therapeutic dosage. And, most importantly, the psychedelic medicines MDMA and psilocybin are used only in conjunction with professional psychotherapy.
Psychedelics allow sufferers from PTSD to tolerate the recall of past traumatic events in order to eventually put those events back in the past and not let them affect life in the present. Flashbacks become less severe and eventually disappear. Triggering events gain less power. The treatment of depression with psychedelics also progresses to substantial improvement. In both cases the presence of suicidal thoughts decreases and the incidence of suicide attempts go down dramatically.
People start thinking about suicide when they come to believe that they cannot cope with overwhelming life situations. Depression and post-traumatic stress disorder are frequent predisposing conditions. The risk of suicide is higher for veterans just after discharge when they are trying to reintegrate into civilian life. Successful treatment of these conditions reduces or eliminates the risk of suicide. When a military veteran suffers from PTSD and believes they cannot escape the constant flashbacks to traumatic events they may chose to end it all as they develop sort of a tunnel vision where suicide seems like the only option.
When antidepressants are used to treat depression or PTSD or both these strong medicines need to be taken constantly and perhaps for as long as a person lives. Besides working better than antidepressants, psychedelic medicines like MDMA and psilocybin commonly require one dose to achieve the desired effect and the benefits have been shown to last for up to six years!
Psychedelics work by making psychotherapy more effective. The way that a person with mild PTSD gets better is by talking about the traumatic events in their past and sorting out what was in the past and what is in the present. In severe cases of PTSD the mere attempt to recall past trauma is so terrible that the person is not able to bring up those events from memory, talk about them, and talk about what was past and what is present. Psychedelics reduce the anxiety and panic that PTSD sufferers often feel when trying to recall past trauma. Thus the veteran or other PTSD sufferer is able to address the issues in their past that are making them suffer in the present. Those who feel that there is no way out now have a viable treatment option and commonly feel the difference almost immediately.
At No Fallen Heroes we are dedicated to the elimination of veteran suicide and are excited about the prospects of psychedelic medicines in reducing and eliminating veteran suicide.