In the USA veterans have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after every war. Only it was not called PTSD until after the war in Vietnam. Research in recent years has demonstrated that psychedelic medicines can be very effective as adjunctive therapy for depression, PTSD, substance abuse disorders and even generalized anxiety. Clinical trials of MDMA have progressed to the point where MDMA is likely to get FDA approval in 2024 for use in treating PTSD as an adjunct to psychotherapy or professional coaching. Now there is an acute need for psychedelics for PTSD in Ukraine.
War in Ukraine
When the old Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, Ukraine became an independent country as did the rest of the Soviet republics. One worrisome issue was that the USSR had lots and lots of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. In a deal to remove missiles and nukes from Ukraine, Russia, the USA, and Great Britain joined with Russia in a treaty guaranteeing Ukraine’s independence in return for giving up its inherited nuclear arsenal. Russia went back on the deal and invaded Ukraine in 2014 taking control of Crimea, part of Ukraine on the Black Sea and a small part of the Southeast of the country. In 2022 Russia launched a full scale invasion of Ukraine and took more of the country but failed in its ultimate conquest. Fighting continues a year and a half later. Ukraine has an estimated 500,000 casualties in a country of 43 million.
PTSD in Ukraine
Lancet estimates that post-traumatic stress exists in the Ukrainian population, those who fled abroad, those who are internally displaced, and those who are still in their original locations but subject to missile and drone attacks by the Russians. Symptoms of PTSD range in frequency from 30% to 50% depending on whether the person stayed in Ukraine, fled abroad, or are displaced internally. The numbers for the military population are generally worse. The same problems for use of medicines like MDMA for treating PTSD exist in Ukraine as in the USA. MDMA is considered a banned and dangerous drug and is legally banned despite being used recreationally.
There is no organized research into using MDMA or any other psychedelic in Ukraine but there are therapists who are arguing for its legalization under appropriate circumstances for treatment of the high levels of PTSD in both the military and civilian population.
Push for MDMA Legalization for Therapy in Ukraine
There is a push to have MDMA legalized to treat PTSD in Ukraine and it comes from the Ukrainian Health Ministry’s Center for Veterans’ Mental Health and Rehabilitation and its director, Ksenia Voznitsyna. As Ms. Voznitsyna argues to the Ukrainian authorities, traditional therapy alone or with standard antidepressants takes hours for a session and many, many sessions. Research in the US and elsewhere has shown that by using MDMA the need for so many sessions is reduced, treatment results in faster improvement and cures, and that improvement and cures last for years. Aside from any other arguments, this is a practical economic issue for a country at war and stretched for money and resources on all sides.
Back Room Psychedelic Therapy in Ukraine
Because the evidence of MDMAs effectiveness from studies abroad is so strong, many in Ukraine in need of help are seeking out psychologists who offer therapy assisted by MDMA. Those who are promoting legalization are concerned that all too often people will get the MDMA in street form and not in a pharmaceutical grade. This will all too often include other unneeded and potentially dangerous ingredients. And they are worried that all too often there will be minimal or no therapy but just use of MDMA. Those in Ukraine are fully aware that psychedelics work for conditions like depression and PTSD when they help open the mind up and reduce anxiety during therapy sessions. They are fully aware that just taking a medicine like MDMA in the wrong circumstances can result in a worsening the patient’s condition. Thus they are trying to convince authorities in that war torn country to legalize MDMA for therapy for PTSD with the appropriate controls.
As a practical matter, the government in Ukraine is being stressed on all sides fighting the Russians, pleading for foreign aid, and trying to make the best use of their resources. Getting heard at such a time in chaos of war may be difficult.