Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating condition in which experiences such as near-death in military combat result in lifelong apprehension, fear, and isolation. Flashbacks to traumatic events plague veterans of combat as well as various traumas in civilian life. This condition increases the risk of committing suicide as well. PTSD if often not recognized as an illness in military veterans who are trained to cope with adversity no matter how terrible a situation is. PTSD essentially reorganizes the thinking patterns in the brain so that fear and depression are the new normal. Treatment includes talk therapy, antidepressants, and, most recently, psychedelic medicines. PTSD treatment with psychedelic medicines shows promise addressing this condition.
The first step in treating PTSD, as with other mental health issues, is to recognize the problem. Mild cases of PTSD often respond to cognitive therapy. This is basically the act of talking through the problem with a competent therapist. PTSD rewires the brain and give greater weight to fear-inducing events and brings past events to the present to cause anxiety and confuse the reality of the present day world. Talk therapy can help people with mild cases of PTSD sort things out and find ways to effectively cope with their old trauma so that it goes back to the past where it belongs.
Drug Treatment for PTSD
The problem with PTSD and its treatment is that so many cases are not mild and do not respond well to just talk therapy. Antidepressants have been used to treat PTSD. Depression is part of the PTSD picture so this approach generally makes sense. Modern antidepressants reduce the strength of fear and depression pathways in the brain and have been found to be more effective than just talk therapy in more severe cases of PTSD. Treatment usually includes both drugs and cognitive therapy.
Treatment of PTSD with Psychedelic Medicines
Because talk therapy and standard drug therapy have not cured the problem of PTSD, researchers have continued to look for answers. One answer seems to lie in the use of psychedelic medicines in treating PTSD. These drugs work on the pathways within the brain and there is good evidence, both from personal testimony and from controlled studies, that this approach may be better than all others in alleviating the curse of PTSD.
How Do Psychedelics Help PTSD?
One psychedelic, psilocybin, is the chemical in “magic mushrooms.” There is evidence in animal studies that this drug stimulates nerve growth in those parts of the brain that process emotions and memory. These regions are where PTSD takes over and rewrites or over-reinforces memories, enhances negative emotions like uncontrolled fear and preoccupation. This is the basic science ground floor for trying to use psychedelic medicines like psilocybin to control and eliminate PTSD. In animal studies there is not just new nerve growth but evidence that the test subjects were better able to overcome fear conditioning in experiments.
Exchanging One “Trip” for Another
One of the concerns voices about using psilocybin or other hallucinogens to treat PTSD is that these drugs can be habituating or addicting. They are known to cause flashbacks or “bad trips.” The fact of the matter is that when psilocybin or other psychedelic medicines are used for PTSD they are given in controlled settings and in controlled doses. They are not used recreationally but with specific goals in mind and under professional care. When the US Food and Drug Administration evaluates a drug for any use, they first look at safety and then at efficacy. Does the drug cause harm and does it help the condition for which it will be prescribed. Evidence so far seems to show that there are no lasting adverse effects from this sort of treatment. And evidence seems to show that this approach is beneficial for those suffering from PTSD due to trauma during military service as well as other trauma in civilian life. At No Fallen Heroes we have dedicated ourselves to helping prevent veteran suicide. PTSD is a major contributor to veteran depression and suicide. As such we support the ongoing study of psychedelic medicines for the treatment of PTSD with the goal of alleviating suffering in our veteran community and eliminating suicide so that we will have no fallen heroes.