A new method of treatment for difficult conditions like PTSD and major depression has emerged. This is the use of psychedelics like MDMA and psilocybin along with professional coaching or psychotherapy. The United States FDA has, in fact, labeled these two medicines as breakthrough therapies of these purposes. Although neither is currently available by prescription or for ordinary use, both are undergoing extensive clinical trials which have shown exceptional promise.
Psychedelics As Medicines
When psychedelics come to mind one often thinks of the Vietnam Era, antiwar protests, and extensive drug use. While there was some testing of psychedelics in that era for use as medicines, that research dried up with the enactment of laws meant to stem the use of recreational psychedelics. It needs to be said that the pharmaceutical grade psychedelics under current investigation are not the same as the “street drugs” that are used recreationally. Street drugs commonly contain extra, often dangerous, ingredients. Their strength is not controlled. What are currently being examined for therapeutic use today are pharmaceutical grade medicines that have precise strengths, absolute purity, and the reputation of major pharmaceutical companies backing them up.
How Do Psychedelics Help?
The primary conditions for which MDMA and psilocybin are being investigated are post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression. In each case people are struggling with painful memories and a negative view of the present. There are certainly reasons to feel bad about things when life is bad in the present. However, many military veterans are living in safe surroundings in civilian life but are constantly reliving old trauma. Effectively, the brain has been “rewired” by the trauma they experienced and by the constant reliving of that trauma. The best way to deal with this is typically therapy or coaching with someone skilled in helping patients revisit old issues, bring them into the present, and put things in perspective. The problem with PTSD and major depression is that simply thinking about old trauma activates the “rewired” brain and makes the person’s condition worse. The beauty of psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA is that they reduce this tendency for recalling old memories to make things worse. Thus the person only needs one or two doses of these medicines, unlike antidepressants which require constant dosing for months or years. And it turns out that benefits of psychedelics have been shown to last for years!
When Will Psychedelics Be Available for Regular Use?
Going back more than a century it was common for people to essentially sell “snake oil” as a remedy for anything. Then the law said that medicines could not cause harm. It took another 30 years before the law said that medicines had to do what they were claimed to do. The Federal agency overseeing these laws is the FDA or Food and Drug Administration. There are horror stories (in Europe) about the medicine Thalidomide which was a sedative for women in pregnancy. It turned out that this drug caused babies to be born without arms and legs! It was not allowed in the USA because the FDA demanded testing and did not OK it! With this example, it is easy to see why the FDA demands testing first to show that a drug causes no harm when used as intended and that it actually does what the maker of the drug intends it to do. Psychedelics are very powerful and can cause hallucinations, flashbacks, and a host of physical problems when used improperly. None of this is happening in FDA trials. Rather they are figuring out the exact way to use these medicines to help those who are struggling with PTSD and depression. It will be another year or more for the approval of MDMA and probably three or four years for psilocybin. As testing progresses these drugs are also being evaluated for use for eating disorders, substance abuse disorders, and other conditions.
At No Fallen Heroes we are dedicated to the reduction and elimination of veteran suicide. Both psilocybin and MDMA show great promise which has us really excited. While there is a lot of work to do on this issue the progress of these medicines shows great promise.