At No Fallen Heroes we are excited about the development of psychedelic medicine treatments for severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. A question that is sometimes asked has to do with the fact that psychedelics have been around for a long time and from time to time are used by many people. Why don’t recreational psychedelics help PTSD? The answer lies is why psychedelic helps and in what settings they are useful.
LSD at Rock Concerts versus Ayahuasca at Dedicated Ceremonies
For many, LSD was all the rage back in the 1960s at rock concerts, anti-war protests, and parties. Although there was some research into whether or not such psychedelics had therapeutic value nothing conclusive emerged before such research was shut down for three decades. However, there is no evidence that people who used LSD and other psychedelics in recreational settings found any relief from problems like PTSD or depression. And unfortunately some ended up with serious problems like severe flashbacks.
On the other hand, Ayahuasca is a naturally derived psychedelic that has been used specifically to achieve relief from past traumas in ceremonies in the Northwest Amazon basic since the depths of time. Although controlled research studies with this psychedelic medicine are in their infancy, it seems to be helpful and to function as “advertised.” What is the difference between Ayahuasca and LSD? First of all they are different drugs but, perhaps more importantly, they are used in totally different settings. The goal of many who use LSD is to experience the “trip.” The goal of many who use Ayahuasca is to find healing. LSD is used in settings that are definitely not conducive to achieving insight or relieving long term stress but rather in chaotic settings more likely to cause mental distress than to relieve it. Ayahuasca on the other hand is specifically used in ceremonial settings that are conducive to achieving insight and relieving the burdens of old traumas. The setting for use of Ayahuasca is much more similar to that used for treatment of depression and PTSD with MDMA and psilocybin which are the medicines currently undergoing studies sponsored by the FDA as break through therapies for depression and PTSD.
Why Do Psilocybin and MDMA Work for Depression and PTSD?
The goal when using psilocybin and MDMA is to make coaching or psychotherapy more effective. People in general and veterans specifically struggle with painful memories of traumatic events in their lives and unique to their military service. The way the brain tries to handle this trauma is to avoid it. Every time a person tries to think of painful, frightening memories the amygdala fear control center raises their levels of fear and avoidance. Unfortunately, in order to get past these past traumas a person needs to reexamine them. Here is where psychedelics come into play. They are used in therapeutic settings somewhat similar to ayahuasca ceremonies but specifically directed at the person’s sources of psychic pain. The right psychedelics in the right setting reduce the anxiety and fear that normally arise when recalling painful old memories. This the veteran can recall those events and reexamine them in the light of the current day. This allows them to put that past back in the past and to live more effectively free of flashbacks and depression in the present.
Using the Right Psychedelic for the Right Purpose
Psilocybin is more effective for treating depression and MDMA is more effective for treating PTSD. Both are very effective in therapeutic settings with benefits that last for months or years after only one or two doses and sessions. LSD has no current known therapeutic use and street drugs used in non-therapeutic settings are more likely dangerous to psychological health than helpful. One issue is that street drugs commonly have extra, potentially dangerous ingredients and their strengths are unreliable. Meanwhile psilocybin and MDMA used for therapy are pharmaceutical grade with no impurities and used in carefully measured amounts tailored for the purpose at hand.
At No Fallen Heroes we are excited about the potential of psychedelic medicines in treating depression and PTSD. We are happy to see folks with these conditions get better and we are excited to see effective ways to reduce the incidence and severity of two major risk factors for veteran suicide.