We heard this question the other day. The rationale seemed to be this. Psychedelics play a part in successful treatment of depression and PTSD. PTSD and depression are strong risk factors for depression. Thus psychedelics can help reduce the incidence of veteran suicide. The answer to the question about legalizing psychedelics is this. Legalizing pharmaceutical quality psychedelics like MDMA and psilocybin in properly prescribed amounts used along with professional psychotherapy is an excellent idea and likely to happen. Legalizing street quality psychedelics for random use would be of little or no use in helping reduce the incidence of veteran suicide and even harmful.
Psychedelic Medicines for PTSD and Depression – MDMA
There are two psychedelic medicines that have been tested for use in treating difficult cases of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. MDMA is a synthetic drug which has both stimulant and hallucinogenic properties. It makes the person feel more energetic and distorts perceptions and sense of time. It makes sensory experiences more enjoyable. It also can improve empathy and self-awareness. The street form of MDMA is called ecstasy and according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse commonly includes methamphetamine, ketamine, caffeine, ephedrine, dextromethorphan, heroin, phencyclidine, and/or cocaine. While MDMA has been shown to help treat depression and PTSD, none of the other common adulterants in the street version are of any use and are often harmful.
Psychedelic Medicines for PTSD and Depression – Psilocybin
The other psychedelic medicine that has been successfully tested for treatment of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder is psilocybin. This naturally occurring compound is found in more than two hundred species of mushrooms thus leading to the expression magic mushrooms. This drug affects sense of time, thinking, and emotions. It can cause hallucinations. Psilocybin is actually converted to psilocin in the body and that is the active chemical causing all of the effects. For the treatment of PTSD and depression, pharmaceutical grade psilocybin is used while the street form can vary widely in dose and include other compounds. Users of this drug report a sense of wellbeing and euphoria as their mood and perception changes. Hallucinations are common in higher doses as well as nausea, vomiting, and headaches plus an irregular heartbeat and increased body temperature. Panic, paranoia, psychosis, seizures, and coma only occur when a person is subjected to huge amounts of this drug.
On their own even pharmaceutical quality psychedelics taken in the appropriate dose are not effective in helping depression, treating PTSD, or reducing the risk of suicide. In street-quality drugs of this sort taken in traditional “recreational” setting like loud rock concerts or by a depressed person in isolation are just as likely to severely worsten the person’s condition as to help it. Both MDMA and psilocybin have found their use as medicines that facilitate professional psychotherapy. An underlying problem in severe cases of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder is the inability of the person to recall and address past events in their lives. In the case of PTSD successful treatment includes being able to recall and sort out past trauma and put it in perspective. When the person tries to do this, they simply revisit the trauma. Both MDMA and psilocybin reduce the fear and anxiety normally experienced when bringing up and dealing with the past. Thus, they facilitate psychotherapy (talk therapy). And amazing thing is that when antidepressants are used for this purpose they do not work nearly so well, must be taken continually for years, and commonly need to be taken even when the person is better. In the cases of both MDMA and psilocybin only one or two doses are needed and the beneficial effects have been shown to last up to six years!
Psychedelics were tried many years ago as adjunctive therapies for a variety of conditions but when recreational use of psychedelics soared in the 1960s and 1970s funding fell off and research stopped. Today one of the issues has been getting lawmakers and federal agencies to this research. Fortunately, politicians across the political spectrum have become supportive and the US Food and Drug Administration has given these drugs special status as they pass through standard clinical trials necessary for all drugs to show that they work and do not cause harm. The answer to the question posed about these drugs helping reduce the incidence of suicide is that they apparently do when taken in the right dosages and as the right part of treatment. These issues are being sorted out at the current time.