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Guest opinion: Psychedelics as a vital path to healing for veterans

By Kylee Shumway - | Apr 26, 2024

As our nation grapples with the enduring impact of war on our veterans, innovative approaches to mental health treatment are emerging, offering new hope for those who have faced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Recent studies (VA News, Smithsonian, Johns Hopkins, PTSD trial), including a small number of studies done in Veterans Affairs facilities, shed light on the potential efficacy of psychedelics, such as MDMA and psilocybin, in alleviating the burden of mental health conditions seen among veterans.

The studies reveal that when administered under controlled conditions and coupled with appropriate support, these compounds can lead to significant and sustained reductions in depressive and PTSD symptoms. For veterans who have tirelessly sought relief, these findings present a ray of hope and a potential pathway to reclaiming their lives.

The urgency for the integration of psychedelic-assisted therapy into mainstream mental health treatment is underscored by the lack of official guidance from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on discussing or recommending psychedelics. This silence leaves veterans and their health care providers in a precarious position, navigating uncharted territory without clear rules or consequences.

Drawing parallels with the trajectory of cannabis policy, which faced federal prohibition for years before gaining acceptance in various states for medical use, it is evident that psychedelics are experiencing a similar reevaluation. The patchwork of state laws on psychedelics mirrors the regulatory landscape that once surrounded cannabis.

As we advocate for a paradigm shift in mental health treatment, it is crucial to recognize that psychedelics are not a panacea. Instead, they offer a complementary approach, especially for those veterans who find little solace in existing treatments. The research demonstrates that, when used in conjunction with psychological support, psychedelics can create an environment where veterans can confront their traumatic memories with reduced fear and anxiety.

With studies already underway testing MDMA and psilocybin, the VA is now positioned to be at the forefront of groundbreaking advancements in mental health treatment. As evidence continues to accumulate in favor of psychedelics as a viable option for disorders like PTSD, Utah must consider incorporating them into treatment protocols.

The call for action is urgent. Psychedelic-assisted therapy sessions can be time-consuming, requiring hours of time for patients and providers. Treatment demands careful planning to ensure they enhance, rather than disrupt, existing mental health care for veterans. Utah leaders have a chance to prepare and create a framework for safe, effective use of these treatments if we start now.

In conclusion, the time is ripe for Utah to decide the future trajectory of psychedelics in mental health treatment in our state. Veterans deserve a comprehensive approach that includes all available tools, and psychedelics could be a vital part of the solution. Let us not miss this opportunity to unlock hope and healing for those who have sacrificed so much for our nation.

Kylee Shumway is the medical director for the Utah Patients Coalition.


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