The extraordinary case of veterans and psychedelic drugs

Written by By a News Reporter from euractiv.com Veterans have become an unlikely group of lobbyists for the legalization of psychedelics. And it’s for an interesting reason. They want to mitigate PTSD, the psychological…

The extraordinary case of veterans and psychedelic drugs

Written by By a News Reporter from euractiv.com

Veterans have become an unlikely group of lobbyists for the legalization of psychedelics. And it’s for an interesting reason.

They want to mitigate PTSD, the psychological scars soldiers endure after years of living in warzones. (Scroll down for video.)

Almost 40% of the victims of the world’s five largest conflicts, from the 1991 Gulf War to the 2014 Afghanistan conflict, have served in the US Armed Forces.

Based on existing US Department of Veterans Affairs data, around 3 million veterans suffer from PTSD, and 67% of them were veterans of those conflicts.

Medicine is on the verge of revolutionizing our view of PTSD. There is, however, still a lot of stigma surrounding a condition that makes men and women wake up a few hours after dreaming and unexpectedly feel like “dead people” or “violently agitated zombies.”

After almost 50 years of pent-up toxic stress, these patients are seemingly unable to properly function — yet avoid being treated by any medical professional.

Every psychiatrist knows that simply trying to treat PTSD, even just through talk therapy, actually exacerbates it by leading soldiers to hypervigilance and engaging in day-to-day activities, which they can’t manage and can’t complete.

Shifting from the heavy-handed way of solving a life-threatening illness into treatment — guided by alternative medicine, and with the aim of decreasing the patient’s anxiety — has huge potential.

Therapy and support

Taking psychoactive drugs also helps many people who have been unable to get treatment because they just aren’t allowed by their military clinicians or doctors.

One report from 2005 found that 40% of US veterans with PTSD never tried conventional psychological treatment.

When a soldier reports he has PTSD, these cases are, typically, treated as a general case of mental illness. Nothing is done to try to get to the root of the issue. The symptoms can then persist.

A close examination of the treatment strategies shows that the first step in dealing with PTSD is to try to make a solid connection between the symptoms and the event itself.

When a vet loses sight of this, recovery is unlikely.

Proceed with caution

Recognition and acceptance have emerged as key components of the coping strategies and practices used to relieve the psychological symptoms of PTSD.

Awareness of this is important to start with. But each person’s case might be very different.

The diverse challenges faced by US and EU veterans, some of whom have strong family support, do not lend themselves to a monolithic “cure” strategy.

U.S. veterans, even those with combat experience and serious psychiatric illness, are only just starting to see that alcohol and substances, especially if used frequently, are themselves part of the problems they are trying to solve.

Medication, which has been a strong therapy for PTSD in the past, may still prove to be key to the PTSD resolution. But the long-term administration of large amounts of drugs has never been shown to be effective against PTSD.

With their own unique wartime experiences as a lot of the battlefront consciousness, PTSD veterans are clearly more open to a positive transformation than are other military clients.

By Fátima Curação de Oliveira, PhD

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