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Psilocybin and MDMA: Beneficial for Veterans’ Mental Health?

Ashley Priest

by Ashley Priest

March 13, 2023 08:30 am ET Estimated Read Time: 5 Minutes
Psilocybin and MDMA: Beneficial for Veterans’ Mental Health?

Despite being far from new, psychedelic therapy is an avenue of medicine that is gaining more traction these days. Many people believe that psychedelics such as MDMA and psilocybin could potentially help improve the mental health of people, especially veterans.

Sadly, many of our veterans battle mental health issues and receive very little help from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Current estimates show that more than 40 veterans take their lives each day, and statistics provided by the American Psychological Association show that veterans are 1.5 times more likely to commit suicide than civilians. According to the APA, “Reasons for these sobering numbers may include high exposure to trauma, stress, and burnout, isolation and loneliness, easy access to and familiarity with guns, and difficulties reintegrating into civilian life.”

The executive director of the Veterans Administration Suicide Prevention in the Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Psychologist Matthew A. Miller, Ph.D., MPH, told the media, “The DoD and VA recognize that standard clinical interventions, while helpful on an individual level, are not enough to address these problems.”

While all veterans are susceptible to mental health issues that eventually could lead to suicide, the APA says rural veterans “are about 20% more likely to die by suicide than urban-based veterans owing to factors such as greater access to lethal means, reduced access to good health care, geographic isolation, and loneliness.”

Current Challenges and Options for Veterans Facing Mental Health Obstacles

An article published by the National Institute of Health suggests that depression and PTSD are the two most publicized mental health challenges veterans face today. This article suggests that an estimated “14% to 16% of U.S. service members deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq have PTSD or depression.”

According to the Wounded Warrior Project, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is described as “traumatic deployment experiences, such as a threat to life, the loss of others, and seeing the wounded and the dying, can leave lasting emotional scars. PTSD and more veterans is a common condition that can develop after you have gone through such experiences.”

Clinical depression is a common condition experienced by veterans after their discharge. The VA says clinical depression is “characterized by low self-esteem, lack of motivation, lack of interest in social activities, and low energy levels.”

PTSD and depression are treated with a combination of prescription medicine and psychological therapies. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most common psychological treatments for PTSD and depression. When it comes to prescription medications, fluoxetine, sertraline, paroxetine, and other SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), drugs commonly work hand in hand with psychological therapies to offer relief for those suffering from PTSD and/or depression.

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New “breakthrough therapies” involving psilocybin and MDMA are showing great potential in helping treat veterans suffering from PTSD and/or depression.

Psilocybin’s Potential Benefits for Mental Health

Psilocybin, colloquially referred to as magic mushrooms, is a hallucinogenic substance commonly produced in a variety of different fungi. Some states have recently begun legalizing and decriminalizing psilocybin mushrooms. Psilocybin is a potent mind-altering substance that has been the center of much research for decades. A very happy individual named Albert Hoffman started studying psilocybin in 1958. If you don’t know much about this individual, he’s definitely worth learning more about.

It wasn’t until Oct. 24, 1968, that the federal government banned psilocybin, effectively shutting down the research. That research has begun again. This research is showing great promise that psilocybin administered in small doses or microdoses in a controlled environment may play an important role in alleviating mental illnesses such as depression and PTSD.

A study conducted by John Hopkins Medicine discovered “psilocybin in combination with talk therapy significantly improved symptoms of clinical depression.” Studies also support psilocybin as a potential aide for conditions like anorexia nervosa and smoking cessation.

MDMA’s Potential Benefits for Mental Health

The National Institute of Health defines 3, 4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) as “a synthetic drug that acts as a stimulant and hallucinogen. It produces an energizing effect, distortions and time and perception, and enhanced enjoyment from sensory experiences. It has also been described as an entactogen-a drug that can increase self-awareness and empathy.”

On the streets, MDMA is commonly referred to as “molly,” even though molly isn’t MDMA. This street drug is often cut with cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD, and or whatever else the maker happens to have on hand. Pharmaceutical MDMA is undergoing clinical trials for potentially becoming a treatment for social anxiety in autistic adults, PTSD, and anxiety in terminally ill patients. MDMA even received a “breakthrough therapy” designation from the FDA recently.

Research published on the NCBI website suggests, “MDMA-assisted psychotherapy could be useful in the treatment of disorders associated with attachment and securities, including PTSD, depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, suicidality, substance use disorders, and eating disorders.”

The Breakdown of Psilocybin and MDMA

Medical psilocybin and MDMA are not being administered in large, mind-altering doses like what many festival- and concert-goers are consuming. Much of the research being conducted involves microdosing combined with different therapies in controlled settings.

Psilocybin and MDMA therapies are showing great potential in helping to treat PTSD and depression, along with a growing list of other mental health conditions. Many people that consume psychedelics for recreational purposes say it helps them reset. They enjoy an intoxicating experience once every month or so and find that it dramatically improves their outlook on life in general.

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