Psychedelics Produce Mental Health Improvements For Special Ops Vets, Study Finds

A newly published analysis showcases the potential offered by psychedelics as a mental health treatment for military veterans.
special ops

Researchers at the Ohio State University examined “the effectiveness of psychedelic-assisted therapy among trauma-exposed Special Operations Forces Veterans (SOFV) seeking treatment for cognitive and mental health problems in Mexico.” 

They said that research “in psychedelic medicine has focused primarily on civilian populations,” and that further “study is needed to understand whether these treatments are effective for Veteran populations.”

The treatment on the special ops veterans focused on two psychedelic drugs, both of which are banned under the Controlled Substances Act, according to a news article from the university: “a combination of ibogaine hydrochloride, derived from the West African shrub iboga, and 5-MeO-DMT, a psychedelic substance secreted by the Colorado River toad.”

“In addition to relieving symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the combined treatment also alleviated cognitive impairment linked to traumatic brain injury – which stood out to researchers from The Ohio State University who led the chart-review analysis. Many special operations forces veterans seeking treatment for complex psychiatric symptoms do not respond to more traditional therapies,” the article said.

In their conclusions, the researchers said that “assisted therapy has potential to provide rapid and robust changes in mental health functioning with a signal of durable therapeutic effects up to 6-months,” and that additional research in controlled settings is warranted.

The lead author of the study, Alan Davis, an associate professor and director of the Center for Psychedelic Drug Research and Education (CPDRE) in Ohio State’s College of Social Work, said that what “sets this group apart from some other veterans and civilians is that often, they are exposed to repeated traumatic events as a routine part of their jobs.”

“This build-up of exposure to these difficulties seems to produce a cluster of challenges that include traumatic brain injury, which we know in and of itself predisposes people to mental health problems,” said Davis. 

“So the fact that we saw that there were improvements in cognitive functioning linked to brain injury were probably the most striking results, because that’s something we didn’t predict and it’s very new and novel in terms of how psychedelics might help in so many different domains.”

Ohio State News has more background on the study, which was published last month in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse:

“Most of the veterans attending the clinic retreat program had been on active duty after 9/11 and reported seeking care for memory problems, brain injury, depression, anxiety, PTSD, sleep problems, anger and fatigue. Head injuries were reported by 86% of attendees, most of whom attributed memory problems, irritability, disordered sleep and ringing in the ears to those long-ago head traumas. Eighty-six veterans completed pre-treatment questionnaires assessing a range of mental health symptoms as well as satisfaction with life, anger levels and suicidality. Each attendee received a single oral ibogaine hydrochloride dose and, on a separate day, at least three incremental inhalation doses adding up to 50 milligrams of 5-MeO-DMT, also commonly called Five or Bufo. Preparation and reflection sessions preceded and followed each treatment. Overall, participants reported large improvements in self-reported PTSD symptoms, depression, anxiety, insomnia severity and anger, as well as a significant increase in satisfaction with life, from pre-treatment to the one-month follow-up, and sustained benefits at the three- and six-month follow-ups. Additional reported improvements that continued for six months included reductions in disability and post-concussive symptoms, and very large increases in psychological flexibility and cognitive functioning.”

Researchers and policymakers are increasingly advocating for psychedelics as a mental health treatment, particularly for vulnerable populations such as veterans.

Last month, a group of lawmakers in Michigan passed a resolution urging Congress, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs to ““prioritize research and investment in non-technology treatment options for servicemembers and veterans who have psychological trauma as a result of military service.”

“Effective treatment options for these conditions vary from servicemember to servicemember,” the resolution said.

“Non-technology treatment options, such as buddy-to-buddy programs, controlled use of psychedelics in clinical settings, outdoor therapy, and easier access to service animals, among others, have shown promise to help veterans improve their mental health and find a new normal while dealing with the invisible wounds of war and service.”

The younger brother of President Joe Biden offered hope to those advocates earlier this year, when he said that the commander-in-chief is “very open minded” about psychedelic treatment.

“Put it that way. I don’t want to speak; I’m talking brother-to-brother. Brother-to-brother,” Frank Biden said. “The question is, is the world, is the U.S. ready for this? My opinion is that we are on the cusp of a consciousness that needs to be brought about to solve a lot of the problems in and around addiction, but as importantly, to make us aware of the fact that we’re all one people and we’ve got to come together.”

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