0700, first formation. All present and accounted for. Now the First Sergeant reads off a list of names, a surprise urinalysis. The names are called off at random, one person who is selected is a 14-year staff sergeant with multiple deployments overseas, including Iraq and Afghanistan, with his Combat Action Badge. He has engaged the enemy personally before. A routine scenario, another service member must watch the staff sergeant urinate into a cup and hold it above his head to verify the legitimacy of the sample. This time, the sample came back positive. An immediate removal from the military followed. Why was this service member using something illegal, you may ask? To ease their depression, anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) caused by their military service, a vastly beneficial use when combined with therapy. How can something be forbidden by some parts of our government – the military – yet be accepted and in medical trials by the Veterans Affairs? How did this happen and are we moving towards a psychedelic renissance?
Most commonly, when people hear of psychedelics they associate the term with American counterculture in the 1960s and ‘70s, the Vietnam war and the hippie movement. This time period is when the global War on Drugs also launched in the United States, which occurred in 1971 under then-President Richard Nixon. This saw the U.S. categorize most psychedelics as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substance Act; meaning the government believes there is no current medically acceptable use for these substances. However, growing public support and new medical studies have shown this may not be the case.
The last 50 years of prohibition on psychedelics has unfortunately caused research on these substances to dwindle, as only very specific and tightly monitored programs approved by the Drug Enforcement Agency have been allowed since. However, certain governmental organizations such as the Veterans Affairs have begun studies for the use of psychedelics in treating veterans with PTSD. Studies so far have shown promising results. For instance, a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, has shown that 67% of veterans that ingested MDMA, short for Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, with therapy no longer met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD, compared to 32% of veterans without MDMA and only therapy. Such improvements should further be studied for possible treatments in the growing epidemic of mental health in the U.S..
It is not only the federal government that has begun to endorse the use of psychedelics, but two states and several cities in the U.S. have begun medicinal legalization and decriminalization. This acceptance of psychedelics is also being seen at the ballot box, where the state of Oregon legalized psilocybin for medicinal purposes in Measure 109, commonly referred to as magic mushrooms. Colorado has also recently followed suit in this past midterm election, with Proposition 122 narrowly passing with 51% of the vote, allowing the medicinal use of psilocybin for those with mental health issues at licensed centers.
I’ve noticed the public attitude has changed as well;students on campus are now more open to talking about mental health and their own diagnoses than compared to previous years. Depression and anxiety amongst college students is also astronomically high, with immense pressure and an unknown future facing many students. The global COVID-19 pandemic has also shot depression and anxiety up with a staggering 25% increase worldwide. Clearly, something needs to be done with the mental health crisis on the rise.
One of my first experiences in the military, I remember a soldier next to me that smelled strongly of alcohol, swaying back and forth still recovering from the night before, and the night before that. This was a common occurrence, and usually there is something behind abusing alcohol or other substances that people are trying to escape whatever is going on in their minds. Some people find solace in alcohol, others find healthier alternatives in physical activity or other activities. However, since alcohol is a socially acceptable drug, this is unlikely to take place as many service members in particular use this as a coping mechanism. Hopefully – with a psychedelic renaissance – advances in research and proper studies can minimize this form of abuse and allow for more advances in mental health.