Pennsylvania veterans will help study psychedelic drugs to treat trauma and prevent suicide

A movement of military veterans and others have embraced the use of psychedelic drugs to treat conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression, citing an urgent need to make them widely available in Pennsylvania.

They further say that the treatments and medications prescribed to veterans by the US Department of Veterans Affairs usually provide little or no relief, often worsening problems such as depression and suicide. Standard treatments for severe depression haven’t changed in decades, and psychedelic drugs have the potential to revolutionize treatment, veterans and others who spoke at the State Capitol on Wednesday said.

“At the end of the day it doesn’t work and we know that because we’re losing 20 veterans a day. [to suicide]said state Rep. Tracy Pennycuick of R-Montgomery County, herself a retired Army veteran.

Pennycuick was part of the effort Wednesday to raise awareness about psychedelics and lay the groundwork for them to become an approved therapy — something they say is about to happen.

Pennycuick introduced a pair of bills that would allow legalization efforts to be studied and continued.

However, she said her bills have become useless now that the US Food and Drug Administration has approved a pilot program that will allow ingredients used in the psychedelic drug psilocybin to be grown in Pennsylvania for use in a clinical trial that could begin this fall.

The trial will be open to Pennsylvania veterans and former first responders who struggle with trauma-related issues such as PTSD and depression. Pennycuick hopes it will include around 200.

The FDA recently considered psilocybin and a similar drug known as MDMA to be investigational drugs with “breakthrough potential.” It has started the studies necessary for its approval as a reference treatment. The pilots are expected to perform in multiple states, according to Pennycuick.

The use of these drugs dates back hundreds of years and they were widely used among the native populations. However, the US government long ago made them Schedule I drugs, saying they had no therapeutic benefit and great potential for harm and abuse. The designation means there are stiff penalties for their possession and has hampered research into their potential as treatments.

However, there has been a resurgence of interest in psychedelic drugs, with major institutions including Johns Hopkins in Baltimore embracing their potential.

Various groups across the country have sprung up to push for further study, based on their ability to help veterans.

Some of the groups are led by veterans, several of whom spoke Wednesday in Harrisburg.

Mark Keller, a retired Navy fighter pilot with a long combat history, said he was increasingly traumatized and depressed by his role in a mission that killed 12 innocent people.

He said he sought help from the VA, finding himself in an ‘administrative maze’ and dealing with ‘incompetent providers’ who put him on strong drugs that left him numb, addicted and incapacitated to deal with his trauma.

He said he initially viewed psychedelics as “fruitcake, hippie stuff”.

However, Keller learned that they had helped a trusted veteran and flew out of the United States to get the treatment.

“I will tell you that my experience has been absolutely profound. I felt a peace that I had never known before. I felt the love of God,” he said. “I wouldn’t have said God in a public place before this experience. I understood that we were all connected. We are all one and there is healing for all of us if we seek it.

Treatment with psychedelic drugs involves talking and accompanying therapy before and after taking the drug for a limited number of doses, sometimes only once, said Gina Vensel, co-founder of Plant Media Project, which helped organize Wednesday’s event. The event was called “PA Psychedelic Education Day”.

She said efforts to legalize the drugs focused only on therapy and did not involve any recreational use. Typically, people who receive the therapy don’t use the drug after their treatment, according to Vensel, who said the drugs appear to “rewire” the brain.

Some of the research done by institutions like John Hopkins has found that psychedelic drugs hold great promise in helping people overcome addictions to alcohol and tobacco.

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