The bare minimum for veterans

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Three unlabelled, full pill bottles sitting beside a poppy flower.
Complex trauma may require complex solutions.  Clker-Free-Vector-Images via Pixabay, manipulated by lee lim

Could psychedelic-assisted therapy be a viable option?

The Senate of Canada released the Report of the Subcommittee on Veteran Affairs on November 8, 2023, saying, “Alarmed by the prevalence of suicide and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in Canadian veterans, the Senate’s Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs is urging federal, provincial and territorial governments to launch and fund a large-scale research program on psychedelic-assisted therapy.” 

This urge brings attention to the lack of research surrounding psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy and pushes for more funding and resource allocation. Australia authorized the use of psilocybin and MDMA-assisted therapy in July 2023 and, in Canada, Alberta was the first province to provide guidelines and policies on the use of psychedelics. Veterans have given their prime years for Canada and have had to face physical and mental health issues, known as operational stress injuries, such as depression, general anxiety disorder, and substance abuse.  

As per the Senate’s Report, “The Time is Now: Granting equitable access to psychedelic-assisted therapies,” “It is estimated that approximately 10 [per cent] to 15 [per cent] of Canadian veterans have been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as other physical and mental health issues that can accompany PTSD.” This alarming rate reflects the need for a large-scale research program on psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy so veterans have options if conventional treatments and therapies fail. 

According to Kelsie Sheren, who served as an artillery gunner in Afghanistan, “Psychedelic-assisted therapy is the only reason I can be a present mother, wife, and value to the society.”  Psychedelic therapy was the reason why she was alive and able to live the life she wanted.  

While it provides relief, it is also important to be aware of the unpredictable results that psychedelics can cause that may lead to adverse situations; while there are risks and potential side-effects to any type of therapy, psychedelics have incredibly varied individual impacts. With the limited research available, these effects should be looked into more deeply. Psychedelic therapy, with its process of altering neural pathways, is a way to explore one’s thoughts, emotions, and traumatic experiences. 

Veterans Affairs Canada has adopted a wait-and-see approach to explore new treatment options for these traumatic experiences for veterans. Still, the Subcommittee recommends the implementation of a robust research program. This would ensure that the veterans get the treatment they need and deserve at the earliest possible time. 

According to the report on page 30, “There is also insufficient evidence of the beneficial effects of these substances among veterans, who tend to respond differently to treatments than the general public, and yet all studies to date have only involved the general public.” While research into this topic continues, there needs to be research done with veterans so they know that the treatment provided to them can be expected to be tested, safe, and reliable.  

Fulfilling expectations for extraordinary outcomes requires extraordinary effort. Even though psychedelic-assisted therapy might be useful, there are not enough healthcare professionals trained to provide the necessary care through this method to veterans. People interested in providing these treatments would be incentivized to obtain the training they need at a rate that would support the demand created by the clinical trials. This will be possible only when immediate steps are taken to address this rising need.  

There is much more to discover and learn to assist veterans. Many veterans have been diagnosed only with depression or anxiety due to a lack of knowledge of the complexity of veterans’ trauma, and the conventional treatments for those diagnoses are less effective when significant factors like PTSD are present.  

Veterans should not be left without support, or to try to find treatment options all on their own. Is this not the bare minimum? 

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