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Combat Veterans Take Psychedelic Drugs for PTSD

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Suicide rates for American service members and veterans are nothing short of catastrophic. According to recent estimates, almost 17 vets take their own lives in the U.S. every day. Many of them suffer from post-traumatic stress and debilitating brain injuries, which traditional medications have primarily failed to cure.

Consequently, many veterans with PTSD remain desperate for healing. However, a growing number are turning to psychedelic-assisted treatment in Mexico. They are using substances the government they fought for says are illegal. One of those former service members is 52-year-old Herb Daniels. 

Daniels spent 14 years as a Green Beret and nearly four years in active combat. After he retired from the military, he said he faced a profound darkness that started to consume him. The former Green Beret had traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. 

Also, he had survived the loss of many fellow soldiers over the years, including some to suicide. Hence, he turned to alcohol and prescribed medications after his retirement in 2017. However, these did not dull the excruciating fear and anxiety, and he saw suicide as an option.

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“As I watched more of my teammates… more veterans start to take their own lives,” he said. “I realized that that’s an option.” Consequently, he attempted suicide multiple times but failed. After another suicide attempt, Daniels found out about VETS, Veterans Exploring Treatment Solutions. 

The nonprofit organization funds grants for veterans to go to Mexico for treatment that isn’t legal in the United States. In July 2022, Daniels booked a trip to Tijuana to join an experimental psychoactive treatment. He knew little about ibogaine, a psychedelic derived from the root bark of a plant from the African rainforest.

Neither did many U.S. scientists. But Daniels signed up for the treatment anyway, along with other combat veterans. Reports of its curative potential compelled them. “The reality is I could only lean on hope,” Daniels said. “Because I really needed it to work if I was going to live.”

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According to findings, ibogaine reduces the symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Also, it improves cognitive function from traumatic brain injuries. Stanford University is among the first to explore the use of ibogaine. The University’s findings suggest they use it to repair traumatic brain injury caused by head trauma or blast explosions.

The findings are among the earliest research on ibogaine, a Schedule I drug. They come amid growing support and federal funding for the use of psychedelic drugs to treat trauma in veterans. Ibogaine is not currently available in the U.S. Consequently, veterans travel to Mexico and other countries for treatment.

This latest research, along with other findings in psychedelic treatments, has drawn bipartisan support from lawmakers. Just before the holidays, President Joe Biden signed the updated National Defense Authorization Act into law. The act includes provisions for $10 million in grants for research on psychedelic treatments.

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This provision is for active-duty service members with traumatic brain injuries, PTSD, and other ailments. The overall goal, U.S. Rep Dan Crenshaw said, is to find safe psychedelic therapies through clinical trials. The Stanford study moves that forward, he said. 

“We’ve already seen it save lives, but this is through anecdotal evidence,” Crenshaw said. “We need a strong, verifiable authority to do those trials.” After the treatment, Daniels, the former Green Beret, started his own home improvement business. He also helps other veterans navigate such treatment options.

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