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Advocates Ask For Access to Psychedelics As State Legislatures Grapple With Veteran Suicides

Earlier this year, advocates for psychedelic treatment options made waves on the national level with a pair of amendments encouraging research into how psychedelics could help prevent suicide among military veterans. 

Now they’re taking that message to state legislatures across the country. 

In both Georgia and Missouri, advocacy groups met with legislatures in favor of psychedelic treatment options, as lawmakers heard directly from veterans in favor of natural treatment options, and the medical professionals who back them. And although direct legislation may not come this year, those who testified made it clear: It’s time to start researching new ways to treat PTSD in our nation’s veterans. 

“We deserve the right to try any and all options,” said Elaine Brewer, a military spouse, in her testimony. 

That sentiment, and others like it, came as part of a hearing in front of Missouri’s House Interim Committee on Veterans Mental Health and Suicide. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, Missouri had the highest number of veteran suicides in 2021 with 146, which is most likely the reason that the interim committee, the only one currently in place, was convened to begin with. 

The pressing need for new treatment options is what brought Kevin Weaver, the president of a veterans advocacy group called Warrior’s Journey, to testify on Wednesday.  

“There is something deeply wrong with this epidemic that we are watching,” he said.

A day before, similar testimony was heard by lawmakers in Georgia. 

At a hearing Tuesday for the Georgia House Defense and Affairs Committee, a pair of veterans testified about their use of psychedelics to treat PTSD. Both men had to travel outside of the United States for natural treatment options, telling the committee they were left with no choice after treatment options available to them were ineffective. 

The results were immediate, they said, and gave the men new tools in overcoming mental health challenges that felt insurmountable before the alternative treatment. 

“I’m experiencing a new way of dealing with stresses in my life,” said Ethan Whitfield, a combat veteran of multiple deployments. “ I still experience anger, sadness, anxiety, [and] negativity. But they don’t imprison me.”

His fellow veteran, Marcus Capone, also spoke to the promise of psilocybin to treat PTSD, and said the substance allows him to see his symptoms for what they are and “climb out of them quite quickly.” Capone is a co-founder on a nonprofit called Veterans Exploring Treatment Solutions, and spoke alongside Whitfield in favor of funding for an Emory University study on the medical potential of psilocybin.  

The medical director behind that study also testified on Tuesday, telling the committee that although there is promising research on the subject, there has yet to be a study specifically on how psilocybin can help veterans. Brodie Dunlop is hoping that his research, and further clinical study on the substance, can help show the mainstream medical community that psilocybin is a viable option.  

“It induces a state of mental change where one reevaluates one’s experience of the world, one’s connectedness to oneself and others … breaking people out of past patterns of thought,” he said. 

Unfortunately for state’s like Missouri, that potential is still being clouded by the stigma surrounding psychedelics in America

Earlier this year, Post-Dispatch reporting quoted one lawmaker as calling the push for natural treatment options as “interesting times” in the state capitol. 

“Couple weeks ago we have a hearing about marijuana; today we’re hearing about legalizing some shrooms,” said Rep. Bennie Cook, R-Houston as part of a committee hearing. 

As part of Wednesday’s hearing, Dr. Rahul Kapur, a Kansas City-based physician, told the committee it’s time to listen to studies over stigma. Kapur said that “the safety data has been very encouraging” in studies, and was part of the reasons that lawmakers expect to revisit the subject with a natural medicine bill in the 2023 session. 

The subject of stigma vs. study was also raised in the Georgia hearings, with the committee’s chairman, Rep. Heath Clark, saying that our nation’s veterans deserve the chance to have all treatment options explored.

“Even though people have abused this recreationally … this is a discussion we need to have,” Clark said. “For people who served their country and suffered dramatically for that, we ought to do everything we can to make sure those people have an opportunity to be normalized in some fashion.”

Author

  • Patrick Radigan is a recovering sports journalist who had his eyes opened to the world of drug policy reform while covering a court case of a cannabis consultant found not guilty on trumped up possession charges. Since that case, he's covered legalization issues in multiple states, monitored tribal movements in the legal cannabis space and is now turning his attention to the wide spectrum of legalization and policy matters surrounding natural medicine alternatives. Patrick has written stories for newsprint, shot video for television news and got his start covering biofuels and soil science for a climate magazine. Originally from South Dakota, Pat earned a pair of journalism degrees from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and now resides in Colorado.