Psychedelic drugs can greatly reduce psychiatric symptoms among special forces veterans, study finds

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A recent study published in Chronic Stress found support for a psychedelic treatment not yet approved in the United States. US Special Operations Forces (SOF) Veterans treated with ibogaine and 5-Methoxy-N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT) showed large reductions in symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety.

Special Operations Forces (SOF) are members of the military who have been singled out for their superior “physical and psychological resilience.” Still, they are typically exposed to more extreme conditions and show psychiatric impairment similar to that of conventional forces veterans.

“Although SOF Veterans exhibit PTSD symptoms at rates comparable to conventional forces Veterans,” study authors Alan K. Davis and associates say, “they may be more reluctant to seek mental health treatment. There is growing concern of a mental health crisis and an alarming increase in the incidence of suicides in SOF members highlighting limited effective treatment methods for this unique population.”

Davis and his team conducted a study among 51 US SOF veterans who received psychedelic treatment at a clinical program in Mexico between 2017 and 2019. Over the 3-day treatment, participants were given three to five doses of 5-MeO-DMT (a psychedelic tryptamine) and a single dose of Ibogaine (a psychoactive indole alkaloid).

In 2019, the 51 veterans completed a retrospective survey that asked them to rate various aspects of their mental health one month before the treatment and one month after. The assessments included symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and suicidal tendencies. The surveys also assessed cognitive functioning, by asking subjects to report times they had felt “confused or had difficulties with reaction time, reasoning, memory, attention and concentration.”

The results overwhelmingly supported the treatment, uncovering strong decreases in reported symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety following the program. There was also a substantial drop in reports of suicidal ideation and cognitive impairment, and an increase in reported psychological flexibility. In fact, participant reports of post-treatment symptoms no longer met the cut-offs for clinical diagnoses.

Moreover, when asked to evaluate the program, the vast majority (80%) of participants were “either very (28%) or completely (53%) satisfied with the program.” The majority even reported that the program was “one of the top five most personally meaningful (84%), spiritually significant (88%), psychologically insightful (86%), and psychologically challenging (69%) experiences of their entire lives.”

Davis and his team explain how the two psychedelic drugs may have alleviated veterans’ psychiatric symptoms. 5-MeO-DMT, they say, “demonstrates neuroprotective, regenerative, and anti-inflammatory properties” which may be effective in treating the causes of cognitive impairment and PTSD. Ibogaine may also alleviate symptoms of PTSD, by facilitating “the evocation and reprocessing of traumatic memories and occasions therapeutic and meaningful visions of spiritual and autobiographical content.”

The study has significant limitations including recall bias, lack of clinical assessments, and an uncontrolled design which did not allow for a placebo. However, the compelling results lead researchers to call for future controlled studies to verify the effectiveness of ibogaine and 5-MeO-DMT in treating veterans with psychological difficulties.

The study, “Psychedelic Treatment for Trauma-Related Psychological and Cognitive Impairment Among US Special Operations Forces Veterans”, was authored by Alan K. Davis, Lynnette A. Averill, Nathan D. Sepeda, Joseph P. Barsuglia, and Timothy Amoroso.


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