Mental health issues treated with psychedelics creates a cognitive reset that brings a new outlook and lease on life.  A veteran in an article in Task and Purpose says “those treatments saved my life.”

“I was just constantly trapped in my mind,” Navy SEAL veteran Cory Poolman said. “I had so much negative dialogue about myself going on, and the medicine showed me how to quiet that dialogue and take control of my mind so that my thoughts could no longer control me and work against me.”.

Helping veterans

Dr. Martín Polanco is a medical doctor and researcher who specializes in treating addiction, mild-traumatic brain injuries, and post-traumatic stress with psychedelics. In 2017, Polanco founded The Mission Within (TMW), an organization that provides psychedelic treatments to veterans and their spouses. Polanco says TMW has treated more than 600 special operations veterans and their spouses, and the majority of the veterans he treats suffer from “operator syndrome.” A 2020 research paper in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine defines operator syndrome as “the accumulation of physiological, neural, and neuroendocrine responses resulting from the prolonged chronic stress; and physical demands of a career with the military special [operations] forces.”

“Operator syndrome really refers to a combination of issues,” Polanco says. “It’s related to blast exposure and toxicity, chronic pain, hormone dysregulation, sleep apnea, traumatic brain injury, depression, anxiety, insomnia, rage, marital issues and substance abuse.”

Polanco says mild traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress are the two most common issues TMW focuses on treating, and ibogaine and 5-MeO-DMT provide a highly effective treatment modality.

Polanco says the benefits of the experience are about 30% the psychedelic journey itself, and the other 70% is what is known in the world of psychedelic therapies as “integration.”

“It’s not just what you experience and what you see; it’s what you do with it,” Polanco says. “What kind of habits and practices are you developing in your integration phase after the treatments? Some of the main benefits you can derive from session experiences are being better able to focus, and being more calm and present. We see these compounds as a means to an end.”

Helping us all

Retired Army Brig. Gen. Stephen N. Xenakis is a psychiatrist who has advised the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior Department of Defense officials on psychological health and the effects of blast concussion. He is a co-founder and clinical practice advisor for Reason for Hope, a nonprofit focused on preventing deaths of despair by helping to develop and advocate for the policy and legal reforms needed to facilitate safe and affordable access to psychedelic medicine and assisted therapies.

“We are at a time when mental health needs are just exploding for a number of reasons, and the current treatments probably help less than half of the people,” Xenakis says. “There’s just too many people finding that they’re not getting the help that they need and suffering seriously. And it’s really impacting their lives and their livelihood, and probably impacting the safety and security of our communities. So we’ve clearly got a huge need here, but we also have this huge capability of psychedelics. But it’s not just the drug — the compounds. It’s the therapy; it’s the setting. That’s huge. So we’ve got to figure out the right way to do this.”

Healing and rites of passage

Self, says though psychedelics like psilocybin and ibogaine were first researched in the 1950s for alcohol abuse and opiate addiction treatment, today, drugs like MDMA, ketamine, and LSD have been added to a growing body of research. And while some researchers are interested in MDMA, for instance, as a way to help people heal from traumatic experiences, others are invested in reviving more traditional uses of drugs with psychedelic properties.

Jeeshan Chowdhury, MD, PhD, CEO and founder of Journey Colab, a psychological drug company, hopes to reduce the stigmatization of these substances. Traditionally, psychedelics were used for healing, and rights of passage by native communities. Dr. Chowdhury is working to reintegrate this tradition into modern medical practices, as he says his experience with psychedelics helped treat his long-term depression and experiences with intergenerational trauma.

Psychedelics help us peel back the layers and get to the core of mental health issues to let the healing begin. They are like surgery for the mind but they are not a silver bullet. During the window of opportunity when the brain is more malleable and new neural pathways can be made, counselling with someone trained in this type of work and integration of the lessons learned during a journey is the best route to healing.

The work that needs to be done is the work by/for all of us.