Psychedelics Gain Momentum as PTSD Treatments
It’s a new era for PTSD treatments. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was first identified in patients who survived concentration camps during World War II. It has also been called “shell-shock” pertaining to service members returning from combat operations. Doctors understand this condition a lot better today than they did 20 years ago. However, regulators have not approved any new PTSD treatment drugs since 1991. To this day only two drugs are registered to treat PTSD. Increasingly, it appears that existing psychedelic drugs may fill in the gap.
In the early 1960s, a Dutch psychiatrist successfully used psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) and LSD to treat concentration camp survivors struggling with PTSD. American lawmakers banned both substances in the late 1960s. A ban on MDMA, a known party drug that had shown some promise as a PTSD treatment, followed in 1985.
Now, the environment has completely changed. Mostly due to frustration over a lack of available medicines, researchers are once again looking at the therapeutic value of these psychedelic drugs. The Food and Drug Administration has even approved these drugs for use in some situations. It has labelled them “breakthrough therapies,” a priority status for drugs designed to fulfill an unmet need.
“When I started [researching psilocybin] the idea that you could give a single dose of a drug and people would feel better almost immediately, and then feel better for months on end. I wouldn’t have thought that was possible,” remarked University of California at San Francisco psychiatrist Joshua Woolley. “But now it’s exploding…there’s a lot of momentum.”
Service-related brain injuries have gotten a lot of attention lately. About half of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans (that is, half who served, not just half of the injured veterans) came home with a traumatic brain injury or extreme psychological damage. This can cause psychological harm in more than one way. For example, explosive blasts, like an exploding IED, generate shock waves. These shock waves adversely affect brain activity. The experience of the blast itself can be traumatic as well, since it is an imminent threat to life.
PTSD is a specific kind of brain injury. Extreme stress, much like the aforementioned shock waves, adversely affects brain activity. Stress creates a chemical imbalance in the brain. Extreme stress causes the amygdala (the part of the brain that controls emotional responses) to swell. There is only so much space in the brain. So, when that happens, the hippocampus (which controls logical responses) shrinks. As a result, triggering events cause victims to experience symptoms like:
- Flashbacks, and
Think of the hippocampus as a cowboy and the amygdala as a wild horse. If the cowboy is not 100% functional, he cannot control the wild horse.
Establishing a service-related connection is usually the biggest challenge for a VA disability lawyer in a claim for service connection. Often, the diagnosing physician must exclude other possible PTSD sources, such as being in a car crash or experiencing sexual trauma after service. In a close case, the Veteran gets the benefit of the doubt. The burden of proof in these cases is only as likely as not.
Combat stress is the leading cause of VA PTSD claims. Others include witnessing or being the victim of military sexual trauma and training accident-related PTSD.
Most Veterans are independent-minded people. They often tell themselves they are “fine” even when they are seriously injured. That is especially true in brain injury claims. Statements from friends, family, and coworkers often help establish the extent of PTSD disability.
Currently, treatment options for PTSD mostly consist of versions of talk therapy. The VA lists 1-to-1 mental health assessments, psychotherapy, family therapy, and group therapy for various needs. The VA also provides medicine proven to treat mental illness, but at the same time, the VA does not provide a lot of options. Outpatient and inpatient versions of treatment programs are available.
Though medication can be effective, anxiety and depression medication can often have negative side effects. Often, the patient must stay on the medication for long periods of time.
New treatment with psychedelics is appealing to some because of the limited doses necessary in a treatment regimen. Thus, any negative side effects would be more limited due to the lower number of doses.
Contact Diligent Attorneys
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