Psychedelics Improve Mental Health and Cognition in Special Operations Veterans

A treatment with two psychedelic drugs reduced depression and anxiety and improved cognitive functioning in a sample of U.S. special operations forces veterans who sought care at a clinic in Mexico, according to a new analysis of participants’ charts.

The treatment included a combination of ibogaine hydrochloride, derived from the West African iboga bush, and 5-MeO-DMT, a psychedelic substance secreted by the Colorado River frog. Both are designated as Schedule I drugs under the US Controlled Substances Act.

Alan Davis

In addition to alleviating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the combined treatment also alleviated cognitive impairment linked to traumatic brain injury, which stood out to the Ohio State University researchers who led the analysis of the chart review. Many special operations forces veterans who seek treatment for complex psychiatric symptoms do not respond to more traditional therapies.

What sets this group apart from some other veterans and civilians is that they are often exposed to repeated traumatic events as a routine part of their work. This increased exposure to these difficulties appears to produce a set of challenges that include traumatic brain injuries, which we know in themselves predispose people to mental health problems, said lead author Alan Davis, associate professor and director of the Center for Research and Psychedelic Drug Education (CPDRE) at Ohio States College of Social Work.

So the fact that we saw that there were improvements in cognitive functioning associated with brain injuries was probably the most surprising result, because this is something that we didn’t anticipate and it’s very new and innovative in terms of how psychedelics can help in so many different domains.

The study is published in American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

The majority of veterans who participated in the clinical retreat program were on active duty after 9/11 and reported seeking care for memory problems, brain injuries, depression, anxiety, PTSD, sleep problems, anger, and fatigue. Head injuries were reported by 86% of participants, most of whom attributed memory problems, irritability, sleep disturbances, and ringing in the ears to long-ago head trauma.

Eighty-six veterans completed pre-treatment questionnaires assessing a range of mental health symptoms, as well as life satisfaction, anger levels and suicidality. Each participant received a single oral dose of ibogaine hydrochloride and, on a separate day, at least three incremental inhalation doses totaling 50 milligrams of 5-MeO-DMT, also commonly called Five or Bufo. Preparation and reflection sessions preceded and followed each treatment.

Overall, participants reported large improvements in self-reported symptoms of PTSD, depression, anxiety, insomnia severity, and anger, as well as a significant increase in life satisfaction from pre-treatment to one-month follow-up, and Sustained benefits at three- and six-month follow-ups. Additional reported improvements that continued for six months included reductions in disability and post-concussive symptoms, and very large increases in psychological flexibility and cognitive functioning.

Davis said improved cognitive functioning warrants further research into whether better thinking results from reduced mental health symptoms or from biological changes in signaling in the brain, or from a mix of both types of effects. And they noted that changes in psychological flexibility increase the ability to act in ways consistent with your values, regardless of any internal or external experiences that may have been found in previous research to be linked to insightful and mystical psychedelic experiences.

I think we’re seeing a similar picture emerging here, where the more someone is psychologically flexible, the more likely it is that mental health symptoms will be reduced or improved, Davis said.

Most participants also reported moderate to strong desirable changes in a range of attitudes, behaviors and relationships. One month after treatment, nearly half reported that the psychedelic experience was the most spiritually significant (48.6%) or psychologically enlightening (42.9%) of their lives, and 17.1% considered it the most difficult or challenging experience. of their lives.

Davis and colleagues took a conservative approach to analyzing outcome data, assuming that participants who did not complete all follow-up surveys may not have gotten the relief they expected from treatment. But they said the finding that a population of veterans with complicated trauma histories can benefit from psychedelic therapy supports the importance of continuing to test psychedelic-assisted therapies in U.S. clinical trials.

Psilocybin-assisted therapy is currently being studied at Ohio State for the treatment of PTSD among military veterans.

This work was funded by Veterans Exploring Treatment Solutions. The authors are also supported by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, CPDRE, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Study co-authors include Yitong Xin and Nathan Sepeda of Ohio State and Lynnette Averill of Baylor College of Medicine and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

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