Ex-servicemen – distraught by the failure of current treatments – have turned to psilocybin to deal with the psychological effects of their trauma.
Now veterans, academics, doctors and politicians are among the voices calling for the UK government to reclassify this form of psychedelics.
Psilocybin — a naturally occurring substance whose effects last for several hours — is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug, along with substances like crack cocaine and heroin.
But a former private who served in the Parachute Regiment in Afghanistan told The Ferret that the drug changed his life after he began struggling with his mental health after retiring from the armed forces.
He said: “My military service remains one of my proudest accomplishments. I was deployed to Afghanistan early in my career at the age of nineteen.
Continue reading: Psilocybin Offers “Paradigm Shift in Mental Illness Treatment”
“I remember my time in the country being both exhilarating and terrifying. When I returned to the UK, I was a very different person from the person who left the country.
“It was immediately clear to my family, but not to me at the time.
My experiences had highlighted the need for situational awareness and constant vigilance.
“I became more reclusive and more focused on my military career. I felt a sense of uneasiness in crowded places, and I often got angry about trivial things.”
About five years after his return from Afghanistan, he left the army and enrolled in a college course.
He said: “The nightmares started just a month after I was released. They were alive and brought back feelings I had long forgotten.
“Sometimes situations I remembered were repeated, sometimes they were more abstract but no less disturbing. The discomfort I felt in crowded spaces turned into more of a gripping fear and eventually total avoidance.
“I became even more withdrawn socially and with all my close friends still on duty, the support network I had relied on throughout my adult life ceased to exist.
“At some point I decided to avoid sleeping as much as possible, I tried to stamp it out. [grit your teeth and going] as we used to say in my unit.
“The fear became a source of embarrassment and I was often ashamed of my fear. I didn’t want people to know how scared I was in Afghanistan and I didn’t want them to know how scared I was still.
“The shame increased and my behavior became more erratic. I felt at the time that I had let myself and everyone around me down because I couldn’t adjust to life outside of the military.”
“My nightmares went away and my anxiety went away… Those two doses were enough to get my life back on track.”
His girlfriend eventually persuaded him to seek help from his family doctor, and he was eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
He was offered antidepressants and waited months to be referred to a psychiatric team. When he finally saw the team, they also offered to prescribe him antidepressants and explained that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) might help.
But the corporal said he didn’t want to take the drugs. “I refused to take antidepressants because I didn’t like the idea of being dependent on a drug. I decided CBT was the best choice and was then put on a waiting list for an estimated three months.”
By that time, his college attendance had dropped to 50 percent, he didn’t want to leave the house, and the work was becoming “extremely challenging.”
“I started thinking about suicide and those thoughts scared me, but at the same time they didn’t go away,” he added.
It was at this point that he began researching psilocybin after hearing that it might help with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder while working in America and began researching the substance.
He said: “As it was a class A drug in the UK I decided to travel to the Netherlands to try some of it. I couldn’t afford to take the therapeutic psilocybin packages that were being offered, so I self-medicated in a hotel room in the presence of my partner.
“The effects of psilocybin are difficult to describe, but I realized how narrow my perception of myself and the world was.
“Prior to this experience, I basically knew that many of my fears were unfounded, I knew that the guilt and shame I felt didn’t necessarily reflect how the people I loved felt about me, but those feelings would still linger no matter how I carried them away.
“But afterwards, I felt like it was true. I felt that my fears were unfounded, I felt that my shame and guilt were misplaced and that my memories of Afghanistan, while still present, did not warrant those emotions.
Continue reading: Australia is the first country in the world to prescribe psychedelics to patients suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder
“I was afraid the effects wouldn’t last when I returned to the UK, but they did. My nightmares went away and my fear went away. I have completed my entrance course in all subjects with honors.
“Those two doses were enough to get my life back on track. I believe that psilocybin has tremendous medicinal potential and that its ban will result in many veterans struggling with PTSD being deprived of a safe and effective treatment option.
“This is a drug experience that has long-term therapeutic effects even after the drug has left the body. With further research, solid evidence can be collected and formulated.
“I believe this is time sensitive, veterans are dying and treatment options are limited. The sooner the research is done, the sooner this drug can be used to save lives.”
This story was produced in association with The Ferret, Scotland’s independent and award-winning investigative platform. Join: theferret.scot