A Senate report is recommending the federal government “immediately” conduct a “major research program” into how psychedelics can help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In a press conference Wednesday, deputy chair of the subcommittee on veteran affairs, Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, said they are “encouraged” by the evidence of the effectiveness of psychedelic therapy.
He said Canada is falling behind other countries, such as the United States and Australia, that have already begun studying how psychedelics can help patients.
In July, Australia authorized psilocybin-assisted therapy for treatment-resistant depression and MDMA treatment for PTSD. Alberta currently is the only province to issue guidelines on the use of psychedelics.
“Despite the evidence, Canada has opted for a wait-and-see approach,” Boisvenu said. “The time is now to act.”
The report examines psychedelics such as psilocybin, also known as “magic mushrooms,” MDMA and ketamine.
Boisvenu, along with subcommittee chair David Richards, told stories of veterans who had tried other medications and therapy — in one individual’s case, trying 11 different medications — without success, but saw a breakthrough with psychedelic therapy. Conditional treatment could even make matters worse for veterans, Boisvenu said, whereas psychedelics often give positive results.
About 10 to 15 per cent of Canadian veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD, according to the report. It also states that the suicide rate for male veterans is 50 per cent higher than the general population, stands at 200 per cent higher for female veterans and is 250 per cent higher for male veterans under the age of 25.
Scientists who testified to the committee all say they have seen positive results with psychedelic therapy, Boisvenu said. The report states that psychedelics such as psilocybin and MDMA can be “transformative” for veterans.
However, Richards admitted that not everyone may benefit from such treatment, and not everyone will react the same way. Psychedelics have a storied reputation of sometimes giving “bad trips,” in which fears and anxieties can be amplified.
The call for more research into the use of psychedelics comes as more “magic mushroom” shops are opening across the country despite the drug still being illegal in Canada. The trend closely mirrors what happened before cannabis was legalized in Canada in 2018, with police not able to keep up with the number of stores due to resource constraints and lenient public opinion.
While the report released Wednesday is limited to psychedelic use among veterans, Richards said such research does lend itself to the idea of legalization eventually.
“Our veterans sacrifice so much — we must do everything we can to help them,” Richards said.
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