Post-traumatic stress disorder wreaks havoc on war veterans, survivors of various forms of abuse, accident or disaster witnesses and victims, and many more — but the pharmaceuticals dispensed for treatment can worsen the problem.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Prozac, Celexa, Zoloft, and Paxil, comprise the most frequently prescribed class of antidepressants — but bear the burden of responsibility for an epidemic of suicide in the U.S. One of the most telling and tragic potential side effects caused by SSRIs: suicide.
Fortunately, viable, infinitely safer, and more effective alternatives abound — all provided by nature.
In fact, nature itself shows encouraging results in the treatment of PTSD, according to preliminary findings from a multi-year research study being conducted by U.C. Berkeley in partnership with the Sierra Club Outdoors program.
Researchers gathered “two dozen UC Berkeley student veterans whose psychological and physiological response to the awesomeness of big nature is being studied,” Berkeley News reported, during and after participating in whitewater rafting. Combat veteran of two tours in Afghanistan, Jet Garner, took part in a rafting trip down the North Fork American River with fellow vets last summer, and noted remarkably positive results:
“It felt like we were really living in the moment. It really felt like we were moving on beyond our hang-ups.”
But researchers found the benefits didn’t end with the trip, as just one week after rafting, veterans “reported a 30 percent decrease in PTSD symptoms,” as well as better relations with friends and family. Berkeley doctoral student in psychology, Craig Anderson, heads the study which began in 2014, tracking participants through journals, surveys, and GoPro cameras provided for each trip.
“If doctors were able to write prescriptions for people to go out in nature, it would be one of the most cost-effective health interventions available, and would change our relationship to the outdoors,” said Anderson, an avid outdoorsman.
Ordinarily associated with negative effects like anxiety, inflammation, and memory loss, raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol correlated to positive reactions in participants following the trip.
“It’s an adaptive hormone,” Anderson explained. “When we sit in front of computers being stressed out, cortisol doesn’t help us. But when we’re out in nature and we need more energy to achieve something physically demanding, cortisol goes up in a good way.”
One Vietnam veteran, who hadn’t swum since serving on a Swift Boat, stepped well outside his comfort zone and was observed “frolicking in the water” after one of the rafting trips.
But veterans aren’t the only group participating or experiencing positive results — researchers have also conducted rafting trips for PTSD-suffering youth from inner-city areas where violence mars daily life. Rafting allowed members of both groups to let down protective psychological barriers and cooperate as units.
Another rather obvious gift provided by nature to those experiencing PTSD has benefits known even by the federal government — despite ongoing national prohibition.
Cannabis treats PTSD so effectively — as both clinical and anecdotal evidence has shown — the Drug Enforcement Agency recently approved the first-ever study of its whole-plant medicinal use for vets in April. By allowing the use of the whole cannabis plant, the DEA opened the door for even the smoked variety to be studied for potential alleviation of PTSD symptoms.
“We are thrilled to see this study overcome the hurdles of approval so we can begin gathering data,” explained Amy Anderson, Executive Director and Director of Clinical Research for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) Public Benefit Corporation. “The study is a critical step in moving our botanical drug development program forward at the federal level to gather information on the dosing, risks, and benefits of smoked marijuana for PTSD symptoms.”
Unfortunately indicative of the government’s misplaced, draconian priorities, continued federal prohibition of cannabis has created tragic and heartbreaking consequences for vets using the plant to treat PTSD — even in states where it’s legal.
“Disabled Navy veteran Raymond Schwab moved to Colorado last year to free himself from addictions that grew out of the pharmaceuticals prescribed by the VA to treat his service-related physical and psychological injuries,” The Free Thought Project previously reported. But because “Schwab is legally using medical cannabis in Colorado, officials in prohibitionist Kansas have abducted five of his children, ranging from 5 to 16 years of age.”
Child Protective Services — the disputably named agency responsible for taking Schwab’s children — claim the only way the vet’s kids can ‘safely’ be returned is for him to submit to and pass a urine test. Essentially, Kansas CPS is telling Schwab, you can treat your PTSD or you can raise your children — proving the absurdity of lingering drug war stigmatization of valid medical treatment.
After multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Marine veteran Ivan Rodriguez faces possible deportation to Ecuador over his use of medical cannabis, due to delays in receiving a green card. And these two veterans aren’t alone.
Despite the obvious therapeutic relief cannabis provides PTSD sufferers, prohibition creates unnecessary — and often cruel — barriers for those who most need it.
Another avenue to treat PTSD, though considered highly illegal, offers significant hope: psilocybin, the active component of ‘magic’ mushrooms.
Surprisingly, researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have been permitted to study psilocybin’s effects for treating various conditions, including PTSD. Headed by William Richards, a pioneer in the study of therapeutic psychedelics, researchers employ rigorous clinical standards to prove remarkable benefits stemming from the use of psilocybin.
Former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Charles R. Schuster, commentated on the first Hopkins psilocybin study in 2006:
“It is striking that majority of participants reported 2 months later that the psilocybin-induced experience was personally very meaningful and spiritually significant. Indeed, most of them rated the psilocybin-induced experience as one of the top five most important experiences in their life. It is especially notable that participants reported that the drug produced positive changes in attitudes and behaviors well after the sessions, and these self-observations were consistent with ratings by friends and relatives.”
Though other psychedelics have are studied, the psilocybin found in magic mushrooms appears to offer the most significant benefits to people with PTSD, and even depression. Of course, as the utterly failed drug war — initiated for remarkably less than the noble reasons touted by its propaganda — rages on, countless individuals suffer needless psychological after-effects of trauma due to illegality of such promising treatments.
Nature freely provides cures for innumerable ailments like PTSD, but until legislation reflects beneficial uses for natural substances, the new study about actively experiencing the outdoors remains the only wholly legal option. Once lawmakers and their constituents realize they’ve succumbed to drug war propaganda’s false claims about the dangers of cannabis, psilocybin, and more, perhaps those with PTSD will finally receive official permission to heal.