As California mulls bill decriminalizing psychedelics, some SoCal veterans turn to them to treat PTSD

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California is currently among a handful of states where there is an increased push in the effort to legalize psychedelics for therapy use, as growing evidence shows that they can help treat mental disorders.

Also known as hallucinogens, psychedelics are different types of drugs thought by some to expand consciousness. They can alter a person’s state of mind, their perception and their mood.

“The way psychedelics work is by altering the function of the brain. They’re not as addictive as other substances. These are powerful medicines, powerful drugs that can have really powerful therapeutic effects that might be beneficial,” explained Dr. Itai Danovitch, the chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. “But what’s powerfully beneficial can also be seriously harmful, depending on how it’s used.”

For some Southern California veterans, psychedelic drugs have given them their lives back by helping them battle depression and combat the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Maybe not the answer for everyone. In my own personal experience it worked for me,” said 31-year-old Nick Badis, an Army veteran from San Bernardino.

Badis, who diagnosed with PTSD following a tour of duty in Afghanistan, experienced anger, flashbacks and nightmares after coming home.

And while outwardly things might have seemed OK — he landed a job at a top four accounting firm — Badis says he was struggling internally.

“I was starting to kind of isolate and feel like no one knew what I was going through. I didn’t have my tribe of military men anymore,” Badis told KTLA.

He took ayahuasca, a plant-based psychedelic that he said gave him the confidence to follow his dreams of becoming an MMA fighter and pursuing the study of psychology.

Veterans speak out in support of treatments with psychedelics

Badis was one of a number of veterans KTLA spoke with who are advocating for psychedelics to be legalized for use in therapy.

Others told KTLA that, after traditional pharmaceuticals failed to treat their PTSD, they turned to psychedelic retreats in countries where it’s legal, like Costa Rica and Peru.

Former Army Ranger Jesse Gould founded the Heroic Hearts Project to lead such journeys after psychedelics helped heal his PTSD.

To date, Gould has worked with more than 150 veterans.

“They just come to us at the end of their rope,” he said. “On average, the veterans going through their MDMA protocol had been in therapy through the VA for at least 15 years.”

But he still preaches caution, and applicants who want to take part in the international experience are prepped and vetted for months.

One participant, Marine Corps veteran Juliana Mercer, told KTLA it changed her life when she was treated between deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I spent five years with the wounded and every day I absorbed and saw the cost of our country being at war,” she said. “So finding something that actually was working was huge. I’m like a brand new person.”

Studies show effectiveness of therapy with psychedelics

According to Dr. Nick Bruss, a psychotherapist at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, studies have demonstrated that effectiveness of MDMA assisted therapy and other psychedelic assisted therapies.

“Seventy percent of those participants that received MDMA during the story no longer qualify for PTSD,” Bruss said. “The FDA designated it breakthrough therapy status.”

In his private practice, Bruss works with the federally approved ketamine.

While any therapist can legally prescribe the substance, “we want to make sure there’s training and ethical considerations involved,” Bruss said.

And Danovitch, the chair of Cedar-Sinai’s psychiatry departments, cautions that anyone who uses a psychedelic should first undergo a proper assessment by a medical professional.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy actually found psychedelics being considered for PTSD therapies rank among the least harmful drugs.

So why aren’t such treatments legal?

“There’s a certain stigma attached to these medicines,” Bruss explained. That’s changing.”

California bill seeks to decriminalize psychedelics

Some lawmakers in states across the country are hearing the message. In California, a bill to decriminalize psychedelics has been unveiled in the state Legislature, although it has stalled and won’t be debated until next year.

Senate Bill 519 was drafted by California Senator Scott Weiner, a Democrat whose district includes San Francisco.

“We’re going to stop arresting and prosecuting and jailing people for possessing a small quantity of psychedelics for personal use,” Weiner told KTLA.

The legislation would apply to those aged 21 and older would permit them to possess small quantities of psilocybin, psilocyn, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), ibogaine, mescaline, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) for personal use. The bill wouldn’t decriminalize the selling of such substances.

“There is mounting scientific evidence showing that these drugs, which are not addictive, have just massive benefits for literally ending heroin addiction,” Weiner said.

For his part, Danovitch believes the first response to drugs is to treat them as a health issue.

“The cost of criminalizing drugs was often greater than the cost or the risks of the drugs themselves,” he said. “That has led people — really on both sides of the political spectrum — to recognize that the main response to use of drugs should be a health response, not a criminal justice response.”

More information on the topic can be found here.

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