SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Matthew Butler spent 27 years in the military, but took a day in jail to convince him that his post-traumatic stress disorder was out of control.
The recently retired Green Beret had already tried antidepressants, therapy and a support dog. But his arrest for making a hole in his father’s wall after his family tried to make an intervention in Utah made it clear that nothing worked.
“He had a nice house, he had a great job, whatever it was, but he couldn’t sleep, he had frequent nightmares, paralyzing anxiety, avoiding crowds,” he said. “My life was a disaster.”
He finally found psychedelic drugs and says they changed his life. “I was finally able to step back and say,‘ Oh, I see what’s going on here. Now I understand, ‘said Butler, now 52. Today her clashes with the police are over, she is happily married and has reconciled with her parents.
Butler, who lives in the Salt Lake City suburbs, is among military veterans in several U.S. states who help convince lawmakers to study psychedelic mushrooms for therapeutic use.
The Utah Conservative has become at least the fourth state in the past two years to approve the study of the potential medical use of psychedelics, which are still illegal at the federal level. A number of cities have also decriminalized so-called magic mushrooms and an explosion of investment money is flowing into the arena.
Experts say the research is promising for treating conditions ranging from PTSD to smoking cessation, but it should be noted that there are some serious risks, especially for those with certain mental health conditions.
Oregon is so far the only state to have legalized the therapeutic use of psilocybin, the psychedelic active ingredient in certain mushrooms. But studying them for therapy has made forays not only into blue states like Hawaii, Connecticut and Maryland, but also Texas, Utah and Oklahoma, led by the GOP, which this year passed a bill of study in the House. of the state.
Progress contrasts with medical marijuana, which Utah lawmakers refused to allow until an election measure helped push it. However, the proposal to study a wide range of psychedelic drugs was easily approved this year.
Texas has yet to legalize medical marijuana, but former Republican Gov. Rick Perry helped pastor a bill last year to use $ 1.4 million to fund a psilocybin study to treat PTSD.
“The stigma associated with psilocybin and most psychedelics dates back to the 1960s and 1970s. It has been very difficult for them to overcome them,” said Democratic Rep. Alex Dominguez, who sponsored the bill. was, “We find the group that all parties say they support.” And that would be veterans. ”
He also heard from conservatives like Perry who support the use of psilocybin to treat PTSD, and let advocates at this end of the political spectrum take the initiative publicly.
Maryland also gave bipartisan approval to spend $ 1 million this year to fund alternative therapies for veterans, including psychedelics. Democratic Sen. Sarah Elfreth, whose district includes the U.S. Naval Academy, noted the increase in suicides among veterans.
“I don’t imagine the VA will act soon,” he said. “We are at a real level of crisis and it is time for the states to take a step.”
Psilocybin has been decriminalized in nearby Washington, DC, as well as in Denver, which decriminalized it in 2019, followed by Oakland and Santa Cruz in California, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Cambridge, Massachusetts.
It also invests a lot of venture capital into people who have had positive experiences and are “highly motivated” to invest in psychedelics as a treatment, said John Krystal, a professor of psychiatry at Yale University.
Rhode Island lawmakers are weighing a proposal to decriminalize psilocybin this year, and in Colorado there is an effort to get statewide decriminalization to the vote. But similar measures have stalled in other state buildings, including California in Maine.
The study of psychedelics, however, has gained more traction. In Oklahoma, a bill from Republican Reps Daniel Pae and Logan Phillips would legalize psilocybin research.
“I think the research will show that there is a way to use this drug safely and responsibly, and that it could save the lives of thousands of Oklahoma people,” Pae said in a statement. The bill was passed in the House last month and is now being considered in the Senate.
It’s an impressive twist to a field that captivated researchers in the 1950s and 1960s, before mushrooms and LSD became known as recreational drugs. They were banned at the federal level during the Nixon administration, which disrupted the investigation.
New studies, however, have indicated that psilocybin could be helpful in treating everything from major depression to alcoholism, said Ben Lewis, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Huntsman Institute for Mental Health. University of Utah.
“People refer to this current time period as the Psychedelic Renaissance,” he said. Up to 30% of depressed patients are considered resistant to current treatment, and there have been few leaps forward in pharmaceutical innovation, he added.
The risk of addiction or overdose is considered low with psychedelics, especially under medical supervision, and although some heart conditions may present a physical risk, the physical reactions of many people are not dangerous.
But there are serious psychological risks, especially for people with certain forms of mental illness or with a family history of conditions such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
“Then there’s the possibility that a high-dose psychedelic experience can trigger it and lead to long-term mental health problems,” said Albert Garcia-Romeu, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Classic psychedelics include LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, and ayahuasca. Plant-based psychedelics have long been used in indigenous cultures around the world.
Today, its therapeutic use in Johns Hopkins is carefully monitored, Garcia-Romeu said. Patients are rigorously examined and usually have at least three appointments: one to prepare, a second to take drugs, and a third to work out the psychedelic experience.
For Butler, the 2018 arrest at his parents ’home was a turning point. He began researching new ways to deal with PTSD that he has suffered since it was deployed six times in Iraq and Afghanistan and worked on the fight against terrorism and the rescue of hostages in Somalia for the Forces. U.S. specials before retiring as lieutenant colonel in 2017.
He eventually came across ayahuasca, a part of the traditional cultures of South America. Last summer, she participated in a ceremony involving psychoactive beer, supervised by a woman who knew its effects. She spoke to him as the experience consolidated, including a sense of euphoria, the sight of geometric shapes, and the feeling that was entering her subconscious.
She told him about her childhood and how the military had shaped her life.
“It was really as simple as having an experienced person who understood medicine, who understood that subconscious space, and who understood PTSD. It was as simple as listening to it,” he said.
He credits this single session with his PTSD around 80% under control, although he occasionally does another one if he finds his symptoms returning.
About two-thirds to three-quarters of people in studies have experienced significant improvements in their symptoms, Garcia-Romeu said. These are promising results, especially for quitting smoking, where current treatments only work for a third of people, he said.
The Food and Drug Administration designated psilocybin as an “innovative therapy” in 2018, a label designed to accelerate the development and review of drugs to treat a serious illness. MDMA, often called ecstasy, also has this designation for the treatment of PTSD.
It remains to be seen how quickly states move from study to wider availability. Connecticut recommended legal medical use only after psilocybin has been approved by the FDA, which may take until 2025 or later as the agency works on its process, including risk assessment.
Approval is important for security and access, the Connecticut assessment said; without it, many insurance companies would probably not cover the treatment, leaving it open only to the rich.
In Utah, the study team is expected to complete its work in the fall.
“Let’s see what can be done and what can’t,” said Republican Rep. Brady Brammer, who sponsored the bill. “If they feel it’s safe, it’s going to be an interesting trip.”
Associated Press writers Brian Witte in Annapolis, Maryland; Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City; Susan Haigh in Hartford, Connecticut, and Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.