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It’s Time To Give Our Military The Medicine They Need

Military

Following the American decision to bring their troops home from Afghanistan after some 20 years in that troublesome country, Australia will also soon do the same. After losing 41 Australian lives, 261 wounded in action, facing war crimes allegations and billions of dollars of expense, thousands of our country’s bravest men and women will soon be coming home. Sadly, many of the more than 39,000 soldiers who served in Afghanistan will have varying degrees of post-traumatic stress disorder. This is nothing unique to the ADF. All soldiers everywhere suffer from PTSD. It’s just a question of degree; whether they know it or not.

Imagine the trauma then, when they come to learn that upon their arrival back in the lucky country, how unlucky they are that they still cannot access medicine with an incredibly successful track record in treating PTSD, that is cheap, plentiful and, most importantly, that works.

More than 150 recent empirical studies have shown the remarkable success that the therapeutic use of either psilocybin (the naturally occurring active ingredient in what are colloquially known as ‘magic mushrooms’) and MDMA (known more commonly as ecstasy) can have with people suffering from PTSD. These medicines can assist them in dealing effectively and permanently with the traumas of war. Yet when they return home, our soldiers will not have legal access to these medicines.

Both psilocybin and MDMA remain illegal in Australia and cannot legally be prescribed by doctors for patients, even though more and more people realise that such substances can be of great benefit in dealing with a range of mental disorders including PTSD. They cannot be grown or manufactured in Australia, cannot be imported and cannot be medically prescribed for patients in need, including returning military personnel. Yet they are available through Expanded and Compassionate Access pathways in many of our closest allies, including the United States, Israel, Switzerland and Canada.

Among other critics of the status quo, Dr Simon Longstaff AO, Executive Director of The Ethics Centre says that it is unethical and inhumane to withhold these treatments from those who are suffering. Existing treatments for PTSD lead to remissions in only 5% of patients compared to remissions for 60–80% of those receiving 2–3 medicinal doses of MDMA or psilocybin combined with a short course of psychotherapy.

In a recent trial supervised by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 105 participants (many of whom were veterans and first responders) had been suffering from treatment-resistant PTSD for an average of 18 years. Just three medicinal doses of MDMA with a short course of psychotherapy led to remission in 52% of cases immediately and in 68% of cases at the 12 month follow up.

Brigadier General Sutton, New York City’s Commissioner of Veteran Services said: “If this is something that could really save lives, we need to run and not walk toward it. We need to follow the data.” This same approach should be taken in Australia and inform the recently announced Royal Commission into Veteran Suicide.

Former Defence Force Chief, Admiral Chris Barrie has repeatedly confirmed that psychedelics offer the “only possibility of a cure for post-traumatic stress disorder”.

The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York has launched a new Centre for Psychedelic Psychotherapy and Trauma Research (one of 6 similar Centres recently launched in the UK and USA), to discover novel and more efficacious therapies for PTSD, depression, anxiety, addiction and other stress-related conditions in the veteran and civilian population. The Centre will focus on studying MDMA, psilocybin and other psychedelic compounds.

Think of the immense suffering, mental illness and suicides that could be prevented if our veterans could finally get well through having access to all medicines that could potentially help them. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could lead meaningful and healthy lives contributing their skills and courage to our community?

Our health care system and the services it provides is in many respects the envy of the world. Medicare and private health services provide immediate access to both care and medicine for everyone in need. No one falls through the cracks in this country and no one has to show up in an Emergency Department just to access a doctor, as is the case in one of our closest allies, in particular. We should be justifiably proud of this, but also open to how this remarkable system could be improved.

After all, international laws, including those that have been ratified by Australia clearly recognise the right of everyone to “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”. This must mean that everyone needing effective medical treatment should have access to all medicines that work, including psilocybin and MDMA which are proven to be safer and more effective than existing treatments, particularly when given under professional medical supervision.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration is currently considering rescheduling these medicines, which if successful, will mean that this medicine could then be prescribed by professionally trained doctors for patients that they feel will benefit from its use. It does not mean that these substances will be legal in a recreational sense. However, they will be part of the full medicinal arsenal available to all trained doctors to provide to all people in need, including our soldiers. With mounting pressure, the TGA recently announced an Independent Review on rescheduling both psilocybin and MDMA. A final decision is expected within months, and there is a large and growing chorus of voices who are calling on the TGA to provide medical access to these treatments to prevent further avoidable suicides and suffering.

Mind Medicine Australia and a rapidly growing global network will soon be releasing a short and, what we hope will be widely applied, Declaration on the Right to Universal Access to All Forms of Safe and Effective Medicine which calls upon governments everywhere to make available, to all persons, every reasonably accessible form of safe and effective medicine — regulated only for reasons of safety and efficacy, and then only to the extent strictly necessary.

Many people, and especially our soldiers, simply cannot afford to wait any longer.


Scott Leckie is an international human rights lawyer. Tania de Jong AM is a social entrepreneur and the Executive Director and co-Founder of the charity, Mind Medicine Australia.

This article was originally published by The Spectator on 6th May 2021.

Scott Leckie

Scott A. Leckie is an international Human Rights lawyer, Law Professor and Director and Founder of Displacement Solutions, an NGO dedicated to resolving cases of forced displacement throughout the world, in particular displacement caused by climate change. He also founded and directs Oneness World Foundation (www.onenessworld.org), a think tank exploring questions of world-centric political evolution and new forms of global governance.

He hosts Jointly Venturing, a podcast dedicated to the question of world citizenship, and manages the One House, One Family initiative, an ongoing project in Bangladesh building homes for climate displaced families. He regularly advises a number of United Nations agencies and conceived of and was the driving force behind more than 100 international human rights legal and other normative standards, including UN resolutions – most recently the Peninsula Principles on Climate Displacement Within States. He has written 22 books and over 250 major articles and reports.

Tania de Jong AM

LL.B (Hons), GradDipMus

Tania de Jong AM is a trail-blazing Australian soprano, award-winning social entrepreneur, creative innovation catalyst, spiritual journey woman, storyteller and global speaker. Tania is one of Australia’s most successful female entrepreneurs and innovators developing 5 businesses and 3 charities including Creative Universe, Creativity Australia and With One Voice, Creative Innovation Global, Mind Medicine Australia, Dimension5, MTA Entertainment & Events, Pot-Pourri and The Song Room.

She works across the public, private, creative and community sectors and is passionate about mental health, innovation, diversity and inclusion.  Tania speaks and sings around the world as a soloist and with her group Pot-Pourri releasing twelve albums. She is Founder and Executive Producer of future-shaping events series, Creative Innovation Global.

She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in June 2008. Tania was named in the 100 Women of Influence, the 100 Australian Most Influential Entrepreneurs and named as one of the 100 most influential people in psychedelics globally in 2021. Tania’s TED Talk ‘How Singing Together Changes The Brain’ has sparked international interest. Tania’s mission is to change the world, one voice at a time!

Psychedelic Healing Stories: Michael Raymond

Abstract

 

My name is Michael Raymond. I served in the Airforce for 16 and a half years, serving initially as an Avionics Technician, working on Fighter Jets such as the F-111 and F/A18F Super Hornet. 10 years into my career I commissioned to become an Electrical Engineer Officer and worked on a number of projects, as well as what many refer to as the Australian version of the Pentagon near Canberra. As a side job I also became a Motorcycle Instructor and by the end of my Defence career was regularly coaching the fastest rider group at the Sydney Motorsport Park racetrack. My other passion was martial arts: training and fighting in Boxing, MMA, Shaolin Kung Fu and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

In late 2018, I was medically retired after battling with mental and physical illness, including, Major Depression, Anxiety Disorders and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had been in a state of suppression following some near-death experiences both in and out of service, one including an engine explosion during a flight with the US Airforce, narrowly avoiding impact with the ground and involving an evacuation of Waikiki beach, Hawaii. I managed all my struggles by working myself harder, training harder, pushing my limits more on the motorcycle and drinking on the weekends to blow off the steam. I was also prescribed antidepressants and sleeping medication, some of which I later found out was above the recommended maximum dosage.

Prior to my personal research and experiences with Psychedelic Therapies, I held many negative assumptions and judgements regarding the use of psychedelics which deterred me from any consideration of their healing qualities. I believed they were for party goers or drug abusers who had little interest in being a productive member of society or successful within the professional workspaces. I also had a preconceived notion that they were dangerous, addictive, or may even cause a mental breakdown. It is funny to look back on now.

I also had little understanding of my own sub-conscious behaviours and beliefs, which prevented me from exploring potential avenues for healing, self-love, self-growth and acceptance. I was able to keep everyone at an arm’s length, avoid truly dealing with my deepest fears, traumas, lack of self-worth and unknowingly perpetuate a decline into depression and anxiety, to the point of feeling like suicide was my only reprieve. It was in that darkness and in a failing relationship, my partner at the time convinced me to investigate psychedelic plant medicines and their success with helping people recover from severe depression, as well as other mental illnesses. I was intrigued enough to max out the credit cards and book my flights to South America the next month.

My first introduction to Psychedelic Plant Medicines was Ayahuasca and San Pedro at a healing retreat. We had to follow a regimented routine of preparation both mentally and dietary in order to prepare for the ceremonies with the traditional South American Shaman. This included stopping my anti-depressant medication which had terrible side effects, and I was severely dependent on them for mental and emotional stability. I was very sceptical from the start and held little hope for anything significant to change.

Taking Ayahuasca was life changing for me. I was humbled and vulnerable in the ceremony. The medicine seemed to have a mothering energy, disciplining me with cold hard and undeniable truths but also holding me and supporting me through the emotions which inevitably followed when having them highlighted. I had always struggled to cry and could not understand why a man would show what I perceived as weakness. In these moments of nausea and confronting truths, I let go of my grip of control and had a much-needed release of deep sadness I had been holding for far too long.

The next day I felt renewed. I found my sense of humour which my friends and partner had missed. I was laughing and felt joy and peace with the world for the first time in years. It felt like the weight of the world was no longer on my shoulders. The following ceremonies offered me healing beyond what I could have imagined, they all felt like I was conversing with the wisest parts of myself or some spiritual teacher such as Eckhart Tolle or Alan Watts. It was truly life-changing, and my depression seemed to evaporate. I could see the beauty in living and my self-worth no longer felt conditional. Someone had pressed the reset button on my brain. I was more present and felt this peace within me, the type I only ever glimpsed after riding motorbikes on the racetrack at full speed. My ADHD mind was silenced! It was as if I had defragmented my mind and it was now running beautifully again.

Like any healing modality there is no magic pill to instantly resolve chronic and complex traumas; rather, the healing process is often in layers. On my return from South America this proved true as I faced new and emerging layers of my trauma. Thankfully, I was free from my dependence on anti-depressants after 10 years on them and had shifted the stigma around psychedelic plant medicines. I also now knew I had a way to shift my perspective when my internal program of pessimism, lack of hope and/or purpose had run me into a dead negative dead-end once again. Journeying with plant medicines had revealed my intrinsic worth purely from my existence, and that life is worth living.

After my initial experiences I started to understand that taking the psychedelic plant medicines was only one aspect of the healing. The integration, support, intention and understanding of the medicine all contributed to the success of my recovery from cannabis dependence and mental illness in the long term. When combined with exercise, purpose, community engagement, diet and other healthy lifestyle choices, the results were drastically improved, and I was astonished at how powerfully healing these journeys were.

Having experienced both the Western medicine (anti-depressants, talk therapy psychotherapy) and Psychedelic Plant Medicine approach to my mental health, I reflected on the results. I cannot speak for everyone of course, but for me the difference was significant to the point of wanting to share my story.

If we were to imagine myself as a sick tree, the anti-depressants solution would be in line with building a greenhouse around the tree. It is an externally dependent relationship that did not improve my resilience and only sheltered me from feeling the full brunt of life’s weather patterns. The Psychedelic Therapies approach, however, felt like diving deep into the soil to uncover the origin of what may be causing the sickness; then finding that fundamental issue and taking action to improve the soil and health of the roots system. In doing so improving its resilience. I felt exactly this, more resilience and self-empowerment to take on what life throws at me.

With my community of friends and three of my bothers having served in the military, I am aware there will be many barriers to shifting the stigma around Psychedelic Therapies. I do, however, believe that therapeutic use of Psylocibin and MDMA are a godsend for Veterans who may be dealing with complex traumas, such as PTSD and other mental health issues. If rescheduled, I have no doubt about the positive effects organisations such as Mind Medicine Australia will have on the mental health of so many of those who are suffering within the veteran and wider community. So that they are no longer just surviving life, they are thriving.

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