Column: Purple Heart veteran with PTSD urges funding for psychedelic drug research
Voting against psychedelic drug therapy research is a vote against the well-being of veterans and everyone else who is suffering from mental health problems.
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This Veterans Day, for the first time in years, I will spend the day free from feelings of guilt, shame or remorse. I will enjoy the day off from classes, relax at the beach and spend quality time with those most important to me.
It is in these moments when I feel connected to the community, the land and my loved ones that I am reminded of how truly special it is to be alive.
More importantly, my outlook on life has dramatically changed from just a year ago, when I spent most of the day trying to not think about the soldiers I know who died both overseas and those who’ve taken their lives since returning home.
I’m currently a 29-year-old graduate student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Prior to graduate school, I enlisted in the U.S. Army from 2010-2013. During that time, I spent 11 months in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where I received a Purple Heart for traumatic brain injury (TBI).
It happened just a month before my 21st birthday, when I was hit by two separate roadside bombs within the short span of only five days. Consequently, surviving these large explosions without losing any of my limbs left me with a false sense of invincibility and a fractured ego. Nine months later, shortly after returning stateside, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after experiencing my first panic attack one morning at work.
There is about a 50% chance that either you or someone you care about will have at least one traumatic experience in their life. A traumatic experience can be defined as many things — from guerrilla warfare, sexual assault, natural disasters, domestic violence to car accidents. Out of the 50% of American adults who do have a traumatic experience, 1 in 12 will develop PTSD.
Furthermore, living with PTSD can be incredibly debilitating, which is why people with PTSD are two to three times more likely to commit suicide, struggle with substance abuse, suffer from anxiety disorders, and have treatment-resistant depression.
I have lost many years of my life to PTSD. At a young age, I experienced a series of difficult events within my own family and community, and like many other soldiers, going to war only made things more challenging.
The truth is that it is not just veterans who are suffering from mental health problems — it’s everyone. Last year, an annual “State of Mental Health in America” reported that “68% of Hawaii adults with a mental illness did not seek out or receive any mental health treatment, a state which happens to hold some of the worst statistics in the nation.” Thankfully, I can say I’m lucky enough to be one of the 32% who did seek out help.
In the last six months, I have undergone a variety of progressive psychiatric treatments with Dr. Thomas Cook of Beyond Mental Health. Of the treatments I have tried, I found ketamine infusions to be the most transformative. During the hour-long infusion, I was able to reprocess events, forgive myself, and felt an overwhelming sense that love is what’s most important in life.
Michael Ziegler, founder of the Chaplaincy Institute notes: “Ketamine’s potential lies in its ability to catalyze individual transformation. The primary effect of ketamine seems to be its ability in recipients to shift their awareness from one fixated mind-state or perspective to a new one.”
Just this past year, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez (D-N.Y.) introduced an amendment that would have allocated federal funding for scientists to research the therapeutic effects of substances such as psilocybin (the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms), MDMA and marijuana. Despite the overwhelming evidence of healing power potential of psychedelic drug therapy, it was voted down, in part, because of partisan politics.
There are too many of us here in Hawaii unnecessarily suffering. People have tough lives and it is reprehensible that any public official has the audacity to deny research and funding for treatments that can improve and save so many lives.
It’s time to hold our officials accountable and demand that they fund research and approval of these treatments. Voting against psychedelic drug therapy research is a vote against the well-being of veterans and everyone else who is suffering from mental health problems.