The debate over how many veterans are using psychedelics and what their experiences with them reveal about the Vietnam War is being resurrected by an unlikely source: the veterans’ organizations, universities and communities themselves.
In the last month, more than a dozen veterans groups have signed letters or letters of support for recreational use of hallucinogens and psychedelics, ranging from addiction and related disorders to experiences of psychic experiences that were otherwise considered the stuff of legends.
“Although no definitive studies on the effects of new psychoactive substances have been conducted to date, our Nation’s veterans should have the right to experiment with them to ascertain their ability to help us learn how to come to grips with the trauma they endured and live productive lives,” the Navy veterans group Sinfonia wrote in a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier this month. “Letting them conduct these experiments in safety with trained researchers is a reasonable request.”
The University of Pennsylvania’s Combat Ethology Program has scheduled a conference next month on drug testing and research. The School of Social Work at the University of Vermont and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have committed funds to research hallucinogens and their potential therapeutic value. And a number of schools, including San Francisco State, have studied “mindfulness,” an emerging field using mindfulness meditation.
For many veterans, psychedelic use is more than an academic curiosity. Research by well-known veterans over the last few years has found that veterans struggling with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder or addiction to psychedelics find an identity amid the changes in the brain; use of psychedelic drugs over time can help veterans access a more accurate picture of their experiences in combat.
“As an ex-service member who has used psychedelics and/or psychotherapy, there’s no doubt that the body experiences a complex respository of information and that it is possible to work through and challenge these information pathways that can have significance and purpose as a person,” said Tyler Parsons, the founder of Psilocybin Magazine, a journal for veterans, to which he submitted two articles about his experience of self-medicating his PTSD using psilocybin mushrooms and the effects of the drug on his PTSD. “There are plenty of ways to feel as if you’re at a party or a barbecue, but why on earth would you need to take ecstasy when there are different kinds of drugs you can use to get some sort of transcendence?”
Mr. Parsons, the author of a new book on psychedelic experiences, “The Psychedelic Soldier,” said his own experience on psychedelics paralleled his treatment with buprenorphine, a substance used for opioid dependency. Like the author of the new book, “Boundless: Meditation and Psychotherapy with Bernie Sanders,” which discusses the political evolution of Mr. Sanders’s views on psychedelics, Mr. Parsons has been jailed for possession of LSD.
According to a 2016 poll by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, an estimated 4.7 percent of Americans 12 and older had used hallucinogens in the previous year. And overall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveys found that more than 60 percent of veterans had used some form of illicit drug, including 12.5 percent who had tried illicit psychedelics.
In November, a recent Tufts University research team surveyed all comers at the psychedelic festival PsilocybinAMA with hopes of doing some population analysis. “If a small percentage of cannabis smokers show behavioral change, we should consider exploring medical psychedelics,” the study’s lead author, Daniel Goodfriend, a neuroscientist at Tufts, wrote in an e-mail.
“PTSD is one of those conditions — like cancer — where we need access to as many different therapies as possible,” said Mary Jane Smetanka, the author of “Delusions of Grandeur,” a book about her experience with LSD. “Relevant research should be published on both the drugs and the conditions.”