SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Matthew Butler spent 27 years in the military, but it took a day in prison to convince him that his post-traumatic stress disorder was out of control.
The recently retired Green Beret had previously tried antidepressants, therapy and a support dog. But his arrest for punching a hole in his father’s wall after his family tried to stage an intervention in Utah made it clear that none of it was working.
“I had a nice house, I had a great job, whatever, but I couldn’t sleep, I had frequent nightmares, crippling anxiety, I avoided crowds,” he said. “My life was a wreck.”
He finally found some psychedelic drugs and he says they changed his life. “I was finally able to step back and say ‘Oh, I see what’s going on here. I understand now,'” said Butler, now 52. Today his run-ins with the police are over, he is married and reconciled with his parents.
Butler, who lives in suburban Salt Lake City, is among several US state veterans who helped persuade lawmakers to study psychedelic mushrooms for therapeutic purposes.
Conservative Utah 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 federally illegal. A series of cities have also decriminalized so-called magic mushrooms and an explosion of investment money is pouring into the arena.
Experts say the research shows promise for treating conditions ranging from PTSD to quitting smoking, but beware some serious risks remain, especially for people with certain mental health conditions.
Oregon is the only state to date to legalize the therapeutic use of psilocybin, the active psychedelic ingredient in certain mushrooms. But studying them for therapy has made inroads not only in blue states like Hawaii, Connecticut and Maryland, but also in GOP-led Texas, Utah and Oklahoma, which have passed a bill. study by the State House this year.
The progress contrasts with medical marijuana, which Utah lawmakers have refused to allow until a ballot measure helps push it through. However, the proposal to study a wide range of psychedelic drugs was easily adopted this year.
Texas has yet to legalize medical marijuana, but former Republican Gov. Rick Perry helped pass a bill last year to use $1.4 million to fund a psilocybin study for the PTSD treatment.
“The stigma attached to psilocybin and most psychedelics dates back to the 60s and 70s. It was very difficult for them to overcome,” said Democratic Representative Alex Dominguez, who sponsored the bill. “My approach was, ‘Let’s find the group that all parties claim to support.’ And they would be veterans.
He also heard from conservatives like Perry who support the use of psilocybin to treat PTSD – and let advocates on that end of the political spectrum take the lead publicly.
Maryland also gave bipartisan approval to spend $1 million this year to fund alternative therapies for veterans, including psychedelics. The Democratic Patron, Senator Sarah Elfreth, whose district includes the US Naval Academy, noted the spike in suicides among veterans.
“I don’t see the VA taking action any time soon,” she said. “We are at a real crisis level and it is time for states to intervene.”
Psilocybin was decriminalized in nearby Washington, DC, as well as Denver, which decriminalized it in 2019, followed by Oakland and Santa Cruz in California, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Cambridge, MA.
There’s also a lot of venture capital being invested by people who have had positive experiences and are “very motivated” to invest in psychedelics as a treatment, said John Krystal, chair of psychiatry at Yale University.
Rhode Island lawmakers are considering a proposal to decriminalize psilocybin this year, and in Colorado, efforts are underway to get statewide decriminalization on the ballot. But similar measures are stalled in Statehouses elsewhere, including in California and Maine.
The study of psychedelics, however, has grown in popularity. In Oklahoma, a bill by Republican Representatives Daniel Pae and Logan Phillips would legalize psilocybin research.
“I believe research will show that there is a way to use this drug safely and responsibly, and it could save the lives of thousands of Oklahomans,” Pae said in a statement. The bill passed the House last month and is currently pending in the Senate.
It’s a stunning turnaround for a field that captivated researchers in the 1950s and 1960s, before mushrooms and LSD became known as recreational drugs. They were banned by the federal government during the Nixon administration, which brought research to a screeching halt.
New studies, however, have indicated that psilocybin could be useful in treating everything from major depression to alcoholism, said Ben Lewis, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University’s Huntsman Institute of Mental Health. from Utah.
“People refer to this current period as the psychedelic renaissance,” he said. Up to 30% of people with depression are thought to be resistant to current treatments, and there has been little recent progress in drug innovation, he added.
The risk of addiction or overdose is considered low with psychedelics, especially under medical supervision, and although some heart conditions may pose a physical risk, many people’s physical reactions are not dangerous.
But there are serious psychological risks, especially for people with certain forms of mental illness or a family history of conditions like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
“Then it’s possible that a high-dose psychedelic experience could somehow trigger that and lead to lasting mental health issues,” said Albert Garcia-Romeu, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. .
Classic psychedelics include LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, and ayahuasca. Herbal psychedelics have long been used in indigenous cultures around the world.
Today, their therapeutic use at Johns Hopkins is carefully monitored, Garcia-Romeu said. The patients are rigorously selected and generally have at least three appointments: one for the preparation, a second to take the drugs and a third to live the psychedelic experience.
For Butler, the 2018 arrest at his parents’ home was a turning point. He began researching new ways to deal with the PTSD he has suffered from since being deployed six times to Iraq and Afghanistan and working in counter-terrorism and hostage rescue in Somalia for US special forces before retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 2017.
Eventually, he came across ayahuasca, which had long been a part of traditional South American cultures. Last summer, he took part in a ceremony involving the psychoactive brew, overseen by a woman knowledgeable about its effects. She spoke to him as the experience settled in, including a feeling of euphoria, the sight of geometric shapes, and the feeling that he 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 the drug, who understood this subconscious space and understood PTSD. It was as simple as listening to it,” he said.
He credits this single session with having his PTSD about 80% under control, although he occasionally does another one if he finds his symptoms return.
About two-thirds to three-quarters of people in the studies experienced significant improvements in their symptoms, Garcia-Romeu said. These are promising results, particularly for quitting smoking, where current treatments only work for about a third of people, he said.
The Food and Drug Administration designated psilocybin a “breakthrough therapy” in 2018, a label designed to expedite the development and review of drugs to treat serious illness. MDMA, often called ecstasy, also has this designation for the treatment of PTSD.
How quickly states move from study to greater availability remains to be seen. Connecticut has recommended legal medical use only after psilocybin is approved by the FDA, which may take until 2025 or later as the agency works on its process, including the Risk Assessment.
Approval is important for safety as well as access, according to Connecticut’s assessment — without it, many insurance companies likely wouldn’t cover the treatment, leaving it open only to the wealthy.
In Utah, the study team is expected to complete its work in the fall.
“We’ll see what can and can’t be done,” said Republican Rep. Brady Brammer, who sponsored the bill. “If they feel it’s safe, it will be an interesting ride.”
Associated Press writer 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.