Research into psychedelic-assisted therapy receives funding in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2024.
In an epoch marked by rapid innovation in mental health treatments, a paradigm shift is on the horizon for the well-being of our armed forces personnel. Psychedelic-assisted therapy has surfaced as an innovative intervention for ailments such as depression, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and—perhaps most widely applicable to military personnel—post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Combat veterans are significantly susceptible to PTSD, and the debilitating impact of PTSD can last a long time.
A 2015 study found that approximately 271,000 U.S. Vietnam War veterans have PTSD more than 40 years after the war. According to research published in 2007 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, upwards to 30.9 percent of U.S. veterans who served in Vietnam conflict and later conflicts such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan experience PTSD attributed to combat.
PTSD is not the only psychological consequence of serving in warzones and sometimes not even the most prevalent. Traumatic brain injury due to blast incidents and other forms of head trauma has been estimated to impact 10 to 20 percent of U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan deployments, and of course, thousands of military personnel experience TBI and PTSD at the same time, leading to severe mental health consequences.
The alarming rates of mental health issues among veterans have captured widespread attention, but emerging clinical trials point to psychedelic treatments as holding out the promise of improved outcomes for those who suffer from mental health challenges, and the U.S. government has acknowledged the potential benefits.
On December 22, 2023, as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2024, the U.S. government has allocated resources towards groundbreaking studies exploring the therapeutic applications of psychedelics—including psilocybin and MDMA—for military service members. This legislation reflects a progressive approach to addressing mental health concerns within the Armed Forces and has received broad bipartisan support.
Funding Clinical Trials
The NDAA establishes a pioneering program designed to fund clinical trials that will investigate the efficacy of psychedelics as therapeutic agents for Armed Forces members. The bill authorizes $10 million for research and development for clinical studies on treatment with psychedelic substances. These trials aim to explore novel treatment modalities for conditions such as PTSD and TBI. This significant investment heralds a new era of medical research, potentially revolutionizing treatment protocols and expanding the scope of effective mental health strategies for those who have served in uniform.
The NDAA’s allocation of funds for clinical trials involving psychedelic substances is an inflection point for the exploration of alternative treatments for mental health issues, particularly PTSD. This could provide military servicemen and servicewomen with additional options beyond traditional therapies. Military personnel suffering from PTSD may gain access to novel therapeutic approaches that involve psychedelic substances. If these treatments prove effective and safe through clinical trials, they could become part of a broader range of mental health interventions.
In essence, the NDAA signals a transformative moment in military healthcare, embracing innovative approaches to address the mental health challenges faced by service members. The focus on psychedelics, collaborative partnerships, and global research initiatives positions the U.S. military at the forefront of progressive mental healthcare. As these provisions are implemented, they pave the way for a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of mental health treatment within the Armed Forces, offering hope for improved well-being and resilience among military personnel.
Allocating funds for psychedelic research in the military could also play a role in altering the public’s view and diminishing the stigma tied to the therapeutic use of these compounds. On December 12, 2023, the industry reached a milestone with the submission of a New Drug Application to the Food and Drug Administration for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of PTSD. Such progress appears to herald the increasing possibility that psychedelic treatments will be integrated into conventional medical practice.
Natasha Sumner and Karen Luong contributed to this article.