Updated: Jun 24, 2020
Nearly 1/2 of all veterans have issues with chronic pain.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects nearly 10% of all Afghanistan and Dessert Storm (Iraq) veterans.
People with PTSD are 4-times more likely than those without to develop substance use disorders.
66% of service members see military culture as supportive of heavy drinking.
9% of all people experiencing homelessness on any given day are veterans.
Our cultural heroes have a lot to balance. The more tools we can offer them, the better.
The trauma we all experience becomes the stuff of who we are. The fight you got into in 8th grade; the car accident in college; the loss of a loved one; the terror of a bully--these events form the framework of our identities. We are our Brains.
For some of us, trauma is an open-book. But for many of us, trauma blocks our pathway, hinders our progress, and blows up our well-planned life with anxiety, depression or panic. Veteran trauma has long been recognized as a common hurdle to getting back to life as usual. It's been called different things: shell shock, soldier's heart, battle fatigue, and most recently, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In the USA, we love our service members--you can hardly walk down the street in uniform without strangers chanting thank you for your service. Many service members dislike this bottled response--they prefer you get to know them before issuing Paplov's compliment.
But the auto-respect that we have for troops means that we are down to help them when they need help. It is difficult to get approval to study the positive potential of drugs like MDMA, LSD, psilocybin, or cannabis--drugs with stigmas and social taboos. But a group of veterans awaiting approval to take their illegal pill in the land of the free is a wild-card--it tips the scale in favor of researchers whose work might otherwise be dismissed as unimportant.
We are currently witnessing the second chapter of the psychedelic renaissance, and the wave is rapidly growing. Research is finally being funded and approved for MDMA (ecstasy, molly), LSD (adic), mescaline (peyote), psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and other nontraditional drugs. If you have been following the show, you know that these treatments are blowing the lid off of traditional psychotherapy. Dr. Hunniecutt talks about some of this research in episode 6.
Since most of these drugs were only made illegal once the stoners and hippies started bragging about our trips, researchers are attempting to avoid the old stereotypes by embracing the language of medicine while avoiding the "turn on, tune in and drop out" messages of past cultural icons (like Tim Leary).
The system is threatened when people think about dropping out of it. But putting veterans at peace after they have served their country--it doesn't get much more patriotic (system-supporting) than that! One of these ideas is scary; the other is soothing. Our cultural system is built to elicit these responses, and researchers are using that to their advantage.
But there is a danger with this approach. We stand the risk of leaving behind the crack smokers, heroin booters, and meth poppers. If we move MDMA from the dope house to the doctor's office, but we keep cocaine and heroin on the streets, then we will continue to watch 60,000 drug users overdose and die every year while new prisons continue to be built to house people who are not yet addicted.
Perhaps the small steps we are making warrant this approach, but my people will suffer--those who are called junkies, dope fiends, criminals and pariahs. As the political powers begin to accept the research and update the status of psychedelics to allow those with wealth to obtain them legally, the crack smoker and meth injector might lose an ally in their battle for legal access. We might wind up making things much worse by making them just a little bit better.
And yet there is no other option within the system, aside from apathy. The machine is built to provide privileges to certain *groups of people, and to make that process seem automatic and invisible--it has to seem natural when you say, thank you for your service, or the illusion fails. The language of medicine may be the only path forward in an ongoing war on drugs.
It's worth keeping this in mind as we slowly wedge our stubborn culture further away from its longstanding stance of not-giving-a-fuck about addicted people.
In this episode, Dr. Hunniecutt and I also discuss mindfulness, religion as a drug, and whether or not we might already be in a second Civil War.
Check out episode 6.