Want to Help Veterans? Listen to AOC on Drug Research

Last week, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposed an amendment that would repeal barriers that prevent medical research on marijuana, psychedelics, and other controlled substances. Although the amendment failed, it brought to light an issue that desperately needs a solution. Under the current drug classification system, drugs that are deemed to have “no currently accepted medical use” and a “high potential for abuse” are prohibited from being used for federally funded research.

Ocasio-Cortez’ amendment should have been supported. If not for research’s sake, then for those suffering from psychological disorders and illness.

Over the past few years, research suggests that some of these drugs may actually have mental health benefits—particularly for veterans. But right now, these new potential medical treatments can’t help anyone because of the DEA’s outdated drug scheduling policy. If Congress is serious about lending a hand to those in need of effective treatment, it’s past time they allow researchers to conduct experiments with the drugs that could very well help them.

It’s a shame our veterans aren’t getting access to new, potentially life-saving medical treatments; they need all the help they can get. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, in any given year, between 11 and 20 percent of veterans who served in Iraq suffer from PTSD, a chronic mental illness that can cause severe depression and even lead to suicide. Notably, it is estimated that 20 veterans die by suicide each day. This makes the need for better treatment options all the more urgent.

But now, drugs that were once believed to have no medical benefits have proven medically useful for a variety of different treatments. Studies show that marijuana can be used to alleviate chronic pain and to treat Glaucoma, symptoms common amongst veterans. Moreover, new research suggests that LSD, ecstasy, and psychedelic mushrooms have the potential to help ease addiction, anxiety, and intense depression. Even heroin and opiates have proven themselves useful as effective addiction treatments by way of drugs such as methadone. In short, the classification process needs updating.

Consider a recent study out of the The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. The research shows that the use of MDMA “produced clinically and statistically significant improvements in PTSD symptoms as measured by standard symptom scales.” Subjects in the study attained a greater-than-30-percent reduction in CAPS scores, the criteria used to assess PTSD, and many no longer met the clinical criteria for PTSD within two months time.

Last August, the American Psychological Association held a symposium to discuss the potential healing effects of psychedelic drugs to treat a variety of mental health problems. Recent research suggests that people with PTSD, and especially people with treatment-resistant PTSD—a form of trauma that makes it difficult to engage in traditional therapy—can greatly benefit from the use of therapeutic psychedelics and drugs with psychoactive properties. Ben Sessa, a consultant addictions psychiatrist at the Imperial College London, writes:

“MDMA reduces the sense of fear that accompanies the recall of traumatic memories, strengthens the therapeutic alliance and decreases avoidance behavior, whilst remaining in a clear-headed and alert state of consciousness.”

Better yet, there’s also some research to suggest that psychedelic treatment can be used to decrease anxiety in autistic adults, alleviate existential depression from cancer patients, assist in treatment-resistant depression and even help with opioid addiction. But we won’t know for sure, of course, until more research is done.

It’s obvious that therapeutic psychedelic research is promising.

Unfortunately, current law prohibits any “activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance on Schedule 1,” which includes research. But as Ocasio-Cortez has correctly pointed out, limiting research on drugs that show medical promise is the wrong approach, and we can’t actually know what drugs have medical promise without conducting research in the first place. We should do away with this catch-22, as it will only prevent the potential discovery of great pain-alleviating treatments that so many U.S. veterans desperately need.

Ocasio-Cortez, of all people, demonstrated leadership on an issue that has too few advocates. Many in Congress—especially the Right—claim to care about our nation’s veterans, so now would be a good time to act like it.

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Anthony DiMauro

Anthony DiMauro is a freelance writer based in New York City. He is an alumni of the National Journalism Center and a student at New York University. He is a Young Voices contributor with an interest in higher education, regulatory policy, and international affairs. You can follow him on Twitter @AnthonyMDiMauro.

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