A growing army of struggling combat veterans have used magic mushrooms to overcome post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), The Ferret can reveal.
Former soldiers – who were left desperate by the failure of current treatments – have turned to psilocybin to deal with the psychological effects of their trauma.
Now, veterans, academics, doctors and politicians are among the voices calling for the UK Government to reclassify this form of psychedelic.
Psilocybin – a naturally occurring substance whose effects lasts for a number of hours – is still categorised as a Schedule 1 drug alongside substances such as crack cocaine and heroin.
But one former lance corporal, who served in the Parachute Regiment in Afghanistan, told The Ferret the drug transformed his life after he started to struggle with his mental health when he left the armed forces.
He said: “My service in the military remains one of my proudest achievements. I deployed to Afghanistan early in my career at the age of nineteen.
“I remember my time in country as both exhilarating and terrifying. Upon my return to the UK, I was a very different person to the one who had left.
“This was immediately obvious to my family however it was not at the time obvious to me.
“My experiences had highlighted the need for situational awareness and constant vigilance.
“I became more withdrawn and more focused on my military career. Crowded places gave me a sense of unease and I would often become angry over trivial issues.”
Some five years after he returned from Afghanistan, he left the army and signed up to an access to higher education course in college.
He said: “The nightmares started first and within a month of my discharge. They were vivid and brought back emotions I had long since forgotten.
“Sometimes situations I remembered were replayed, other times they were more abstract but no less disturbing. The uneasiness I felt in crowded spaces became more of a gripping fear and eventually complete avoidance.
“I withdrew even more socially and since all my close friends were still serving, the support network I had relied upon my whole adult life ceased to exist.
“Eventually I chose to avoid sleeping as much as possible, I tried to ‘reg it out’ [grit your teeth and keep going] as we used to say in my unit.
“The anxiety became a source of embarrassment and I was often ashamed of my fear. I did not want people to know how scared I had been in Afghanistan and I did not want them to know how scared I still felt.
“The shame built and my behaviour became more erratic. I felt at the time that I had failed myself and all those around me by being unable to adjust to life outside the military.”
His girlfriend eventually convinced him to seek help from his GP and he was eventually diagnosed with PTSD.
He was offered antidepressants and waited months for a referral to a mental health team. When he finally saw the team they also offered to prescribe antidepressants and explained that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) might help.
But the lance corporal said he did not want to take the medication. “I refused the antidepressants as the idea of being reliant on a drug did not sit well with me. I decided CBT was the best choice and was then placed on a waiting list with an estimate of three months.”
By now his attendance at college had reduced to 50 per cent, he longer wanted to leave the house and work became “extremely challenging”.
“I had started to consider suicide and these thoughts scared me but at the same time would not cease,” he added.
It was then that he started researching psilocybin having heard that it could help with the symptoms of PTSD while working in America and began researching the substance.
He said: “As this was a class A drug in the UK I decided to travel to the Netherlands in order to try some. I could not afford to undertake the therapeutic psilocybin packages that I found advertised and so I conducted my self-medication in a hotel room with my partner present.
“The effects of psilocybin are hard to describe however I became aware of how narrow my perception of myself and of the world had been.
“Before that experience I knew in principle that a lot of my anxieties were unfounded, I knew the guilt and shame I felt did not necessarily represent what those I loved felt towards me, however those feelings would still persist no matter how I reasoned them away.
“Afterward though I felt it was true. I felt that my fears were unfounded, I felt that my shame and guilt had become misplaced and that my memories of Afghanistan, although still present, did not warrant those emotions.
“I was worried that the effects would not last when I returned to the UK, but they did. My nightmares faded away and my anxiety dissipated. I completed my access course with a distinction in every subject.
“Those two doses were enough to set my life back on track. I believe psilocybin has massive medicinal potential and that its prohibition means many veterans who struggle with PTSD are being denied a safe and effective treatment option.
“This is a medicated experience which has long term therapeutic effects, even after the drug has left the system. With further research, solid evidence can be gathered and formulated.
“I believe this is time critical, veterans are dying and treatment options are limited. The sooner research is conducted the sooner this drug may be used to save lives.”
Photo credit: iStock/eskymaks