The Canada Senate Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs held a press conference on Nov. 8 to talk about its newest report on psychedelic-assisted therapy. Entitled “The Time is Now: Granting equitable access to psychedelic-assisted therapies,” the report calls for “immediately launch and fund a large-scale research program on psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy for treating those mental disorders and other conditions that have been identified as potentially being therapeutic targets for these types of interventions.”
The report stated that 10-15% of Canadian military veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among other ailments both physical and mental in nature. Many of them suffer what the report described as “moral injuries, as if the person’s very spirit has been broken, making it impossible for them to make sense of their actions.” Due to this, many veterans are more likely to commit suicide than non-veterans.
Research regarding the use of psilocybin and MDMA has grown in recent years, but the Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) has employed a “wait-and-see” approach to psychedelic-assisted therapies, and so the subcommittee demands that a new course of action be taken. “The Subcommittee believes that the Department’s position is ill-suited to the leadership role it should be taking on, wherein it should be doing everything in its power to improve the health of veterans, particularly those who have exhausted all the treatment options available to them,” the report stated in the executive summary.
The subcommittee’s recommendation includes a research program funded by VAC, the Department of National Defence, and partnering with Health Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and more. “This approach would ensure, first of all, that those veterans most likely to benefit from it are given access to treatment with the best scientific support available, and second of all, that the initial findings on the effectiveness of this treatment for veterans are either proven or qualified,” the report stated.
The report explained the government has a moral obligation to seek out any opportunity to help its veterans, even if the results may vary. “Research on these subjects is constantly evolving and will continue to do so. No one can predict whether progress will be spectacular or whether there will be setbacks. What we know today is that there is no reason to wait for results from other countries, because the results would still need to be confirmed for our veterans,” it stated. “It is the Government of Canada’s duty to assure veterans that it is doing everything in its power, immediately, to respect its solemn commitment to support, at any cost, those who chose to defend us with honour.”
The subcommittee included a variety of quotations from veterans, professors, and researchers, regarding the risks and benefits of psychedelic-assisted therapy. One of its primary points shared is that there is not enough research to test its efficacy, and there’s a lot that researchers still don’t know about substances like psilocybin and MDMA.
“Therefore, it is paramount to find an appropriate balance between providing timely access to these new treatments for those who are the most likely to benefit from them and doing so in a safe and professional context governed by the strictest ethical and professional rules,” the subcommittee added.
The report cites information provided by Health Canada Associate Assistant Deputy Minister Shannon Nix, specifically nine clinical trials for MDMA, three psilocybin research efforts, and one focusing on ketamine for PTSD are currently underway and authorized by Health Canada.
However, there appears to be some discrepancy regarding the progress of some of these approved research projects. The MDMA research effort under the Special Access Program had “44 approvals and 58 patients,” according to Health Canada Pharmaceutical Drugs Directorate Director General Karen Reynolds, but “none of the 11 applications for MDMA were approved.” Reynolds explained that the inconsistency was due to not having a source of pharmaceutical-grade MDMA. “The fact that there is no source of safe product is also a barrier for those calling for accessibility to be expanded immediately,” the report said in response.
Alongside many more examples in support of expanding substance research, the report reiterates the necessity of exploring every treatment option for the country’s veterans. “These veterans are suffering because they rose to the highest calling of our nation. In return, Canadian decision-makers should do everything in their power, explore every avenue, leave no stone unturned, in case even one is hiding a wisp of a solution that could help them improve their daily lives,” the report stated. “Let’s tackle this problem with all available resources, motivated by their despair. What could be more important than that?”
Numerous studies conducted in the U.S. have also shown the effectiveness of substances like MDMA and psilocybin for treating military veterans. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Substances (MAPS) recently unveiled information about its Phase 3 Trial for MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD. According to MAPS’s research, 86% of study participants improved on their standard PTSD assessment, while only 69% of participants from the placebo group saw improvement.
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