GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Deployed to Kosovo and Iraq at the start of the first Gulf War, Michael Tuffelmire served with the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army — the most deployed unit of the regular army. The fighting was intense and he lost friends. Tuffelmire remembers having difficulty in returning to civilian life.
“I know I’m not the only guy. I know there are so many guys out there. Marines, Navy guys, friends and family. I think it really opened my eyes to alternative care that could bring about better solutions,” Tuffelmire, of Jenison, said.
Frustrated with an overwhelmed Veterans Affairs mental health system, Tuffelmire is now part of a growing movement among military veterans in several states who are trying to convince lawmakers to further study the use of psychedelic substances like psylocibin mushrooms, LSD and MDMA (more commonly known by street name ecstasy) for therapeutic use.
“Veterans aren’t out there looking to do crazy things. They’re just out there trying to seek some help,” Tuffelmire said. “A lot of them are too proud to ask for help because it is seen as a weakness inside themselves.”
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, about 6% of Americans will be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder at some point in their lives, whether they served in the military or not. Depression, anxiety and suicide continue to haunt troops after their service has ended and finding help can often be difficult, if not impossible.
Recent studies have suggested that just a single dose of psilocybin or MDMA combined with therapy helps patients with PTSD and other mental illnesses. The results have been significant enough that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has designated such treatments as breakthrough therapies. Last year, researchers at the University of Michigan published a study that shows psychedelics have the potential as an alternative treatment option for patients struggling with PTSD.
“There is a lot of buzz around these compounds because of some of the early studies with these compounds have shown promising results,” said Dr. Avinash Hosanagar of the University of Michigan. “We are realizing that they have profound effects on human consciousness and they can have a profound effect on mental health conditions.”
Doctors say that while the risk of addiction or overdose is considered low with psychedelics, especially under medical supervision, experts caution that there are serious psychological risks, especially for people with certain forms of mental illness or a family history of conditions like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
“We are being very careful in terms of how we do these studies. They’re done in highly controlled environments and patients are under the supervision of trained mental health professionals,” Hosanagar said.
Veterans like Tuffelmire say they are anxious for new therapies.
“If these scientists think that there is some headway here, then I am all for trying it,” Tuffelmire said.