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Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

Matthew Butler, who spent 27 years in the military, speaks during an interview on March 30, 2022, in Sandy. Butler is now one of the military veterans in several U.S. states who are helping to persuade conservative lawmakers to take cautious steps toward allowing the therapeutic use of hallucinogenic mushrooms and other psychedelic drugs.

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Matthew Butler spent 27 years in the military but it took a day in jail to convince him that his post-traumatic stress disorder was out of control.

The recently retired Green Beret had already tried antidepressants, therapy and a support dog. But his arrest for hitting a hole in his father’s wall after his family tried to stage an intervention in Utah made it clear that nothing worked.

“I had a nice house, I had a great job, whatever it was, but I could not sleep, I had frequent nightmares, crippling anxiety, avoiding crowds,” he said. “My life was a ruin.”

He eventually found psychedelic drugs and says they changed his life. “I finally managed to pull back and go, ‘Oh, I see what’s going on here. “I understand now,” said Butler, now 52. Today his clashes with the police are over, he is happily married and has reconciled with his parents.

Butler, who lives on the outskirts of Salt Lake City, is among military veterans in several U.S. states helping to persuade lawmakers to study psychedelic fungi for therapeutic use.

Conservative Utah has become at least the fourth state in the past two years to approve the study of the potential medical use of psychedelics, which are still federally illegal. A number of cities have also decriminalized so-called magic mushrooms and an explosion of investment money is pouring into the arena.

Experts say the research is promising for treating conditions ranging from PTSD to smoking cessation, but caution remains some serious risks, especially for those with certain mental health conditions.

Oregon is by far the only state to legalize the therapeutic use of psilocybin, the active psychedelic ingredient in some fungi. But their study of therapy has taken steps not only in blue states like Hawaii, Connecticut and Maryland, but also GOP-led Texas, Utah and Oklahoma, which passed a study bill through the State House this year.

Progress contrasts with medical marijuana, which Utah lawmakers refused to allow until a vote helped push it. However, the proposal to study a wide range of psychedelic drugs passed easily this year.

Texas has not yet legalized medical marijuana, but former Republican Gov. Rick Perry helped use a $ 1.4 million bill last year to fund a psilocybin study to treat PTSD.

“The stigma associated with psilocybin and most psychedelics dates back to the 1960s and 1970s. It has been very difficult for them to overcome it,” said Democrat MP Alex Dominguez, who sponsored the bill. “My approach was, ‘Let’ s find the group that all parties claim to support. ‘And they would be veterans.”

He also heard from conservatives like Perry who support the use of psilocybin to treat PTSD – and allowed lawyers from that end of the political spectrum to take the lead publicly.

Maryland also gave bipartisan approval to spend $ 1 million this year to fund alternative therapies for veterans, including psychedelics. Democratic sponsor Sen. Sarah Elfreth, whose district includes the U.S. Naval Academy, noted the rise in suicides among veterans.

“I do not expect VA to act soon,” she said. “We are at a real level of crisis and it is time for states to grow.”

Psilocybin has been decriminalized in Washington, DC, as well as in Denver, which decriminalized it in 2019, followed by Oakland and Santa Cruz in California, Ann Arbor, Michigan and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

There is also a lot of entrepreneurial capital being invested by people who have had positive experiences and are “highly motivated” to invest in psychedelics as treatment, said John Krystal, chair of psychiatry at Yale University.

Rhode Island lawmakers are weighing a proposal to decriminalize psilocybin this year, and in Colorado an effort is being made to get nationwide decriminalization on the ballot. But similar measures have stalled in state-owned homes elsewhere, including California and Maine.

However, the study of psychedelics has gained more traction. In Oklahoma, a bill by Republican MPs Daniel Pae and Logan Phillips would legalize research on psilocybin.

“I believe research will show that there is a way to use this drug safely and responsibly, and it could save the lives of thousands of Oklahoma residents,” Pae said in a statement. The bill was passed in the House of Representatives last month and is now under consideration in the Senate.

It is a stunning turn for a field that fascinated researchers in the 1950s and 1960s, before fungi and LSD became known as recreational drugs. They were outlawed federally during the Nixon administration, ending the search.

However, new studies have shown that psilocybin can be helpful in treating anything from major depression to alcoholism, said Ben Lewis, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Utah Huntsman University’s Institute of Mental Health.

“People are referring to this time period as the psychedelic renaissance,” he said. Up to 30% of patients with depression are considered resistant to current treatment and there have been few steps forward in drug innovation, he added.

The risk of addiction or overdose is considered low with psychedelics, especially under medical supervision, and while some cardiac conditions may pose a physical risk, the physical reactions of many people are not dangerous.

But 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.

“Then there is the possibility that a high-dose psychedelic experience could cause it and lead to long-term mental health problems,” said Albert Garcia-Romeu, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Classic psychedelics include LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, and ayahuasca. Plant-based psychedelics have long been used in indigenous cultures around the world.

Today, their therapeutic use in Johns Hopkins is closely monitored, Garcia-Romeu said. Patients are rigorously examined and usually have at least three appointments: one to prepare, a second to receive medication, and a third to cope with the psychedelic experience.

For Butler, the 2018 arrest at his parents’s home was a turning point. He began exploring new ways to deal with the PTSD he has suffered since settling six times in Iraq and Afghanistan and working on counterterrorism and hostage rescue in Somalia for the US Special Forces before retiring as a lieutenant colonel. in 2017.

He finally encountered ayahuasca, a long part of traditional cultures in South America. Last summer, he attended a ceremony involving psychoactive drinking, supervised by a woman known for its effects. She spoke to him as the experience began, including a sense of euphoria, the appearance of geometric shapes, and a sense that he was entering his subconscious.

She told him about his childhood and how the army had shaped his life.

“It was really as simple as having an experienced person who understood medicine, who understood that subconscious space and understood PTSD. “It was as simple as listening to him,” he said.

He estimates that single session for getting his PTSD about 80% under control, though he occasionally does another one if he finds symptoms of his return.

About two-thirds to three-quarters of people in the studies experienced significant improvements in their symptoms, Garcia-Romeu said. These are promising results, especially for smoking cessation, where current treatments only work for about a third of people, he said.

The Food and Drug Administration designated psilocybin an “advanced therapy” in 2018, a label that was created to accelerate the development and revision of drugs to treat a serious condition. MDMA, often called ecstasy, also has that designation for treating PTSD.

How quickly states move from study to wider availability remains to be seen. Connecticut recommended legal medical use only after psilocybin is approved by the FDA, which could last until 2025 or later as the agency works through its process, including risk assessment.

Approval is important for security as well as access, said the Connecticut assessment – without it, many insurance companies would likely not cover the treatment, leaving it open only to the wealthy.

In Utah, the study team is expected to complete its work in the fall.

“We will see what can and cannot be done,” said Republican MP Brady Brammer, who sponsored the bill. “If they feel safe, it will be an interesting journey.”

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