The Heroic Hearts Project UK (HHPUK) have this week announced a world-first observational study on the psychological and physiological effects of psilocybin on veterans with traumatic brain injury. HHPUK will partner with Imperial College London to provide veterans with a unique legal pathway to psychedelic-assisted therapy through a retreat in the Netherlands from August 2021; Simultaneously, the US-branch of the non-profit will be conducting a retreat in Jamaica.

Volteface spoke to Heroic Hearts Project UK Research Director, Grace Blest-Hopley PhD, who describes the study as an “amazing” expansion of the way we treat head trauma and psychological conditions like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans.  

The study hopes to add to the “largely anecdotal” and limited evidence-base of psilocybin’s effects on traumatic brain injury developed through head trauma, with a majority of current research focussed on the beneficial psychological impacts as opposed to the physiological. Improvement in cognitive function and behaviour will be a particular focus of the study, assessed via measurable outcomes like questionnaires, interviews, and a mix of individual and group therapy sessions to continue up to 6 months after the initial retreat. 

HHPUK has aspirations of further studies, retreats, and ease of ability to offer ayahuasca, psilocybin, and ketamine-based therapy to veterans, but is currently restricted by the UK’s classification of these substances as Schedule 1 which currently rigidly limits their use in scientific and medical research. Despite this, Blest-Hopley is optimistic, stating that the project is “doing what we can now [to] just get out there and start offering treatment”. She emphasised the potential of the veterans to act as “advocates” and an “emotive voice to show the government why we need to reconsider the classification of [psychedelic] medicines and therapies”, which she considers essential for drug policy reform in this space. 

She also underscores the importance of the continued positive effects of the retreat, describing their potential to encourage veterans to “become part of an alumni, a community” “that will give them a support group that they can reach out to at any point in the future”. She explained that the military’s zero tolerance policy toward drug use often renders psychedelic-assisted therapy a highly stigmatised practice in the veteran community, so a key part of HHPUK’s work lay in “changing the minds of veteran communities”. 

With a new US-based study reporting that the number of deaths by suicide of active duty military personnel has exceeded the number of deaths in combat fourfold since 9/11, the need for immediate intervention to reduce the number of lives tragically lost after combat is striking. By expanding research and changing minds, the Heroic Hearts Project hopes to do just that. 

For veterans interested in participating in a retreat and individuals interested in sponsoring veterans’ participation, visit https://www.heroicheartsuk.com/register for more information.

This piece was written by Issy Ross, Content Officer at Volteface.

Photo credit:  www.hkherbarium.net/magic-mushrooms/ 

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