(CN) — When Andrew Marr left the military in 2015, he no longer felt like the person he was before service. A former college athlete and self-described “warrior,” he suffered from a range of new health issues, including frequent panic attacks.
Veterans Affairs doctors put him on more than a dozen medications. Marr said he saw “zero benefit.”
“I was of no value to my family, myself or anyone around me,” he said in an interview.
The VA labeled him “100% disabled.” He says he improved as he weaned himself off prescriptions, but he worried about unresolved psychological issues. Hearing reports of veterans medicating with psychedelics, he started researching the topic.
In 2016, while on a trip to San Diego, Marr tried 5-MeO-DMT, a federally illegal psychedelic. “It was the most profound experience of my life,” he said. He found a sense of closure around painful moments, including the death of a good friend and fellow veteran.
Spurred on by accounts like these, the Texas Legislature this year is looking at whether psychedelic drugs could provide relief to other veterans. A new bill that sailed through a Texas House vote last week aims to study the issue. It now heads to the state Senate with bipartisan support.
The bill would set up a first-of-its-kind clinical trial on the effects of psilocybin, the compound found in psychedelic mushrooms, on veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. It would also review the effectiveness of other controlled drugs, including MDMA and ketamine.
Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved just two drugs — Prozac and Zoloft — for the treatment of PTSD. But many veterans complain the treatments leave them feeling numb or “zombified” — and even with the prescriptions, many continue to suffer from mood swings, depression and substance abuse.
Around 20 veterans kill themselves every day, said Alex Dominguez, a Democratic lawmaker from South Texas and the main sponsor of the bill. More than 100,000 have died by suicide since 2001, when the War on Terror began.
“This is a two-decade-long war,” Dominguez said in an interview. “There’s a generational loss we’re going to have if we don’t find new and innovative ways of addressing this problem.”
Before joining the Texas House in 2019, Dominguez worked as a prosecutor. In court, he often saw the same veterans “being charged with the same offenses.”
Some were arrested for drug crimes or DUIs as they looked for ways to self-medicate. Others experienced bouts of violent behavior. The steady stream of criminal charges was “really bogging down not just our court system, but people’s lives,” Dominguez said.
Dominguez started exploring the research around psychedelics and trauma. He soon found studies — including a recent one out of Ireland — showing promising results for health issues like depression when psychedelic drugs were combined with therapy sessions.
“Research shows that psychedelics seem to restart the brain,” Dominguez said. He stressed that drugs like psilocybin were not a “silver bullet” but hoped they could help veterans move past trauma.
In conservative Texas, lawmakers have long been cautious about easing rules on federally controlled drugs. During the last legislative session in 2019, they ultimately declined to expand the Texas Compassionate Use Act, the state’s limited version of a medical-marijuana program, to cover veterans with PTSD.
This time could be different. Dominguez’s bill has gained support among both parties and overwhelmingly passed the state House last Thursday with a 134-12 vote. It’s also attracted unlikely supporters, including former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who said in a news conference last month that psychedelic therapies “could save lives.”
“We have in our hands a way to positively affect our future,” Perry said at the news conference, urging lawmakers to “loudly and proudly share with the world what Texas is doing for its veterans.”