It is estimated that approximately 10% to 15% of Canadian veterans have been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as other physical and mental health issues that can accompany PTSD. These operational stress injuries (OSIs) should be treated as “moral injuries,” as if the person’s very spirit has been broken, making it impossible for them to make sense of their actions. Canadian veterans commit suicide more, much more, than other Canadians. This fact alone should be enough to mobilize the public authorities responsible, beginning with Veterans Affairs Canada, to engage in relentless, ongoing and urgent research that examines every possibility of alleviating the suffering of veterans who are suffering because they did their duty on our behalf and in our place.
Over the last decade, one such opportunity has emerged with psychedelic-assisted psychotherapies, particularly those using psilocybin and MDMA. Preliminary studies yielded promising results, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs conducted clinical studies that sought to determine whether this type of psychotherapy should be made available to veterans experiencing severe, treatment-resistant symptoms. In July 2023, Australia has authorised psilocybin-assisted therapy in the treatment of cases of depression that are resistant to other treatments, and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of PTSD.
In Canada, Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) adopted a wait-and-see approach when it was given this rare opportunity to explore new treatment options. 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.
For this reason, the Subcommittee is recommending the immediate implementation of a robust research program funded by VAC and the Department of National Defence (DND) in partnership with Health Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and all other relevant partners. 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.
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 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.
Canada must accelerate psychedelic drug therapy research for veterans with PTSD: Senate report
Ottawa – Alarmed by the prevalence of suicide and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in Canadian veterans, the Senate’sSubcommittee on Veterans Affairsis urging federal, provincial and territorial governments to launch and fund a large-scale research program on psychedelic-assisted therapy.
Despite evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of psychedelics, Canada has adopted a “wait-and-see approach” that is failing veterans struggling with major mental health problems, according to the subcommittee’snew report.
About 10% to 15% of Canadian veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD, as well as accompanying physical and mental health issues. Worse, the suicide rate is 50% higher for male veterans than for the general population, 200% higher for female veterans and 250% higher for male veterans under the age of 25, according todata from Veterans Affairs Canada.
The subcommittee heard that military- or combat-related PTSD does not often respond well to psychotherapy and slow-acting antidepressants but that psychedelics such as psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and MDMA can be transformative. Preliminary research is promising enough that definitive research should be launched immediately to confirm their effectiveness. Given the legal restrictions on these substances, large-scale clinical research is currently the only way to make them accessible to veterans who have exhausted other treatment options. Canada owes it to its veterans to explore psychedelic-assisted treatments.
- In July 2023, Australia authorized psilocybin-assisted therapy in the treatment of cases of depression that are resistant to other treatments, and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of PTSD. In Canada, Alberta became the first province to issue guidelines on the use of psychedelics.
- When veterans suffer from physical health and mental health issues associated with military service — such as depression, general anxiety disorder or substance abuse — these issues are known as “operational stress injuries” (OSIs).
- The most common treatment for OSIs is individual or group psychotherapy. Despite the progress of these therapeutic approaches, the OSI and PTSD remission rate is estimated to be 30% to 40%.
“We have heard harrowing stories from veterans who have returned home from conflict zones only to face the darkest moment of their lives. The research into psychedelic-assisted therapy is too promising to ignore. Our veterans sacrifice so much — we must do everything we can to help them.”
– Senator David Richards, Chair of the subcommittee
“For most veterans struggling with PTSD and serious mental health issues, traditional therapy methods are slow, painful and often ineffective. The evidence increasingly shows that psychedelic drugs — when paired with psychotherapy — can offer hope. Our veterans can’t afford to wait any longer for this treatment.”
– Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, Deputy Chair of the subcommittee
- Read the subcommittee’s report,The Time is Now:Granting equitable access to psychedelic-assisted therapies.
- Follow the subcommittee on social media using the hashtag #VEAC.
- Subscribe toemail alerts for Senate committees.
- Sign up for theSenate eNewsletter.
For more information:
Communications Officer | Senate of Canada
343-574-4950 | email@example.com