A new research program spearheaded by Heroic Hearts Project is investigating the potential therapeutic effects of psilocybin on veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
Heroic Hearts Project, in collaboration with Imperial College London and Beckley Retreats, has recently announced an ambitious research program aimed at studying the physiological and psychological effects of psilocybin — the psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms — ceremonies on veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). This groundbreaking initiative takes a naturalistic observational approach, following a group of 40 veterans through a week of healing activities, including psilocybin sessions, to explore the potential benefits of psychedelics in addressing TBI symptoms.
Traumatic Brain Injury, commonly referred to as TBI, is a condition resulting from severe head trauma that disrupts normal brain function. In the context of veteran populations, TBI often occurs as a result of combat-related injuries or blast exposures. It can lead to a wide range of symptoms, including cognitive impairments, memory difficulties, mood disturbances, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The research program spearheaded by Heroic Hearts Project brings together esteemed partners, including Imperial College London and Beckley Retreats. Imperial College London is renowned for its pioneering work in psychedelic research, while Beckley Retreats offers a science-backed psilocybin retreat service under the guidance of the Beckley Foundation, a UK-based nonprofit with a rich history in psychedelic research.
In contrast to traditional clinical trials, this program adopts a naturalistic observational study design, providing valuable insights that will complement the findings of controlled trials investigating the therapeutic potential of psilocybin.
The participants, veterans with TBI, will undergo an immersive week-long experience at a psilocybin retreat in Jamaica, where psilocybin is not a controlled substance. Throughout the week, participants will engage in group activities, including two psilocybin sessions in groups of ten to twelve individuals.
Unlike traditional clinical trials where some participants receive a placebo (a non-active substance), in this study, all participants will receive psilocybin. This approach makes it harder to determine the specific effects of psilocybin because there is no control group for comparison.
According to Grace Blest-Hopley, a research associate at Kings College London and research director of Heroic Hearts who recently spoke to Lucid News, psychedelics and placebos exhibit some similarities in their mechanisms of action, although their specific effects differ; the researchers will assess participants' belief in psilocybin's therapeutic potential, acknowledging both the limitations and strengths of this approach in capturing subjective experiences without the strict protocols of clinical trials.
The researchers will use different tools to measure the effects of the treatment and determine the extent of the participant’s brain damage. One of these tools is called EEG measurement. EEG stands for “electroencephalography,” which is a way to measure the electrical activity in the brain. It involves placing small sensors on the scalp to detect the brain's electrical signals.
By doing EEG measurements at the beginning and end of the week, the researchers can get information about the brain's activity and see if there are any changes over time. The researchers will also be measuring the effects of psilocybin on PTSD and depression symptoms.
The founder and president of Heroic Hearts, Jesse Gould, was motivated by veterans' accounts of using psilocybin for therapeutic purposes and noticing a reduction or complete alleviation of their TBI symptoms. Inspired by these stories as a former army ranger himself, Gould embarked on a fundraising effort four years ago, which culminated in the recent announcement of the research program.
Prior to the retreat, participants will undergo personalized preparation sessions to get them ready for the psilocybin experience which will be held in a beautiful natural setting. The program involves group discussions, sharing intentions, structured psilocybin ceremonies with precise dosages, and incorporating integration practices like breathwork, yoga, and mindfulness to help.
According to Gould, there will also be group therapy sessions taking place after the psilocybin experience. Integration group therapy sessions can provide a supportive environment for participants to reflect on their experiences, process and integrate insights and emotions into their daily life, and give participants the opportunity to engage in mutual support.
Heroic Hearts Project's collaboration with Imperial College London and Beckley Retreats marks a significant step forward in exploring the effects of psilocybin on veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury. By adopting an observational study design and combining scientific research with a holistic healing approach, the program seeks to provide valuable insights into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
As this research unfolds, it offers hope for a potentially effective alternative treatment for veterans and others affected by Traumatic Brain Injury.
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