Experts involved in Georgia’s evaluation of psychedelic treatment for military veterans will participate in a panel discussion exploring the therapeutic potential of entheogens.
On Saturday, Oct. 22, “Psychedelia: The History and Science of the Mystical Experience” will be screened at the Plaza Theatre — Atlanta's longest continuously operating independent movie theater and a city landmark.
The screening begins at 1 p.m. and will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Rep. Bill Hitchens, Georgia House of Representatives, District 161, Dr. Boadie Dunlop, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University, and Ethan Whitfield, a decorated army veteran and mental health advocate.
The panel will be moderated by Pat Murphy, the director of the “Psychedelia” documentary.
After decades of being outlawed, psychedelics have recently emerged as a promising treatment for a range of mental health issues like anxiety, depression, addiction and PTSD.
In 2018, after a wave of research at institutions like Johns Hopkins University and NYU, the FDA designated psilocybin (the psychoactive compound in “magic mushrooms”) a breakthrough therapy for treatment-resistant depression.
On Aug. 30 of this year, the Georgia House Defense & Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing to explore state funding for an Emory University study on the effects of psilocybin on PTSD among veterans.
Whitfield, along with fellow veteran, Marcus Capone, recently testified during a hearing.
Following multiple combat deployments, both men traveled outside of the U.S. for counseling and treatment of their PTSD with psilocybin after standard drugs failed to treat their severe depression. Both reported instant results following just one “dosing” session.
“I had an overnight change when I experienced the psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy,” said Whitfield, whose military career in the Army spanned over 23 years of service and 16 combat deployments.
"That neuroplasticity from the medicine allowed me to experience my entire life from a different perspective and acceptance of it all,” Whitfield said. “And really give me since then a love of life, a love of myself and just improvement in everything."
“My negative thought patterns and my self-destructive habits of thought changed overnight,” Whitfield told members of the Georgia House Defense & Veterans Affairs Committee.
“I’m experiencing a new way of dealing with stresses in my life. I still experience anger, sadness, anxiety (and) negativity. But they don’t imprison me.”
“I still go through days of depression or anger,” added Capone, co-founder of the nonprofit Veterans Exploring Treatment Solutions. “But now, they only last an hour. I’m able to climb out of them quite quickly.”
Boadie Dunlop, medical director of Emory University’s Health Care Veterans Program, cited studies that have demonstrated the efficacy of psilocybin — known colloquially for decades as “magic mushrooms” — in treating major depressive disorder.
“It induces a state of mental change where one reevaluates one’s experience of the world, one’s connectedness to oneself and others … breaking people out of past patterns of thought,” said Dunlop, who also heads the newly created Center for Psychedelics and Spirituality at Emory.
Dunlop said none of the studies conducted with psilocybin and other psychedelic drugs thus far has focused on veterans, something he hopes to remedy. He said he is working to raise $1.85 million to conduct such a study.
Dunlop said psilocybin is not addictive. In fact, patients treated with the drug are able to kick addictions to the habit-forming drugs typically used to treat depression, he said.
He cited three instances where female patients have stayed off antidepressants for a year after a single dose of psilocybin.
Both Whitfield and Capone said they stopped drinking immediately after being treated with psilocybin.
Dunlop cautioned that treatment with psilocybin must be done in a clinical setting with trained counselors in order for patients to feel safe using the drug.
Haley Zagoria, a graduate student at the University of Georgia working on a master’s degree in public health, told the committee people who experienced “bad trips” using psilocybin generally took the drug on their own with no therapeutic support.
“Even though people have abused this recreationally … this is a discussion we need to have,” said Rep. Heath Clark, R-Warner Robins, the committee’s chairman.
“For people who served their country and suffered dramatically for that, we ought to do everything we can to make sure those people have an opportunity to be normalized in some fashion.”
“Psychedelia” is an hour-long documentary film about psychedelic drugs and their ability to induce mystical and religious experiences. The film chronicles their use in controlled research studies prior to the cultural upheaval of the 1960s, when LSD was regarded as a promising medical breakthrough, as well as their recent reemergence in psychiatry.
Featuring leading experts in the field of psychedelic research, the film tells the story of medical professionals who have reintroduced these compounds into a legal and growing field of study. First-person accounts from a study on end-of-life anxiety explore the profound, life-altering insights psychedelics induce in participants and what these insights might mean for society at large.
To purchase tickets to the 1 p.m. screening and panel discussion on Oct. 22, visit: https://events.humanitix.com/psychedelia-screening-and-panel-atlanta-oct22 .