Canadian military veteran seeks legal access to psilocybin to heal wounds of war

Psychedelics company Field Trip supports Scott Atkinson’s request for exemption from Canada’s drug laws

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Scott Atkinson served two tours in war-torn Afghanistan, and left the military as a master corporal. Photo at left by Devonyu/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Scott Atkinson left the battlefields of Afghanistan more than a decade ago. The Canadian veteran now wages a different war, a fight to heal himself.

This all goes back when he returned home “with anger”.

“I was full of anger, and I didn’t know how to take care of it, you know,” Atkinson told CannCentral in a phone interview from Smiths Falls, a town outside Ottawa.

“The guilt from things that may have happened. So many things,” the military veteran added.

His emotional wounds exacted a heavy price.

“I put myself through a lot, not admitting my mental health injuries,” Atkinson related. “And I was drinking for a long time. I was using opiods to try to stop the pain.”

His suffering also hurt the ones he loves.

“It took a toll on my family, on my wife, on my children,” Atkinson said.

Many of his comrades-in-arms went and continue to go through this kind of mental ordeal. Some veterans have fallen.

“I saw so many friends took suicide just in the last year, year-and-a half,” Atkinson said.

He left the Canadian military with the rank of master corporal. He joined in 1992, and hang up his uniform in 2018.

The former infantryman did one tour in the former republic of Yugoslavia. He did two in Afghanistan.

“If you look at my whole career, I probably have 15 to 20 close friends that have committed suicide,” Atkinson said. “I don’t want to see that with more friends.”

Psychotherapy with Field Trip

Atkinson currently lives on a military veteran’s pension.

He also related that he spends time with a group that he identified as Vanguard Wellness. This outfit connected him with Field Trip, a psychedelics company based in Toronto.

With Field Trip, Atkinson has found new buddies in his quest to heal himself. The company supports his application for exemption under Canada’s drug laws to use psilocybin, a banned substance.

Psilocybin is the hallucinogenic chemical found in so-called magic mushrooms or Psilocybe. Proponents say the substance increases a person’s sense of optimism. Moreover, it’s touted to promote well-being, and reduce negative feelings. Studies also indicate that psilocybin lowers anxiety and depression.

Atkinson needs all the help he can get.

He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, treatment resistant depression, treatment resistant generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder with agoraphobia, and chronic pain syndrome, according to a Field Trip media release.

If Atkinson gets legal access to psilocybin, however, he will undergo psychotherapy in Toronto under the supervision of Dr. Michael Verbora, medical director of Field Trip.

Ontario lawyer Ronan Levy cofounded the company, where he serves as executive chairperson.

“Of anyone, with his valour and distinguished career, Master Corporal Atkinson is certainly amongst the most deserving to be given this exemption,” Levy said in the release.

That depends on federal Minister of Health Patty Hajdu. The minister has the power to grant an exemption under Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. She can do this for medical or scientific purposes, or if she deems it to serve public interest.

Prospective groundbreaking exemption

In the media release, Field Trip stated that if granted, this would be the first Section 56 exemption to a Canadian military veteran.

Also, it would be the first granted to a Canadian without a terminal illness or not in palliative care.

In August 2020, Hajdu granted exemptions for four terminally-ill patients to use psilocybin to ease their end-of-life distress.

“Also, if approved, the application will open the door for Canadians and other military veterans to pursue access psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy,” according to Field Trip.

In the interview with CannCentral, Atkinson said that he has written Hajdu for such an exemption.

“In Afghanistan, we were mortared and bombed everyday,” he related.

There was a lot more that he saw and did.

“I was with the forward operating guys, who called in a lot of fire missions and everything,” Atkinson said.

Soldiers returning from war to reintegrate themselves in peace don’t have it easy.

“You come back home to Vancouver or Toronto, and it’s supposed to be normal,” Atkinson said with a chuckle. “It’s really hard.”

Victory is sometimes difficult to measure in a war.

Not, however, for Atkinson in his new battle.

“Now I’m working to heal myself, but it’s always going to be healing the relationship with my wife and children,” the father of two young adults said.

Follow Carlito Pablo on Twitter @carlitopablo

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