Andrew Yang announced on May 27 that if elected to the office of mayor of New York City, he would personally push to invest in veterans and allow the use of psychedelic therapies for those suffering from disorders such as depression, suicide, homelessness and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Yang’s plan would create a partnership between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, New York City hospitals and local universities.
The New York Post first reported on Yang’s blueprint toward utilizing psychedelic therapies for veterans—which includes the legalization of certain substances in controlled medical settings, including psilocybin mushrooms and 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). Cannabis would also fall under psychedelics.
Amid a recent boost in funding for the city’s agency responsible for assisting veterans, Yang plans on taking advantage. New York City’s FY 2021 city budget sets aside nearly $7 million for the Department of Veteran Services—but Yang wants to boost that to $10 million, according to the campaign.
Yang’s grand plan—the first veterans-specific platform among the current pool of major New York City mayoral candidates—would also include a goal to set aside five percent of city jobs and contracts for military veterans. Yang’s plan also includes allocating $2 million for legal services for veterans who fall below the poverty line.
“As Americans, we owe those who enlisted to fight for our country a great debt, and as New Yorkers, we have the power not only to pay that debt, but put them front and center to help drive our city’s recovery,” Yang said in a statement. “For decades, our city has failed the veterans who live here and suffer from staggeringly disproportionate rates of homelessness, mental health issues and suicide,” he added. “As mayor, I am going to recognize that investing in our veterans is an investment in the future of our city.”
Additionally, Yang plans on building a veterans memorial in Battery Park, and instituting a program in which city workers can attempt to connect veterans with city services available to them. The idea was based on a similar project in Boston, Massachusetts called Operation Thank-a-Vet.
One perk of alternative psychedelic therapies is a way out of opioid addiction—a plague especially pervasive in the veterans community. Veterans who’ve seen combat are prone to co-occurring disorders, such as depression or PTSD combined with prescription opioid drug addiction. “Opioid addiction infuriates me—as it does many other Americans,” Yang told High Times in 2020, “when you have this plague that was catalyzed by Purdue Pharma and these big drug companies that profited to the tune of billions of dollars.”
Yang’s plan would challenge the current model defined by large pharmaceutical companies by introducing alternatives for difficult-to-treat disorders that are common in veterans.
What Does Science Say About Psychedelic Therapies for Veterans?
A growing body of evidence supports the theories that psychedelic therapies like psilocybin mushrooms, MDMA and cannabis may prove to be effective in treating disorders found in veterans. According to Yang’s plan, veterans in New York State were eight times more likely to experience PTSD and 2-4 times more likely to experience major depression than non-veterans.
A 2013 study from a team of researchers from the University of South Florida found that psilocybin stimulates a process called neurogenesis, or the growth and repair of brain cells in the hippocampus—the brain’s center for emotion and memory.
Mice that were given psilocybin fared much better when confronted with fear conditioning than mice that received a placebo. The findings support the growing hypothesis that psilocybin can help break the traumatic cycle that occurs in patients with PTSD.
According to a randomized pilot study published in the journal Scientific Reports, MDMA-assisted psychotherapy was effective for the treatment of anxiety and other psychological distress related to life-threatening illnesses.
It is not clear yet if Yang’s plan to allow psychedelic therapies will include other medically beneficial substances such as ketamine—which is FDA-approved in many forms.
Yang also applauded the Center for Psychedelic Psychotherapy and Trauma Research at Mount Sinai for working to find a more effective treatment for PTSD.
Yang’s plan would be effective for New York City’s hundreds of thousands of veterans. “Despite these enormous contributions, an astounding 10.1 percent of veterans in New York City live below the poverty line. In 2016, the approximate median income for veterans living in NYC was just above $35,000.” Yang’s plan aims to solve several of those problems by providing psychedelic therapies in an affordable way.