Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

The Mission Within recruits grieving military families for psychedelic research with Dell Medical School

Analise Pickerrell

A psychedelic retreat center for veteran mental health began recruitment on Feb. 9 for its upcoming psychedelic therapy retreat in Mexico amidst a shortage of volunteers for the program.

The retreat is part of a collaboration between The Mission Within and the Dell Medical School’s Center for Psychedelic Research to study the effects of psilocybin and 5-MeO-DMT on prolonged grief. The organization seeks surviving family members of people who died in the military. Martín Polanco, Mission Within’s founder and research director, said new volunteers for the study will attend a four-day psychedelic therapy retreat in Mexico starting April 26.

“I see the change that happens when a spouse who has lost their significant other or their partner goes through the medicine and actually (is) able to process the grief,” said Ivy Losey, family program director at The Mission Within.

Intake coordinators like Losey screen the research volunteers for claustrophobia, epilepsy and other factors that would prevent them from participating. They also assess volunteers’ experience with grief and guide them through the research process. Amidst the low number of volunteers, Losey said even fewer qualify for the study.

“We found that we were not getting a whole lot of gold stars (or widows) applying to the program,” Losey said. “Sometimes they grieve long, short, longer and when they’re not ready, they’re not ready.”

However, Losey said they have secured the minimum four volunteers necessary for the retreat in their latest recruitment effort. Participants will visit the Center for Psychedelic Research for an EKG and fMRI to analyze brain activity before and after the retreat. Researchers show participants images of their deceased loved ones while in the fMRI scanner.

“They would be able also to detect changes in how the brain is responding to these images, pre- and post-psychedelics,” Polanco said.

The retreat includes mindfulness practices and group dinners to help participants integrate what they learned from their psychedelic experience. Losey said the Mission Within team, like herself, are mostly veterans. They guide participants through everything, from the “plant medicine ceremony” or the psilocybin, down to their nutrition.

Elisa Borah, the director of the Institute for Military and Veteran Family Wellness, said self-care practices facilitated by veterans would have a big impact on the grieving participants.

“They’re able to talk and share about their experience with a group who identifies with that, and so it immediately makes that individual not feel alone anymore,” Borah said.

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