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Hamas Attack Sheds Light on Trauma and Psychedelics

In the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas fighters on Israelis, 360 of the approximately 1,200 people killed that day were attending an all-night rave at the Tribe of Nova music festival. Many of the ravers, including many survivors, were under the influence of mind-altering substances like LSD, MDMA and ketamine as they witnessed the carnage or fled for their lives. For a group of Israeli researchers at the University of Haifa, the attack has created a rare opportunity to study the intersection of trauma and psychedelics, a field that has drawn increased interest from scientists in recent years, the New York Times reports. The survivors of the Nova festival present a case study that would be impossible to replicate in a lab: a large group of people who endured trauma while under the influence of substances that render the brain more receptive and malleable.

For some attendees, drug use appeared to hamper their ability to flee to safety. But others credit their altered state for aiding in their escape from the carnage, or in helping them fully process the mental trauma afterward. The researchers surveyed more than 650 Nova survivors. Participants in the survey described a variety of experiences while using drugs on Oct. 7, ranging from hallucinations to extreme clarity, from panic to resolve and from paralysis to action. In many instances, according to preliminary results of the researchers’ survey, even festivalgoers using the same drugs experienced the attack in different ways — variances that might have meant the difference between life and death. The scientists cautioned that the study was not a comprehensive review of how every participant at the rave fared because so many were killed. “We only hear the stories of those who made it out alive,” said Roy Salomon, a cognitive science professor at the University of Haifa and a co-author of the study. “So our understanding is influenced by survivors’ bias.” The University of Haifa researchers plan to follow the survivors for years, tracking their neural activity with functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI. They have presented their preliminary findings in a preprint paper, a scientific manuscript undergoing peer review. Compared with survivors who used other substances, attendees who used MDMA are recovering better and showing less severe symptoms of PTSD, according to the study’s preliminary conclusions.


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