August 12, 2014
Could MDMA Help Cure PTSD?
By: Ashley Csanady
Canada.com features an article about research into the therapeutic potential of MDMA, highlighting MAPS’ upcoming Canadian study of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy as a treatment for PTSD. The article announces MAPS’ new Legalizing Psychedelic Therapy crowdfunding campaign, and interviews Brad Burge of MAPS about the potential public health benefits of increasing research into psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy to treat a variety of medical conditions. “There’s any number of lives that could have been saved if this was available previously,” Burge says. “We’d be 20 years advanced in our medical research and we could be using it in any number of ways.
Originally appearing here.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a growing concern for armed forces worldwide, with Canada facing startling new statistics yesterday. But what if a little pill better known as a party drug could revolutionize PTSD treatment?
MDMA, commonly called “ecstasy” and scientifically known as 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, is emerging as a new drug in treatment of the disorder. After a summer of party drug deaths at Canadian music festivals and years of similar stories, researchers are seeking to redeem the drug’s one-time clinical reception, even if they have to turn to crowd-funding for their research grants.
The California-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) launched an IndieGogo campaign on Monday to raise the final $50,000 (USD) required for its latest clinical trial. The money will also help it fight for legal clinical status for the much-maligned drug.
MAPS was founded almost immediately after the U.S. classified MDMA as a schedule 1 narcotic in 1985. That classification makes extraordinarily difficult to use the drug in clinical or research use.
“So funding evaporated literally overnight once MDMA was scheduled,” said Brad Burge with MAPS. He said a lot of therapists were using MDMA when the ban fell, and it cut off leading edge research, especially in the treatment of PTSD but also couples therapy, end-of-life anxiety and extreme social anxiety. Autistic adults, on the high-functioning end of the spectrum, have improved their social skills and lives through therapy that included MDMA, Burge said.
There’s a growing body of research to support those claims both from North America and Europe that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy works. In essence, patients take the drug to confront a trauma with a therapist, spend a few weeks in therapy talking about both the trauma and the experience on MDMA, then repeat once more.
Advocates say soldiers come out of treatment saying they’re “cured” when nothing else has helped them before.
And though there are always naysayers, MAPS hopes to share the ecstasy of discovery with Canadians as well. It has a Vancouver-based offshoot that’s almost ready to go with its first 12-person trial on this side of the 49th.
Like so many drugs — cocaine, heroin and LSD to name a few — MDMA was first patented for pharmaceutical use. That was in 1912. But psychiatrists and psychologists didn’t start using it for psychotherapy until the late 1960s and 1970s. Then word got out about the fun sides of the drug and for a brief period in the 1980s MDMA was legal — one bar in Dallas, Texas was well-known for its ecstasy. Then a few people overdosed and the world cracked down. By 1988, MDMA was included in United Nations agreements about controlled substances.
MDMA in particular is considered safe when taken properly, under medical supervision and only the once or twice required to treat PTSD, Burge said. That’s because the drug itself isn’t a treatment so much as a facilitator to help patients confront the trauma and talk it out in psychotherapy.
Now American authorities are loosening rules on MDMA research while Canadians are toughening them. MDMA was a schedule three drug in Canada until the passage of the Conservative government’s omnibus tough-on-crime legislation known as the Safe Streets and Communities Act.
And though it may be time to rethink those laws, researchers say there’s an urgency to their work given the increasing demand on mental health services, especially for soldiers.
About one in six members of the Canadian Armed Forces suffered from PTSD last year, according to Statistics Canada released Monday.
That’s just among active service members surveyed in 2013. Rates for former soldiers are harder to track. But long-term mental health challenges for the veterans of the war in Afghanistan are becoming clearer after a report last fall investigated 38 suicides among the Canadian military.
“There’s any number of lives that could have been saved if this was available previously,” Burge said. About 22 veterans, many suffering with PTSD, commit suicide each year in the U.S. Burge wonders how many of them could have been treated in the three decades since MDMA was classified as schedule 1, instead of a lower level that would have allowed research.
“We’d be 20 years advanced in our medical research and we could be using it in any number of ways,” he said.
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