November 27, 2012
Ecstasy Used to Treat War Veterans in New Research
By: Daniel Piotrowski
News.com.au provides an overview of MAPS’ recent research into MDMA-assisted psychotherapy as a treatment for PTSD, in addition to covering upcoming research efforts from our Australia-based non-profit colleagues, PRISM (Psychedelic Research in Science and Medicine).
Originally appearing here.
A WAR veteran is fighting for a party drug to be legalised for medical use, after US research found it may be able to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The research, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology this month, has found that PTSD sufferers who took ecstasy (MDMA) in a supervised session once a month experienced a long-term recovery from symptoms.
Nearly 90 per cent of patients reported an improvement in their general wellbeing three-and-a-half years after treatment, which included taking MDMA in comfortable sessions, and 68 per cent reported fewer flashbacks, nightmares and intrusive memories.
This came after conventional treatments for the disorder, counselling and anti-depressants had failed the patients.
If the result is repeated in other research, the study’s authors predict MDMA “will become an important treatment option” for PTSD.
MDMA, a widely used party drug, was made illegal in Australia in 1986 and is classified a prohibited (or “Schedule 9”) substance.
There is limited substantial research in the field and it is not a recommended treatment, but a clinical trial has been proposed in Australia to make up ground in this area.
Retired army major Steve McDonald, who has suffered from PTSD since serving in Somalia, said the study justified the medical uses of the drug to be trialled here in Australia.
“It’s extremely promising,” he said. “It’s more effective than any treatment.”
Maj McDonald’s story
Maj McDonald, as part of the infantry battalion 1-RAR, was deployed along with about 1200 Australians to Somalia in January 1991, as part of a US-led intervention into the country.
What he saw there was shocking: millions in famine and a country plagued by war.
He returned home to Australia after a five-month deployment and began suffering bouts of depression. In 2003 he had a breakdown and was admitted to the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital, where he was diagnosed with PTSD.
Maj McDonald went through intensive counselling sessions and was placed on antidepressants, but he said it was not a total cure.
“I was unable to work for seven months,” he said. “It certainly helped get me back to work for awhile, but it didn’t cure me by any means.”
He is now lobbying for a clinical trial for MDMA use for veterans in Australia with the group PRISM (Psychedelic Research in Science and Medicine), who support research into medical uses of psychedelic drugs.
“I think it’s really important because the psychedelic medicines are showing really strong potential, and it’s a new area of medicine that’s unlocking different ways to heal people.”
Associate Professor Darryl Wade from the Australian Centre for Post-Traumatic Mental Health at Melbourne University said the study was interesting, but it had only a small sample size of just 21 people.
“It’s a very interesting study and it’ll be of interest to a lot of people to see just how this type of research develops on this type of intervention,” he said.
“It’s still very early days for this type of research. They’re pilot studies with relatively small numbers.”
The authors of the new report saw no evidence that MDMA treatment encouraged subsequent drug use or triggered a decline in the patients’s brain function.
A medical future?
In the 1970s, US researchers attempted to use MDMA in counselling sessions, without any scientific evidence that it could help.
Australian scientists are already testing the potential medical uses of other illicit drugs.
Researchers at the University of New South Wales are examining whether the party drug “Special K”, pharmaceutical name ketamine, can be used to treat depression.
And a cannabis mouth-spray called Sativex is being tested as a painkiller for people with cancer and multiple sclerosis in four Australian hospitals.
PRISM, the group behind the proposed Australian MDMA trial, are seeking an experienced research psychiatrist for their proposed trial.
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