Pubdate: Mon, 24 Mar 2014
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2014 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Stacy Finz
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


FDA Approves Research on Afflicted Military Vets

After three years, a small Santa Cruz nonprofit has won a battle with 
the federal government to test marijuana on veterans with 
post-traumatic stress disorder, but the organization's founder says 
his work is far from done.

Rick Doblin's ultimate goal is for his Multidisciplinary Association 
for Psychedelic Studies to become a nonprofit pharmaceutical company, 
selling marijuana and other currently illegal substances such as MDMA 
- - also known as Ecstasy - to pharmacies across the nation. The Food 
and Drug Administration has already approved two MDMA studies funded 
by the organization.

And last week the Department of Health and Human Services cleared the 
way for the University of Arizona to conduct the pot study, which was 
applauded by both advocates of marijuana and veterans as a signature 
step in determining the drug's medical benefits and risks.

"It's 100 percent fantastic," said the 60year-old Doblin, the 
association's executive director. "For 22 years I've been trying to 
study marijuana and make it a medicine. So this is a massive step."

Ever since Doblin was 18 years old and using LSD for recreation, he 
said he recognized a potential to do something important with 
hallucinogens, psychoactive drugs and marijuana. After earning a 
doctorate in public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, 
he founded MAPS in 1986 and dedicated his life to researching and 
educating people about the ways they can benefit from psychedelics 
and marijuana.

He lives in Boston. But MAPS is located near Santa Cruz's downtown, 
in a small, nondescript house wedged between a taqueria and a medical 
center. There, 10 employees are working toward FDA approval to turn 
MDMA and pot into legitimate medicines. But that will require many 
more studies and lots of money.

High-powered donors

So far, the checks have been rolling in. And it's anything but 
stoners and hippies writing them. The organization counts as donors a 
Rockefeller; members of the Pritzker family, one of the wealthiest in 
America; and John Gilmore, the fifth employee of Sun Microsystems and 
co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The late Ashawna 
Hailey, a Silicon Valley pioneer, bequeathed the organization $5.5 
million. Some have even served on the organization's board.

"There's a lot of psychedelic use in the tech world," Doblin said, 
adding that the association's benefactors are not only interested in 
helping humanity, especially veterans, but also on the cutting edge 
of innovation. "These are people who see the future. There are 
definitely those who think there is a stigma to some of these drugs. 
But it's shifting from a stigma to something they can be proud of."

MDMA - listed by the federal government as a schedule 1 substance, 
meaning it's considered high-risk for abuse and has no accepted 
medical applications - is Doblin's top priority. He, among many other 
doctors and scientists, believe that the synthetic drug could be the 
best tool to curing post-traumatic stress disorder. MDMA, also known 
on the street as Molly, is an amphetamine widely known as the illicit 
drug of choice by the rave community.

Accidental discovery

The drug was invented and patented in 1912 by Merck, a German 
pharmaceutical company, while it was trying to create a blood 
stopper. It induces feelings of euphoria and intimacy, and diminishes 
anxiety. Scientific and anecdotal studies show that it can be 
effective in getting people with post-traumatic stress disorder to 
open up during psychotherapy.

"It sort of puts you into a post-orgasmic state," said Brad Burge, 
the nonprofit's director of communications and marketing. "Before it 
was illegal, they used to use it in marriage counseling."

There are also risks. Some studies have shown that MDMA can damage 
the brain and that chronic use could actually increase depression and 
anxiety. Other possible side effects include difficulty 
concentrating, lack of appetite and dry mouth.

But Doblin said there is enough evidence of positive benefits that 
the FDA has allowed his organization to fund two phase two clinical 
studies of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of PTSD. One 
of those double-blind studies is under way in South Carolina and 
involves 24 veterans, first responders (firefighters and police 
officers) and former soldiers who were sexually assaulted while serving.

Eager to participate

"We have a waiting list of 500 people for eight remaining slots," 
said Virginia Wright, MAPS' director of development. In addition, the 
organization has funded two other studies, in Israel and Canada.

Dr. Richard Rockefeller, a donor who chaired the U.S. Advisory Board 
of Doctors Without Borders until 2010, has been vocal about using 
MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to help people suffering from 
post-traumatic stress disorder. Rockefeller, who has seen firsthand 
the emotional scars war and atrocity can leave on people, told the 
San Francisco Commonwealth Club in 2013 that he believes the drug can 
have dramatic benefits.

"If you can achieve a detailed recall of the trauma in a setting of 
extreme safety, you can move the traumatic memory out of the amygdala 
and into the parts of the brain where it should be," he told the 
audience. "This process is called reconsolidation. In MDMA-assisted 
psychotherapy, the patient is safe enough to bring up trauma and do the work."

To Doblin, the idea that therapists could use the drug to end 
post-traumatic stress disorder in chronic sufferers is huge - better 
even than marijuana.

"While we believe that marijuana reduces the symptoms, it doesn't get 
to the heart of the problem," Doblin said. "But not everyone wants to 
do MDMAassisted psychotherapy. It's hard and painful. Some people 
just want to smoke pot and have a good night's sleep without the nightmares."

Arizona researcher

Dr. Sue Sisley, a psychiatrist and internist, will conduct MAPS' 
marijuana study with the University of Arizona. It's the first time 
the whole plant will be tested in post-traumatic stress disorder 
research. Seventy veterans, mostly from the recent Iraq and 
Afghanistan wars, will smoke or vaporize four varieties of marijuana 
and a placebo, which will have no THC properties - the ingredient 
that makes people high - for 12 weeks. The marijuana will be 
purchased from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which has a 
research farm in Mississippi and is the only federally allowed source.

"There is a mountain of anecdotal evidence to show that marijuana is 
beneficial to people suffering with PTSD and other anxiety and 
medical conditions," Sisley said.

"Twenty-two veterans a day are killing themselves," she said. 
"They're not benefiting from conventional medicine. And while many 
are using marijuana to help them with this debilitating disorder, 
they want it to be legitimized. They want data. They want to know 
what doses to take. They want to be able to discuss this with their 
doctors. The Obama administration is hearing this, because allowing 
us to do this study does represent a major shift in policy."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom