Pubdate: Wed, 27 Aug 2014
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Copyright: 2014 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts

MDMA Heals Veterans' PTSD. Now It's Got to Find a Way Into Pharmacies


Terrorism is alive and well, Americans aren't feeling any more 
"free," and those WMDs never did turn up. But the War on Terror did 
accomplish one thing: After 13 years of conflict, America is closer 
than ever to legalized and legitimized medical MDMA.

About 2.5 million sailors, soldiers, and Marines went to war in 
Afghanistan and Iraq. As many as 20 percent of veterans suffer from 
PTSD, most studies show (another 48,000 are homeless; look for the 
telltale desert camouflage backpacks).

Typical PTSD therapy almost always includes a chemical element: 
Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil, or other selective serotonin-reuptake 
inhibitors (SSRIs). The drugs are supposed to keep people functional 
while they undergo cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). These drugs 
also have powerful side effects and don't always treat the cause. And 
for more than half of PTSD sufferers, neither does CBT.

MDMA is a miracle drug by comparison. Nearly all of the two dozen 
combat veterans who underwent "MDMA-assisted psychotherapy," 
including some for whom other PTSD treatments had no effect, reported 
"significant" relief. One, former Marine Nicholas Blackstone, says 
that he "found the healing that I needed" in his very first session.

This is what researchers, along with "fringe" chemists and advocates 
of psychedelics, have been saying MDMA can do for decades. Now others 
are taking notice.

MDMA could be legal again as a prescription drug in the United States 
by 2021, well ahead of marijuana or any cannabinoid-derived drug. But 
for that to happen, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic 
Studies (MAPS), which is directing the studies, is in need of money - 
and as usual, the government is in no position to support the troops.

MDMA is an old drug, and its healing potential is old news. First 
synthesized by a German chemist in 1912, the CIA tried MDMA alongside 
martinis dosed with LSD as an interrogation tool in the notorious 
Project MKUltra.

In the 1970s, after hearing others sing MDMA's praises, legendary 
counterculture chemist Alexander Shulgin figured out how to 
synthesize the drug in his East Bay home lab. He tried it out - on 
himself, as was his habit - and was an instant convert.

On MDMA, Shulgin found "a serene, gentle, rather strange feeling of 
something easing out of me," he wrote in his landmark book, PIHKAL: A 
Chemical Love Story. "I feel absolutely clean inside, and there is 
nothing but pure euphoria. I have never felt so great, or believed 
this to be possible."

Clearly, this was something that should be outlawed.

Psychotherapists used MDMA, legally, in a clinical setting for 
therapy with great success until 1986, when the DEA placed it on the 
government's list of most-dangerous drugs.

The movement to re-legalize MDMA began almost immediately. The 
evidence was always there - it worked on victims of sexual abuse and 
other trauma as well as witnesses to war - but now, 30 years later, 
there is more momentum than ever, says Brad Burge, MAPS's 
Stanford-educated spokesman.

There are a few reasons. Widespread public acceptance that marijuana 
has medical value encourages support for other banned drugs. Thanks 
to war, there is huge demand for a PTSD cure. And there's the fact 
that MDMA appears to work.

It's important to note that "ecstasy" is not MDMA. Pills bought at 
raves may have a small dose of MDMA. They may also contain 
methamphetamine, caffeine, or whatever else the renegade chemist saw 
fit to throw into the cocktail.

The MDMA given to suffering veterans was made in a lab, just like the 
cheap and abundant LSD that floated around the Bay Area half a 
century ago, and it's administered in a strictly controlled setting 
during "intensive" psychotherapy, Burge notes. (The South Carolina 
studies also involve a husband-and-wife therapist team, Michael and 
Ann Mithoefer; having therapists of both genders present during the 
six-to-eight-hour-long sessions helps.)

Medium-sized clinical trials could be completed by next year. The FDA 
could sign off on MAPS's plan for large-scale studies in 2016. That 
would put MDMA on track to be legal by 2021. But to test the drug on 
a few hundred subjects, not just a few dozen, MAPS needs money.

Drugs are made legal via a long and arduous process. For 
pharmaceutical companies with big budgets, it's just a question of 
writing the checks to pay for the studies. They're no help here: Big 
pharma has no interest in MDMA because, the logic goes, MDMA is a 
cure, not a drug you'll need every day like psychiatry's big-sellers.

It could take about $15 million to wrap up the FDA approval process 
in seven years. That's funding that could be made available tomorrow, 
if the right billionaire is found.

As it happens, the rich of Silicon Valley are mixing it up like never 
before this week at Burning Man, where MAPS helps run a "cooling-off" 
center for people tripping too hard, called The Zendo Project. Some 
Zendo volunteers are the same medical and mental health professionals 
who want to use MDMA for therapy.

Maybe the end of MDMA prohibition is one one trip away.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom