HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Ecstasy Trials For Combat Stress
Pubdate: Thu, 17 Feb 2005
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2005 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Author: David Adam
Bookmark: (Ecstasy)


American soldiers traumatised by fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are to be
offered the drug ecstasy to help free them of flashbacks and recurring

The US food and drug administration has given the go-ahead for the soldiers
to be included in an experiment to see if MDMA, the active ingredient in
ecstasy, can treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

Scientists behind the trial in South Carolina think the feelings of
emotional closeness reported by those taking the drug could help the
soldiers talk about their experiences to therapists. Several victims of rape
and sexual abuse with post-traumatic stress disorder, for whom existing
treatments are ineffective, have been given MDMA since the research began
last year.

Michael Mithoefer, the psychiatrist leading the trial, said: "It's looking
very promising. It's too early to draw any conclusions but in these
treatment-resistant people so far the results are encouraging.

"People are able to connect more deeply on an emotional level with the fact
they are safe now."

He is about to advertise for war veterans who fought in the last five years
to join the study.

According to the US national centre for post-traumatic stress disorder, up
to 30% of combat veterans suffer from the condition at some point in their

Known as shell shock during the first world war and combat fatigue in the
second, the condition is characterised by intrusive memories, panic attacks
and the avoidance of situations which might force sufferers to relive their
wartime experiences.

Dr Mithoefer said the MDMA helped people discuss traumatic situations
without triggering anxiety.

"It appears to act as a catalyst to help people move through whatever's been
blocking their success in therapy."

The existing drug-assisted therapy sessions last up to eight hours, during
music is played. The patients swallow a capsule containing a placebo or
125mg of MDMA - about the same or a little more than a typical ecstasy

Psychologists assess the patients before and after the trial to judge
whether the drug has helped.

The study has provoked controversy, because significant doubts remain about
the long-term risks of ecstasy.

Animal studies suggest that it lowers levels of the brain chemical
serotonin, and some politicians and anti-drug campaigners have argued that
research into possible medical benefits of illegal drugs presents a falsely
reassuring message.

The South Carolina study marks a resurgence of interest in the use of
controlled psychedelic and hallucinogenic drugs. Several studies in the US
are planned or are under way to investigate whether MDMA, LSD and
psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, can treat conditions
ranging from obsessive compulsive disorder to anxiety in terminal cancer
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