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Ecstasy As Treatment for PTSD from Sexual Trauma and War? New Research Shows Very Promising Results

MDMA is gaining serious traction as a treatment option for soldiers and civilians suffering from crippling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

According to outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, rising health care costs for the military have ballooned from $19 billion in 2001 to over $52 billion in 2011. But there's a pill for that, explained Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies' ( MAPS) executive director Rick Doblin.

It's called MDMA, or ecstasy, and it's gaining serious traction as a treatment option for soldiers, and civilians, suffering from crippling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Back when  AlterNet first reported MDMA's potential benefits in 2008, South Carolina doctor Michael Mithoefer was conducting promising MAPS-funded double-blind trials to establish clinical protocols that wouldn't scare off nations with naive nightmares of acid burnouts. Since then, a distinguished report from political luminaries like ex-United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and ex-U.S. Secretary of State George Schulz called for MDMA and cannabis legalization, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved studies for cannabis treatment of PTSD, Swiss psychiatrist Peter Gasser became the first officially sanctioned LSD therapy researcher in 35 years, and the results of Mithoefer's groundbreaking research, reported last July in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, generated well over 100 media reports.

And it didn't cost anything, compared to the astounding price tags of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars themselves -- $421 billion and $782 billion, respectively, and counting. Or the billions we spend taking care of our hundreds of thousands of veterans. When matched up against that depressing math, the nominal cost of producing MDMA and the  $10 million MAPS is looking to spend over a decade to fund its trials is chump change.  

Even Oprah Winfrey is high on ecstasy. But the best is hopefully yet to come, claims Doblin.

"MAPS and Mithoefer's major breakthrough showed that over 80 percent of the subjects in the MDMA group no longer qualified for a diagnosis of PTSD, as compared to 25 percent in the placebo group," he told AlterNet. "An even more important breakthrough, which we are currently working to write up in a scientific paper, is from the results of our long-term follow-up evaluations of the subjects, administered at an average of 41 months post-treatment. We found that, on average, the subjects have actually gotten a bit better over time, demonstrating that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy has lasting benefits. This paper, when it's published, will be even more important than our initial paper."

Another major breakthough is MAPS' growing relationship with the FDA, which is the "furthest along in their thinking" when it comes to the backward tangle of "science and politics," added Doblin. In September 2009, the FDA approved MAPS' protocol to study the psychological effects of MDMA taken by healthy volunteers in a therapeutic setting. That unusual but sensible union knitted MAPS and the FDA, as well as the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Institutional Review Board (IRB), the independent ethics committee tasked with monitoring and approving human biomedical and behavioral research, into a professional coalition committed to further legitimation of psychedelic therapy. That's what happens when science trumps politics.

"The other regulatory agencies around the world look to the FDA for leadership," explained Doblin. "The FDA has the scientific expertise, the commitment to science over politics, and the courage to be the precedent-setters when it comes to psychedelic and medical marijuana research."

The trend is catching heat abroad as well: MAPS' MDMA campaign is getting closer to approval in Canada and Jordan, and Israel approved MAPS' MDMA/PTSD study earlier this month. But there's still a long way to go. Despite the recent science and coverage on MDMA and cannabis treatment, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs' established treatment for PTSD is a mixture of various behavioral therapies and antidepressants like Zoloft, Paxil and others, whose adverse side effects range from the uncomfortable (nausea, headaches, diarrhea, loss of sexual drive) to the deadly (strokes, seizures, heart attacks, suicide). In fact, the only significant places you can find mention of MDMA or cannabis on the USDVA's official site are in sections on substance abuse, where cannabis users are insulted in the usual manner -- "A chronic heavy user can appear apathetic and unmotivated, and may perform poorly at work or school" -- and MDMA users are warned against "fatal heatstroke" and "dehydration."

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