US Vets Get Ecstasy to Treat Their PTSD

A pair of psychiatric experts think they’ve got the answer to the soaring number of troops coming back from war with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder): have them undergo intensive psychotherapy — while they’re rolling on ecstasy.

Dr. Michael Mithoefer and Anne Mithoefer, a psychiatric nurse, are the South Carolina pair who’ve been spearheading research into ecstasy, known clinically as MDMA, since 2000. After one successful study on 21 PTSD patients between 2004 and 2008, they’ve now received the final okay from FDA and DEA officials to start a study entirely devoted to former military service members.

“My sense is that, especially after we published the results of the first study, these institutions are more open to the idea,” Dr. Michael Mithoefer tells Danger Room. “Obviously, this is still new and experimental, and it can take time to get through to big institutions.”

With $500,000 in funding from MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies), the two are recruiting 16 veterans — they’re hoping for a 50-50 split between men and women, and want most of the participants to have been diagnosed within the last 10 years.

“These will mostly be veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan, because longer duration of PTSD means more complicating factors,” Dr. Mithoefer says, adding that he does anticipate enrolling 4 vets from earlier wars and is still accepting applications.

Participants will undergo a preliminary screening process, and then partake in three solitary, 8-hour therapy sessions with both doctors. While tripping out, they’ll be asked to revisit the traumatic experiences that triggered their disorder. Dr. Mithoefer thinks MDMA acts as a catalyst for “an optimal zone of arousal” that prevents patients from becoming overwhelmed or, on the flipside, shutting down and detaching altogether.

Of course, the Pentagon’s still struggling to better diagnose and address PTSD, most recently with a cutting edge 72,000 square foot research facility. But despite the military’s gradual thaw on  alternative methods to treat the disorder — already, they’ve funded everything from yoga and acupuncture to “Warrior Mind Training” — top brass have yet to endorse MDMA.

“We’re had several conversations with people at Veterans Affairs hospitals and officers at the Department of Defense, but so far haven’t convinced them to participate,” Mithoefer says. “That said, we’re moving forward and still making every effort to get them involved.”

In the meantime, the Mithoefers anticipate finishing this latest study within three years. Teams in Switzerland, Israel, Jordan, Spain and Canada are in various stages of similar research.

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