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New Study Evaluates Use of 'Ecstasy' in War Veterans With PTSD

The Santa Cruz-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies examines experimental treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder.

New Study Evaluates Use of 'Ecstasy' in War Veterans With PTSD

Several months ago, I reported about how the Santa Cruz-based medical research organization, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), is trailblazing new research into the therapeutic potential of controversial psychedelic drugs, such as psilocybin, cannabis, ibogaine and LSD and MDMA, which is methylenedioxymeth­amph­­eta­­mine, or the chemical name for ecstasy.

MAPS is now beginning exciting new research with MDMA, and huge strides are being made toward its goal of developing cannabis and psychedelic drugs into legal prescription medicines. It looks like MDMA will probably be the first shamanic healing tool to make its way into your local neighborhood pharmacy.

MAPS is a membership-based, IRS-approved, nonprofit research and educational organization that helps courageous scientific researchers design, fund and obtain regulatory approval for medical research studies that explore the safety and effectiveness of cannabis and psychedelic drugs. The local organization, which has more than 5,000 members worldwide, was founded by Rick Doblin, Ph.D., in 1986, and its main office is in downtown Santa Cruz. 

MAPS works closely with government regulatory agencies around the globe, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency—jumping through every necessary bureaucratic hoop to ensure that all of its sponsored research protocols conform to the proper ethical and procedural guidelines for clinical drug research.

Last month, on Jan. 7 and 9, MAPS began the first experimental sessions in its second MDMA study on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a notoriously difficult condition to treat. PTSD affects an estimated 7.8 percent of Americans and is caused by exposure to unusually stressful and dangerous situations. It can result in symptoms that include distressful emotions, flashbacks, panic attacks and nightmares.

This new study is specifically designed to look at how MDMA-assisted psychotherapy sessions affect U.S. war veterans who suffer from chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD. The two subjects in the study underwent the first of three sessions with co-therapists, Dr. Michael Mithoefer and Annie Mithoefer, a nurse.

Each of the subjects had previously received three preparatory, non-MDMA psychotherapy sessions, before participating in the MDMA-assisted psychotherapy sessions. This new study will evaluate the safety and effectiveness of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in 16 war veterans who suffer from PTSD. 

This research builds upon MAPS’ recently completed study of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, (published in July in the Journal of Psychopharmacology), which demonstrated that after the experimental treatment, less than 17 percent of the MDMA-treated subjects with PTSD continued to qualify for a diagnosis of PTSD—as opposed to 75 percent of the subjects who just had received a placebo and psychotherapy.

The new MAPS MDMA PTSD study is being conducted in Charleston, SC, and the researchers are still irecruiting subjects, so anyone who might be eligible for this study may contact berra@maps.org.

Some of MAPS' other worthy research efforts include studies with LSD and psilocybin as possible treatments for the anxiety and depression associated with end-of-life psychological issues. They’re also looking at how the African herb ibogaine might be useful for the treatment of opiate addiction and other types of drug dependance. MAPS is also exploring alternative delivery systems for medical cannabis, such as vaporizers and water pipes.

The ultimate goal of MAPS is to establish a worldwide network of specialized therapeutic clinics where these psychedelic treatments can be provided, under the guidance of licensed therapists and physicians, to treat medical conditions for which conventional drugs only provide limited relief.

To find out more about MAPS see maps.org.

For more information about MAPS’ MDMA PTSD research, see my article “Ecstasy Triumphs Over Agony,” which appeared in Scientific American Mind


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