Veterans are seeking treatment from a husband-and-wife team that
combines psychotherapy with a dose of MDMA.
Hundreds of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who suffer from post-
traumatic stress have contacted a husband-and-wife team who work out
of their home in suburban South Carolina to seek help. Many are
desperate, pleading for treatment and willing to travel to get it.
The soldiers have no interest in traditional talking cures or
prescription drugs that have given them little relief. They want to
try an alternative: MDMA, better known as ecstasy, a drug that
surfaced in the 1980s and '90s that can induce pulses of euphoria
and a radiating affection. The government criminalized the drug in
1985, placing it on a list of prohibited substances that includes
heroin and LSD. But regulators have licensed a small number of labs
in recent years to produce MDMA for research purposes.
"I feel survivor's guilt, both for coming back from Iraq alive
and now for having had a chance to do this therapy," said Anthony, a
25-year-old living near Charleston, South Carolina, who asked that
his last name not be used because of the stigma of taking the drug.
"I'm a different person because of it."
In a paper posted online Tuesday by the Journal of
Psychopharmacology, Michael and Ann Mithoefer, the husband-and-wife
team offering the treatment -- which combines psychotherapy with a
dose of MDMA -- write that they found 15 of 21 people who recovered
from severe post-traumatic stress in the therapy in the early 2000s
reported minor to virtually no symptoms today.
The patients in this group included mostly rape victims, and
experts familiar with the work cautioned that it was preliminary and
its applicability to war trauma unknown. A Defense Department
spokeswoman said the military was not involved in research of MDMA.
But given the scarcity of good treatment for post-traumatic
stress, "there is a tremendous need to study novel medications"
including MDMA, said John H. Krystal, chairman of psychiatry at the
Yale School of Medicine.
The study is the first long-term test to suggest that
psychiatrists' tentative interest in hallucinogens and other
recreational drugs -- which have been taboo since the 1960s -- could
pay off. And news that the Mithoefers are beginning to test the drug
in veterans is out, in the military media and on veterans' blogs.
"We've had more than 250 vets call us, there's a long waiting list,
we wish we could enroll them all," Michael Mithoefer said.
The couple, working with other researchers, will treat no more
than 24 veterans with the therapy, following Food and Drug
Administration protocols for testing an experimental drug; MDMA is
not approved for any medical uses.
A handful of similar experiments using MDMA, LSD or marijuana are
now in the works in Britain, Israel, Switzerland and the United
States. Military and civilian researchers alike are watching
closely. So far, the research has been largely supported by
Two people who have had the therapy -- Anthony, in the veterans
study, and another who received the therapy independently -- said in
interviews that MDMA produced a mental sweet spot that allowed them
to feel and talk about their trauma without being overwhelmed by it.
"It changed my perspective on the entire experience of working at
ground zero," said Patrick, a 46-year-old living in San Francisco,
who worked long hours in the rubble after the attacks of Sept. 11,
2001, searching in vain for survivors, as desperate family members
of the victims pleaded for information. …