Mending Invisible Wounds: The Efficacy and Legality of MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy in United States' Veterans Suffering with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

By Perry, Jonathan | Journal of Law and Health, Summer 2016 | Go to article overview

Mending Invisible Wounds: The Efficacy and Legality of MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy in United States' Veterans Suffering with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder


Perry, Jonathan, Journal of Law and Health


I. INTRODUCTION                                                 273 II. BACKGROUND                                                  276 A. Brief History of MDMA: Origins, Therapeutic Uses, and Cultural Impact                                                 276 B. Public Opposition, the Controlled Substances Act, and the Grinspoon Case                                                  279 III. ACCEPTED MEDICAL USE OF MDMA TO TREAT POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER IN VETERANS                                     284 A. Accepted Medical Use Defined                                 284 B. DEA Findings and Rationale in Scheduling MDMA                285 C. MDMA 's Accepted Medical Use in the Context of Medically Assisted Psychotherapy                                287 IV. APPLYING THE CHEVRON STANDARD TO DRUG ENFORCEMENT AGENCY SCHEDULING                                               292 A. The First Circuit Correctly Concludes that Director Lawn's Findings Were Not Arbitrary and Capricious                      293 B. The First Circuit Incorrectly Concludes that the Director's Conclusions were Sufficient under the "Substantial Evidence" Standard                                                        295 V. MDMA IN SCHEDULE III                                         297 A. Meeting the Schedule III Criteria                            297 B. Impact of Schedule III Classification of MDMA Treatment in Veterans Suffering with PTSD                                 300 VI. CONCLUSION                                                  300 

I. INTRODUCTION

In 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan. (1) Two years later, American armed forces were fully deployed in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and their presence persists to this day. (2) Amidst the loss of life exists a subtler tragedy: psychiatrists report that around 20% of service members suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder upon returning home from combat. (3) More distressingly, an average of 22 veterans commit suicide each day. (4)

Though anecdotal, the story of Andrew Brennan provides an extreme but powerful narrative of PTSD's suffocating grasp on returning veterans. (5) The State of Alabama recently refused to stay the execution of the 66-year-old Vietnam veteran who was imprisoned for shooting an Atlanta police officer in 1998. (6) At trial, Mr. Brennan's lawyers pointed out that he had been diagnosed with severe posttraumatic stress disorder as a result of his service in Vietnam. (7) On the night of the shooting, Mr. Brennan was "in the throes of an emotional flashback" when he pulled a rifle from his truck and began shooting at the officer. (8) At the time of the tragedy, Mr. Brennan had been prescribed anti-psychotic medication for a diagnosed bipolar disorder. (9) This approach--a reliance solely on prescription medication as a remedy for PTSD--proved unsuccessful here, as it has so many times before. (10)

Although many of organizations exist to support troops suffering with posttraumatic stress disorder, (11) a veteran's ability to receive effective emerging treatments from their healthcare provider is frustrated by outdated legislation. (12) Emerging treatments and research seeking to combat PTSD are hindered by the Drug Enforcement Agency's ("DEA") interpretation, and subsequent reinterpretations, of the Controlled Substances Act. (13) Scheduling substances as "Schedule I" prohibits healthcare professionals from utilizing emerging remedies in PTSD treatment by erecting various administrative and bureaucratic barriers to research. (14) As a result, some substances with positive medical purposes are kept from those who must be afforded all possible remedies. (15)

Schedule I classification requires medical researchers to obtain FDA approval before experimentation, a burdensome hurdle in the way of furthering understanding of the substance. (16) Researchers are further required to record and secure all testing procedures in conformance with DEA guidelines, a process that further confines the scope of research. …

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