Final Phase of MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy Trials to Kick off in Vancouver

By Omand, Geordon | The Canadian Press, January 21, 2018 | Go to article overview

Final Phase of MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy Trials to Kick off in Vancouver


Omand, Geordon, The Canadian Press


Man credits MDMA medicine for saving his life

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VANCOUVER - Ed Thompson remembers the helplessness he felt each of the thousands of times his twin daughters would turn blue and go lifeless in his arms.

The young girls suffered from acute breath-holding spells, an involuntary condition that causes children to pass out, in their case up to 40 times a day.

"Having your kids die in your arms 7,500 times kind of sucks," he said.

The girls' conditions eventually improved, but the experience compounded earlier trauma Thompson had witnessed as a firefighter in South Carolina, sending him into a spiral of post-traumatic stress, substance abuse and thoughts of suicide.

That all changed in 2015 after Thompson enrolled in an experimental psychotherapy trial that used clinical-grade MDMA, also known as the party drug ecstasy, to treat patients suffering from severe cases of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Thompson said the experience saved his life and kept his family together.

Now, researchers across North America, including British Columbia, are gearing up for the third and final stage of trials ahead of plans to legalize psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy in Canada and the United States by 2021.

Vancouver is one of 16 locations in the United States, Canada and Israel where clinicians hope to demonstrate that a drug historically associated with gurus and raves can revolutionize psychotherapy and trauma treatment.

The B.C. Centre on Substance Use will conduct the Vancouver trials as part of a larger research project overseen by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, a non-profit pharmaceutical company based in California. Talks are also underway for a Montreal facility to participate.

"We hope to prove that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is the most effective treatment for PTSD that exists on the planet," said Mark Haden, a public health professor at the University of British Columbia. Haden founded the Canadian wing of MAPS and helped organize stage two of the organization's research trials in Vancouver.

Traditional PTSD treatment focuses on desensitization, which is painful and can last years, or even a lifetime, Haden said, adding that only about 10 to 15 per cent of people successfully recover and the drop-out rate is high.

MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, however, lasts fewer than four months and preliminary studies show two thirds of participants remained free of PTSD one year after treatment, he said.

The experimental trials have been so successful, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which overseas the approval and regulation of pharmaceutical drugs, has labelled it a "breakthrough therapy" for PTSD treatment.

Researchers believe the psychedelic drug's effectiveness is partly due to its ability to dispel a participant's fear and to boost what Haden called the therapeutic alliance. …

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