America is currently suffering a suicide epidemic. The crisis disproportionately affects veterans, largely due to their higher rates of PTSD.
Twenty United States veterans commit suicide every day.
To say that America is simply “failing its veterans” is an understatement. The government has played an active role in facilitating and perpetuating the mental health crisis among our veterans and the population at large.
Approximately eight million Americans have PTSD. Conventional treatments such as psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) leave much to be desired. Such interventions have little to no effect on fully thirty to forty percent of suffers.
And, even among those who are helped to varying degrees by these treatments, the disorder nevertheless typically persist throughout the entire lifespan. (It also worth noting, long-term SSRI can pose non-insignificant side effects, including weight gain and sexual dysfunction). Only ten to fifteen percent of those with PTSD ever achieve complete remission, and this is generally only after years of extensive psycho- and cognitive behavioral therapy.
Wouldn’t it be something if, like an antibiotic for an infection, one could simply take a pill and quickly overcome the disorder?
Enter: 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, aka MDMA. Yes, that MDMA. Ecstasy. Aka “penicillin for the soul.”
Contrary to popular belief, MDMA is not a particularly dangerous drug. In fact, it is as safe as riding a horse. Seriously. And its therapeutic value, particularly as it relates to PTSD, is remarkable.
In one recent study, 107 patients with severe treatment-resistant PTSD underwent MDMA-assisted psychotherapy (fifteen therapy sessions over twelve weeks, three of which included the patient taking MDMA). The patients, on average, had suffered PTSD for 17 years.
By the end of the study, two-thirds no longer qualified for a PTSD diagnosis.
In a smaller study of similar protocol, fully eighty-three percent no longer qualified for the diagnosis upon completion of the study.
Similar results were achieved in yet another study published just days ago.
One patient described his experience in the latter study thusly:
“When it kicked in, it was like an epiphany. I could see all these things from combat I was afraid to look at before, and I had a totally new perspective. I relived the parts of me I had lost. I realized I had viewed myself as a monster, and I was able to start to have some compassion for myself. It was a turning point, and for the next year I continued to get better.”
Researchers relay an account of a participant in a different study:
"One man who had been sexually abused as a child told us that he had spent his adult life observing that other people were having an experience he presumed must be what they called ‘happiness’—something he had not experienced and had always assumed he was incapable of experiencing. During his MDMA session, he felt happy for the first time in memory. Hopelessness was replaced by the conviction that happiness was no longer beyond his reach, and indeed, he then discovered the ability to feel happiness without MDMA.”
The participants in these studies, again, had been “treatment-resistant” and suffered the disorder for many years. Yet, through MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, the majority were cured. In a matter of weeks.
Not quite a magic bullet...but pretty damn close.
The DEA, however, designated MDMA a Schedule 1 narcotic in 1985, thus proscribing mental health professionals from administering it. Per its Schedule 1 classification, the DEA alleges MDMA has “a lack of accepted safety,” a “high potential for abuse,” and “no currently accepted medical use.”
But, this was always a lie. Not a mere error in judgment, a lie.
MDMA had played a celebrated role in psychiatry at the time of its Schedule 1 classification. Throughout the 1970's and early 1980's, thousands of mental health professionals used MDMA both in couples counseling and to treat a myriad of psychological woes and disorders. When the DEA moved to designate MDMA a Schedule 1 drug in 1984, hundreds of doctors and scientists fought to prevent the classification.
But, despite voluminous evidence testifying to the safety and efficacy of MDMA, the DEA ultimately flouted two non-binding judicial rulings and placed MDMA in Schedule 1.
Yup. For over thirty years, the government has obfuscated, demonized, and criminalized the most effective treatment for PTSD.
The DEA's fraudulent classification of MDMA is an injustice of gravest consequence. As it applies to those suffering severe treatment-resistant PTSD, the prohibition of MDMA kills. Blood is on the government's hands.
Fortunately, there is a bright spot on the horizon. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), who sponsored all of the aforementioned studies, is currently undergoing the third and final phase of FDA clinical trials. Mental health professionals may be able to integrate MDMA-assisted psychotherapy into their practice beginning as early as 2021. While this would surely be a significant and much-welcomed development, MAPS efforts should never have been necessary.
Absent the DEA's gross abuse of power, there is no telling how many lives could have been saved and how much suffering could have been alleviated in the past thirty years...