Psychology Today: A Drug More “Dangerous” Than Roadside Bombs?

Acid Test author Tom Shroder writes for Psychology Today about how government funding of research into MDMA-assisted psychotherapy as a treatment for PTSD could lead to a reduction of PTSD in the U.S. Shroder illustrates how the lack of an effective treatment for PTSD negatively contributes to the lives of veterans and their families, and recalls how a military officer told him that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD is not safe enough to explore as a treatment option. "The military leadership, those who control the $718 billion spent on defense last year, has not spent a dime on the single most promising treatment for PTSD now in development. Why?" asks Shroder.

Originally appearing here.

The Washington Post’s heartbreaking report Sunday on Iraq/Afghanistan vets who bring the violence of war home with them had the following statistics: “Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who reported problems with PTSD and alcohol were seven times as likely to engage in acts of "severe violence" than veterans with neither of those problems . . . 23 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with PTSD and irritability issues had been arrested since returning home from combat.”

The PTSD that afflicts as many as half a million veterans home from a decade of war is devastating not only to those who risked their lives to serve their country, but increasingly their families and communities as well.

Forget the trillion dollars in health care and disability costs for these vets that will be born by taxpayers over the next 30 years. The cost we truly cannot bear is the uncountable lives shattered by violence and crime as a consequence of untreated PTSD.

Yet the military leadership, those who control the $718 billion spent on defense last year, has not spent a dime on the single most promising treatment for PTSD now in development. Why?

Because they are scared, scared of crossing an archaic political line that was scratched in stone almost 45 years ago. Scared because the drug used in this promising treatment is a psychedelic drug, probably the most maligned and misunderstood class of drugs in history.

Early clinical trials using the drug MDMA, also known as Ecstasy, to enhance talk therapy, have dramatically reduced or eliminated PTSD symptoms in more than 80% of study participants after just a handful of sessions. What’s more, these positive effects can last for years without any further treatment. But time and again, when military psychiatrists have become excited by the potential and suggest ways to advance the research, their superiors in the Pentagon shoot the ideas down behind a wall of silence.

I’ve experienced this extreme bias first hand. When I went through the Pentagon public information apparatus to find someone in the military who would comment on the research for my book Acid Test: LSD, Ecstasy and the Power to Heal, I was bounced from department to department, service branch to service branch, until finally nobody would even respond to my messages. When I was invited to be on a national news show and asked to find someone in the military who could join the discussion, I got this response from a high ranking officer familiar with the military’s efforts to deal with the PTSD issue:

“Too dangerous for folks in uniform.”

Investigating promising research, even discussing it on a news show, is too dangerous?

I’ll tell you what’s too dangerous: sending 2.5 million Americans to face IEDs and suicide bombers and mortar attacks, then letting those that come home with scarred bodies and psyches suffer for the rest of their lives without doing all that’s possible to help them heal.

I feel such shame for that kind of cowardice.