Summary: Beaver County Times speaks to MAPS-sponsored researcher David Rabin, M.D., about MDMA combined with psychotherapy for treating trauma, addiction, and PTSD. “My background is in neuroscience and psychiatry with a specialty in substance-use disorders and trauma,” explains Rabin. “For the latter two, substance-use disorders and trauma have led me down the alternative treatment route because we don’t have a lot of good treatments for those disorders. And there are a lot of folks who are really suffering with chronic PTSD and addiction issues that we currently don’t really have much to offer them.” Kate Malongowsk of The Beaver County Times adds that, “According to Rabin, citing FDA trial phase two results, between 68 and 83 percent of U.S. subjects studied were symptom-free from treatment-resistant PTSD a year and a half to five years after treatment. Although there are hurdles with stigma and public perception, he calls these preliminary results promising and fascinating.”
Originally appearing here.
Twenty-three-year-old Allen Richard Rider of Cleveland in 1966 was likely the first person charged with the possession and sale of LSD in Beaver County and in Pennsylvania.
In March 1967, he was sentenced to one-year probation and ordered to pay court costs.
LSD was not made into a federally controlled substance until 1971.
In Rider’s case, the psychedelic drug that began gaining in popularity in the late 1960s literally made its way from sunny California, the epicenter of the counterculture movement. According to a 1967 story in The Times, Rider testified that he purchased the LSD in Los Angeles at the request of a man who ended up being a state police informant.
It wasn’t long after that Beaver County residents had increasing concerns about LSD.
According to a Times story from February 1970, nearly 1,200 parents attended a drug-awareness event at Center High School over concerns that young people were experimenting with drugs, among them marijuana and LSD.
Dr. Martin D. Kissen, who was the director of the Institute of Alcoholism and Narcotics Addiction with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, was among several speakers at the event. He called LSD “probably the most dangerous substance man has ever discovered” because its effects on the human body are completely unpredictable.
“We, you and I, have become a pill-taking society,” Kissen said at the time. “It is natural for them (teenagers), when they feel bad, to take something.”
A few months later, at Beaver Falls High School, students listened to a seven-member panel “telling it the way it is” on the drug scene, according to an April 1970 story.
Dr. Robert Yee, who was a psychiatrist at Beaver County Mental Health Clinic in Rochester at the time, said LSD’s effect on the brain would cause deterioration and genetic damage that would appear only in future generations.
The Beaver County Commissioners then in August 1970 also decided to conduct a study “to do something about the obvious increase in the use of dangerous drugs, especially by young people, in the county.”
Marijuana, LSD and speed were the biggest drugs of concern at the time. Some parents also were aware of heroin, although it wasn’t an issue in the area during that time and generally perceived to be a problem that was concentrated in New York City.
So what’s happened with LSD and other psychedelic drug use since then?
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 1.2 million Americans ages 12 and older had used hallucinogenic drugs in the past month, which includes LSD, PCP, peyote, mescaline, psilocybin mushrooms and MDMA, which is often referred to as ecstasy or Molly.
It’s highest prevalence was among 18- to 25-year-olds, which varied between 1.4 and 1.9 percent of past-month usage between 2002 and 2014. Between 0.1 percent and 0.3 percent of those 26 years old and older said they had used hallucinogens within the past month during that same time period.
Through all age groups ages 12 and older, hallucinogen usage remained generally level over the 13-year time period. Other drugs, like marijuana and prescription painkillers, had been on the rise.
Also, like other street drugs, LSD has synthetic counterparts. The synthetic opioid fentanyl has been particularly deadly in Beaver County, contributing to at least 70 of the county’s 102 overdose deaths in 2016.
But some psychedelic drugs may soon be going beyond recreational use. There are FDA trials for controlled MDMA use in a medical setting to treat treatment-resistant post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD.
One local physician and psychiatry student hopes someday to practice what is called integration psychotherapy. Dr. David Rabin, a third-year psychiatry resident in training at the University of Pittsburgh’s Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, spoke independently about his studies. His statements do not represent the views or thoughts of his school.
“My background is in neuroscience and psychiatry with a specialty in substance-use disorders and trauma,” Rabin said from his home in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. “For the latter two, substance-use disorders and trauma have led me down the alternative treatment route because we don’t have a lot of good treatments for those disorders. And there are a lot of folks who are really suffering with chronic PTSD and addiction issues that we currently don’t really have much to offer them.”
He’s done training at a California-based nonprofit organization called the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS.
Essentially, patients meet with their psychiatrist to consider being a part of the trial. If they are a good candidate, have not been successful in other treatments and are willing to try the drug, patients are placed in a controlled therapeutic setting.
During the three eight-hour sessions when the MDMA is ingested, patients have access to blankets, snacks, music and other things to make them feel comfortable. There are periods of both introspection and speaking with therapists to work out traumas.
The drug is not at the root at the therapy, but rather, a tool to be used that accelerates the process. Instead of spending years building trust with a doctor, a patient can move quickly to sharing trauma — without the inhibitions of shame and guilt that would slow the process.
“The patients feel very comfortable there, and sort of very much at home and accepted,” Rabin said. “And I think that’s something; the acceptance part is not something to take lightly because that’s the core of all of this therapy and all of this safety and everything that we’ve been talking about. It’s this idea of self-acceptance and acceptance by your peers.”
According to Rabin, citing FDA trial phase two results, between 68 and 83 percent of U.S. subjects studied were symptom-free from treatment-resistant PTSD a year and a half to five years after treatment.
Although there are hurdles with stigma and public perception, he calls these preliminary results promising and fascinating.