Could ecstasy help victims of child abuse, rape and crime?

Originally appearing at The first clinical trial of ecstasy in the UK to discover if the drug can help victims of child abuse, rape and war is being planned. Public concerns and media exposure has made it almost impossible to explore the therapeutic benefits of ecstasy, claim scientists. But they believe that the illegal drug and others like LSD and magic mushrooms could useful in the treatment of people with serious psychological issues who cannot face their problems. Professor David Nutt, former head of the government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, said: ‘I feel quite strongly that many drugs with therapeutic potential have been denied to patients and researchers because of the drugs regulation. ‘The drugs have been made illegal in a vain attempt to stop kids using them, but people haven’t thought about the negative consequences.’ The psychopharmacologist – sacked by the previous Labour government after falling out with ministers over drug policy – has teamed up with Taunton-based psychiatrist Dr Ben Sessa as they bid for funding. They hope to repeat successful U.S. trials on 20 patients in South Carolina who had suffered from post traumatic stress disorder for an average of 19 years. One of the patients was an army veteran, while the others had been victims of sexual abuse or rape. Twelve were given MDMA, or 3,4- methylenedioxymethamphetamine, the chemical compound found pure in ecstasy tablets. The rest had placebo pills but were later also given the chance to take MDMA. Each patients had a therapy session, lying back in a reclining chair in a pleasant flower-decorated room wearing an eye mask. They listened to music on headphones or talked to a therapist while thinking about the events they had been unable to contemplate in past consultations, according to the Guardian. Ten out of the 12 patients showed dramatic improvement to their condition two months after the second of two MDMA sessions. That figure compared with 25 per cent of those on the placebo. There were no serious side-effects and no long-term problems. Mr Michael Mithoefer, the psychiatrist who ran the U.S. study and carried out the psychotherapy with his wife, Ann, said he expected the trials to be a success. He described the improvement in the patients’ condition as ‘the icing on the cake.’ Professor Nutt said the stress disorder was ‘an extraordinarily disabling condition’ He added: ‘For many people, as soon as the memory comes into consciousness, so does the fear and disgust’. The patients told the newspaper how ecstasy had helped them overcome their traumatic experiences. One said: ‘I feel like I know myself better than I ever have before. Now I know I’m a normal person. This is me. The medicine helps, but this is in me.’ Sessa said he hoped to recreate the study in the UK but the researchers will use brain scans to see what effect the drug has on patients. Meanwhile, a single high dose of so-called ‘magic’ mushrooms has been found to change people’s personalities, not for a few hours, but for at least a year – making them more ‘open’, said researchers. The personality disruptions were so intense they were equivalent to the slow changes that occur in people over entire decades – and the researchers found that even after terrifying drug trips, the changes were the same. The mushrooms – which grow wild in the UK and parts of the US, as well as countries such as Mexico and Thailand, contain the hallucinogen psilocybin. The experiment with a high dose was enough to bring about a measurable personality change lasting at least a year in nearly 60 per cent of the people. Study leader Roland R. Griffiths, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine said that so many of the study participants still exhibited changes after a year the changes were ‘likely to be permanent.’ While we have not yet received regulatory approval or funding for the study described in this article, researchers are encouraged by a recent invitation from the Wellcome Trust to submit a grant request for a possible study of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD to take place in the UK. Potential Clinical Investigators David Nutt, M.D., and Ben Sessa, M.D., describe the significance of the study, which would be the first clinical MDMA trial ever to take place in the UK and which could–by using brain imaging technology–greatly add to current knowledge about the safety and effects of MDMA administered in clinical contexts. The article also mentions a recent study by Johns Hopkins scientist Roland Griffiths that found that psilocybin could have a lasting positive effect on personality.