Push to Trial Use of Ecstasy in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Treatment

Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Conor Duffy

Originally appearing here.

A US-based psychedelic advocate is bankrolling an Australian push to start a medical trial using MDMA to treat sufferers of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Dr Rick Doblin wants Australia to replicate a successful trial in the United States in which 80 per cent of soldiers and emergency workers in a study were successfully treated for PTSD using MDMA, the main ingredient in ecstasy, and psychotherapy.

The controversial but legal program involved 20 veterans, who had not responded to other treatments, taking MDMA twice during three months of psychotherapy.

One of the participants in the study, former US army Sergeant Tony Macie has told the ABC’s 7.30 program he was being crippled by memories of his 15-month deployment to Iraq.

He says he returned home constantly reliving an explosion that took the lives of two fellow soldiers.

“I would constantly be role playing, in my mind, events that happened and even though there’s no way, but if I could have done something, if I could have changed it,” Mr Macie said.

“Doing that led to anger, and a lot shorter temper and I would not like going out in public.”

He says he was initially reluctant to join the trial but says taking the MDMA made him relaxed enough to face his traumatic memories and move on from the horrors of war.

“Now after I’ve done it I don’t regret anything about it,” Mr Macie said.

“If anything, immediately after I did it, I wished it would be allowed for a lot of veterans with PTSD. I think it could make beyond a huge impact.”

The trial was established after a decades-long campaign for regulatory approval by Dr Doblin, who founded the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).

No Australian university willing to partner the trial

Dr Doblin has met with Australians keen for a similar legal trial here and has provided some start-up funding.

“We’re very committed to having research start in Australia; we’ve committed $US25,000 ($AU28,000) and have pledged another $25,000 if another $75,000 is raised in Australia,” he said.

Dr Doblin stresses the trials are only safe when done in a clinical setting.

Retired Army Major Steve McDonald is leading the fight for an Australian trial with Melbourne psychologist Stephen Bright.

Mr McDonald commanded an infantry company during the civil war in Somalia in 1993 and suffered PTSD.

“PTSD is often accompanied by depression, so I suffered from major depression and went through periods of being suicidal over a number of years,” Mr McDonald said.

He says he believes a trial could help thousands of returned troops suffering from PTSD and will eventually get legal approval but, so far, no university is willing to partner it.

“There seems to be quite a social stigma around MDMA because it’s an illicit drug, and obviously if someone’s seen to be working with an illicit drug it potentially could impact on their professional reputation or perhaps the reputation of their institution,” Mr McDonald said.

“And that, at the moment, appears to be our main obstacle in attracting somebody.”

Mr McDonald served with the Chief of the Defence Force, General David Hurley, in Somalia and approached him directly to support a trial.

In a statement, Defence told 7.30 that General Health Command examined the published study in the US but the numbers involved were too small.

A spokeswoman said there were no plans for such a trial in Australia.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation looks into a potential opening for new research in Australia into treating PTSD with MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. The article features anecdotes from Steve McDonald of Psychedelic Research in Science & Medicine (PRISM), Rick Doblin of MAPS, and Tony Macie, a study participant from MAPS’ U.S. research. Macie is interviewed about his experience receiving MDMA-assisted psychotherapy as a treatment for PTSD, remarking “If anything, immediately after I did it, I wished it would be allowed for a lot of veterans with PTSD. I think it could make beyond a huge impact.”