Research Awaits Ecstasy Approval

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Researchers are waiting anxiously for final consent from Health Canada to import the illegal drug Ecstasy for a study on the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Vancouver-based Dr. Ingrid Pacey and Andrew Feldmar will use methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), also known as Ecstasy, in their double-blind study once they get a licence authorizing the import of the pharmaceutical-grade drug from Switzerland.

The mental-health researchers were successful in applying for a temporary exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in early 2009 and expect their study to begin in six to eight weeks.

Dr. Pacey said the long wait was expected, considering the multitude of clearances required for a banned substance. “I think to really be moving into doing therapy with a substance that’s illegal is just a huge thing for the government to consider,” said the psychiatrist.

The purpose of using psychedelic drugs such as MDMA to treat post-traumatic stress is that “these drugs wake you up” while pharmaceutical drugs often “put you to sleep,” said Rick Doblin, founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

In a study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology last month, research funded by Mr. Doblin’s association found that 10 of 12 patients treated with MDMA no longer suffered from the disorder after treatment. With these results, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the testing of MDMA on U.S. war veterans last month.

A full range of research remains before any decision is made whether or not to use the drug on soldiers.

Canadian Forces Surgeon General Hans Jung warned against using a “novel idea” for the treatment of soldiers suffering from post-tramatic stress. He said Canadian soldiers returning from overseas would qualify only for “proven, evidence-based treatment.”

“We do not really get engaged in any kind of therapy unless it has been fully approved by Health Canada,” he said, calling the MDMA research “hype.”

U.S. researcher Julie Holland, who wrote Ecstasy: The Complete Guide, said traditional drug treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder does not permanently rid a patient of symptoms and recommended use of MDMA as a chemo-adjunct to therapy.

While the study requires a foreign, legitimate source for MDMA, the United Nations stated in its 2010 World Drug Report “the resurgence of MDMA availability in the United States was fuelled by manufacture in Canada and smuggling into the U.S. across the northern border.”

This article from a Canadian paper did not choose the best quote from Rick Doblin to express his position on MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD compared to conventional pharmaceutical drugs. While conventional pharmaceuticals drugs treat the symptoms of PTSD, Rick would characterize MDMA-therapy as a method for treating the causes of PTSD, thereby healing the trauma. It is disappointing to read Canadian Forces Surgeon General wrongfully generalize our research as “hype.”