Tripping into mental health

Tripping into mental health

Kevin Brooker, Calgary Herald
Published: Monday, August 25, 2008

Last year I wrote in this space about the plight of Andrew Feldmar, a 68-year-old Vancouver psychotherapist, who was banned for life from visiting the United States when a border agent did a routine Google search and discovered an obscure journal article in which Feldmar wrote about a clinical LSD experience he had had decades earlier.

Although he has been unsuccessful in appealing this heavy-handed act of the Department of Homeland Security, I see Feldmar is not exactly disavowing banned substances. Last week Feldmar wrote an article in Britain’s The Guardian newspaper headlined Psychedelic drugs could heal thousands, in which he summarized promising recent efforts to harness these undeniably powerful substances for medical advancement.

Indeed, Feldmar announced he is partnering with the Florida-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies “in what hopefully will be Canada’s first government approved clinical trials in 40 years, evaluating MDMA- assisted psychotherapy for subjects with treatment-resistant post-traumatic stress disorder.”

MDMA is, of course, the drug that has been known on the street as ecstasy for the past 25 years. Feared and reviled by anti-drug forces, it has been studied during that time almost exclusively by government-funded researchers overtly seeking to prove its harmful qualities. Worldwide, efforts to identify MDMA’s potential benefits have been suppressed.

Although first accidentally synthesized in Germany by the Merck pharmaceutical company in 1912, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the drug was simultaneously discovered by two seemingly disparate groups: nightclubbers and psychotherapists. Both noted MDMA’s consistent effect: a pervasive feeling of well-being combined with heightened emotional bonding with others.

One therapist suggested that street-level dealers must have chosen the name ecstasy to make it an easier sell. The real and more accurate name, he said, should be empathy.

As one Newsweek writer effused in 1985, his first dose was like “a year of therapy in two hours.”

Indeed, psychologists at the time produced hundreds of anecdotal reports that by administering the drug to troubled patients under controlled therapeutic conditions, chronically negative mental patterns could be dismantled. Formerly bereft people discovered inner joy and a reassuring sense of belonging that endured even when the effects of the drug were ostensibly gone. That, of course, was before the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency stepped in and saw to it that MDMA was made illegal, casting it into the same category as heroin. All such studies were henceforth abandoned.

Thanks to MAPS, however, that began to change in 2003 when psychotherapists lobbied for and won the right to start a comprehensive new American study on using the drug to treat severely traumatized individuals, much like the one Feldmar is proposing.

Based in South Carolina, the study results will soon be officially published. But news accounts have already described some astonishing outcomes, like the case of Donna Kilgore, a 39-year-old victim of a violent rape who subsequently sleepwalked through 15 years “like a corpse.” But after one guided session on the drug, Kilgore was transformed. The next day, she said “was like walking into a crayon box where everything was clear and bright. I did better in my job, in my marriage, with my kids. I had a feeling I’d never had before: hope. I felt I could live instead of exist.”

As Feldmar describes the phenomenon, “debilitating effects of shame have been annulled, heavily defended hearts opened, and stayed open, and people acquired the ability to enjoy the sacrament of every living moment without distraction by past regrets or future worries.”

To me that sounds like a miraculous Rx. I truly hope that the Canadian government does not decide to stand in the way of any breakthrough Feldmar et al might achieve for the millions among us who dwell in abject misery.
I also concur with Feldmar when he writes, “I hope I will be invited into the U.S. before I die to teach professionals how to use psychedelics for the benefit of all.”

Canada’s Calgary Herald published an article titled “Tripping Into Mental Health," which is an enthusiastic response to Andrew Feldmár’s editorial in the Guardian. Kevin Brooker, the author, credits MAPS with opening the doors to MDMA research.