A Forbidden Remedy for Veterans' Nightmares

Banned Since 1985, MDMA could soon be approved as a PTSD treatment.


The emotional hangover from Nigel McCourry's seven months in Iraq as a U.S. Marine plagued him for years, keeping him up at nights, troubling his sleep with recurring nightmares, and isolating him from friends and family. After he was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 2011, McCourry tried "weekly talk therapy and more drugs than I could keep account of," none of which helped much.

The one thing that worked for McCourry, leading to "huge breakthroughs" that immediately resolved his sleep issues, was psychotherapy facilitated by MDMA, which was banned by the Drug Enforcement Administration in 1985 but could be available by prescription as soon as 2021. The rehabilitation of MDMA is directly related to the rehabilitation of veterans like McCourry, who participated in a study that was reported this week in The Lancet Psychiatry.

The study, sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), was conducted by Charleston, South Carolina, psychiatrist Michael Mithoefer and his wife, Ann, a psychiatric nurse. The subjects were 22 military veterans, three firefighters, and one police officer, all of whom had been diagnosed with "chronic PTSD resulting from traumatic experience during their service" and had not responded well to other treatments.

The participants were randomly assigned to receive 30, 75, or 125 milligrams of MDMA in conjunction with two psychotherapy sessions separated by about a month. The lowest dose served as an "active placebo," producing physical sensations without the emotional and cognitive effects of MDMA. Neither the researchers nor the subjects knew who was receiving which amount.

The results were striking. Average scores on the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS), which indicates symptom severity, fell by 58 points in the medium-dose group and 43 points in the high-dose group, compared to 11 points in the low-dose group. Sixty-eight percent of the medium- and high-dose subjects no longer met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD, compared to 29 percent of the low-dose subjects.

When people in the control group were given the opportunity to use higher doses of MDMA, they experienced additional progress. One year after the MDMA sessions, the mean CAPS score for all subjects was 39, down from 87 at the beginning of the study.

These substantial, persistent improvements reinforce the results of an earlier MAPS-sponsored study that provided MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to crime victims. The next step is Phase 3 clinical trials, which is the last stage before the Food and Drug Administration decides whether to approve MDMA as a treatment for PTSD.

Last August the FDA streamlined that process by deeming MDMA a "breakthrough therapy," meaning it "may demonstrate substantial improvement" over existing treatments. MAPS, which says it has raised almost all of $26.7 million it needs for the Phase 3 studies, plans to begin them this summer.

MDMA's promise as a psychotherapeutic catalyst is not surprising. Before its popularity as a party drug dubbed "ecstasy" made it intolerable to the DEA, therapists found MDMA useful in reducing fear and fostering trust, empathy, and candor.

Now the ban that has blocked access to those benefits for more than three decades could be on the verge of being lifted. It can't happen too soon for Americans tortured by the echoes of war.

Somewhere between 11 percent and 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans meet the criteria for PTSD, according to studies cited by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The department says nearly 1 million veterans are receiving compensation for disabilities that are at least partly due to PTSD. On average, about 20 veterans kill themselves every day.

McCourry understands their desperation. "I had this war inside of me that would flare up without warning," he says. "I couldn't live with it anymore."

Today McCourry is eager to share his "story of healing" with fellow veterans. "Veterans are committing suicide because they can't stand living with PTSD," he says, "and I think we could save a lot of these people if we just got this medicine available."

© Copyright 2018 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. End the war on drugs.

    There is no constitutional authority that allows government to ban things. The prohibitionists knew this which is why we have the 18th Amendment and then the 21st Amendment.

  2. Although I hope MDMA becomes legalized, the study has some issues. Biggest in my eyes is that the control group was small and not controlled later in the study. Next is that the sample size in general was small already and then divided into three smaller groups, differing by amount of MDMA administered. You should do that if you’re trying to demonstrate the magnitude of the effect, not the existence.

  3. Well, long ago, it enabled me to enjoy dancing, and I’m the world’s worst dancer. It definitely makes people cheer up.

  4. Now the ban that has blocked access to those benefits for more than three decades could be on the verge of being lifted.


  5. When China’s 1911 revolution weakened the way mixed economy governments were draining away her national wealth with habit-forming drugs, the farming and chemical industries affected–Germany, Austria-Hungary, France/Vietnam, The Balkan States, Turkey, the UK/British India soon sent conscripts into battle. Back then there were only alcohol, opiates, ether, chloroform, caffeine, coca and hemp. Nowadays the world is full of other things that are way safer than alcohol, non habit forming, and interfere relatively little with living a productive life. Must the violence of war damage additional youths to protect entrenched oligopsonies and sell outdated products? Your next vote will answer that question.

  6. The fucking government is the biggest fucking evil ever fucking invented

    Fuck you government
    eat shit and die die die!!!

    1. Not really. The problem is when government initiates force. A government limited to the retaliatory use of force serves its proper function as the defender of negative liberty.

  7. There was a lot of interest in finding ways to prevent PTSD a few years back. Some studies have shown that giving high dose steroids after a traumatic event reduced the incidence of subsequent PTSD. Results have thus far been described as “modest” however it is a promising approach.

  8. I’d like to see Kim, Moon and Trump on MDMA on the 38th parallel… it’s a drug that could work for pre traumatic stress disorder too.

  9. “could be available by prescription as soon as 2021” Far too long…

  10. Dr. Alexander ‘Sasha’ Shulgin, the godfather of MDMA, was a crazy old hoot. And brilliant. He was the first to realize the therapeutic potential of MDMA, back in the early 70s, and introduced the drug to numerous psychotherapists. It was a hit, with success rates treating mental trauma similar to those reported by The Lancet Psychiatry.

    And then the DEA fucked everything up.

  11. Happy Veterans day to all Veterans from my heart.Veterans day images 2018

  12. Veterans Day is an authority United States open holiday, watched every year on November 11, that distinctions military veterans; that is, people who served in the United States Armed Forces. It concurs with different holidays, including Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, celebrated in different nations that check the commemoration of the finish of World War I Veterans Day Cards with Quotes

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