The use of LSD and mind-altering states has convinced two local therapists that MDMA-also known was the street drug ecstasy-could help people suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder. Psychiatrist Ingrid Pacey and psychologist Andrew Feldmar aim to study whether MDMA-assisted therapy could benefit people who've tried traditional counselling and drug treatment with little relief.
The U.S.-based non-profit sponsoring the study, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic studies, or MAPS, and the Metro Vancouver therapists have received two of four approvals they need to proceed. Health Canada and an independent review board have given approvals, but eight months on, Pacey's waiting for an exemption under Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to distribute the drug. The pharmacist involved with the study needs to be granted a licence to import the drug from a Swiss university.
Twelve participants, including people who've suffered childhood sexual or physical abuse or a traumatizing incident as an adult, will take part in the double-blind study that will include three two-day sessions with MDMA and regular psychotherapy for up to five months. At least 20 individuals have volunteered, and the research team hopes to recruit police officers, firefighters and military personnel to participate.
"We even had a phone call from a flight attendant," Pacey said. Participants' symptoms will be measured with standard psychological testing. The MDMA will be administered at the start of a two-day session with participants staying overnight in Pacey's West Side office. Their vital signs will be monitored. Eight people will be given a full dose of MDMA and four will receive a small dose. After the sessions are complete their symptoms will be reassessed and those who were given the small dose of the drug will have the option of trying therapy with the full dose.
Researchers interested in the use of MDMA believe the drug could help quiet a patient's nervous system and allow them to look at the big picture of what happened to them with more compassion and empathy for themselves and others. Pacey said a similar American study has reported encouraging results but the findings have not been published.
MAPS is sponsoring similar studies in Switzerland, Israel and Jordan. It previously sponsored a study to evaluate whether the grade of MDMA to be used would hurt participants psychologically or physically in controlled situations and found no damage. Pacey says widely reported studies on the damaging effects of ecstasy involved giving massive doses of the drugs to rats. She said some reported results were later retracted. Pacey noted that healing through altered mental states is common to many cultures with the use of drumming, chanting, staying up all night and fasting.
The researchers expect they'll need $330,000 to complete the study. They raised $10,000 at an Oct. 24 benefit attended by medical professionals and advocates for drug policy reform, including former NPA mayor Philip Owen. Owen attended because he met MAPS's founder Rick Doblin earlier this month at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference in New Mexico. He leant his support to the MDMA study with a donation.
"It should be pursued, we've got to try everything, and Rick Doblin's a very convincing guy," Owen said.
November 24, 2009
The Vancouver Courier
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Therapists tout ecstasy as treatment for stress disorder