Friday, 28 March 2014

Exploring Therapeutic Effects Of MDMA



Researchers and some independent therapists are studying whether banned drug MDMA — found in Ecstasy — may help those with PTSD.

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MDMA has been banned by the federal government since 1985 as a dangerous recreational drug with no medical value. But interest is rising in its potential to help people suffering from psychiatric or emotional problems.

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The therapist said she became a believer in the late 1980s after it helped her deal with her own trauma. She has since conducted roughly 1,500 sessions with patients, leading them on four-hour explorations of their feelings.

She uses only the purest MDMA — in contrast to street Ecstasy, which is typically contaminated — and none of her patients has ever experienced an adverse event, she said.

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Laboratory MDMA

MDMA — or 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methamphetamine — was first synthesized a century ago by chemists at Merck & Co. Inc., which patented it as a precursor to a blood-clotting medication.

Toxicity experiments secretly conducted for the U.S. Army and later declassified have fueled speculation that the military was interested in MDMA in the 1950s as a chemical weapon or truth serum.

Then in 1976, Alexander Shulgin, a former Dow Chemical Co. researcher who devoted his life to research and self-experimentation with psychedelic drugs, synthesized MDMA and tried it.

"I have never felt so great, or believed this to be possible," he later wrote about the experience. "The cleanliness, clarity, and marvelous feeling of solid inner strength continued through the rest of the day, and evening, and into the next day."

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MDMA's chemical mechanism remains unexplained beyond the broad effect of raising levels of serotonin and oxytocin — brain chemicals related to well-being and social bonding — and triggering the amygdala, a region of the brain involved in processing memory and emotion.

Therapists say MDMA can put patients in an emotional sweet spot that allows them to engage difficult feelings and memories.

Bob Walker, a 69-year-old Vietnam veteran from Chico, tried Ecstasy on his own after hearing it was being used to treat PTSD.

A few weeks after his first Ecstasy trip, he took it again and had his girlfriend drive him to a therapy appointment. His therapist had no experience with the drug but had agreed to the session.

Walker said the experience released him from haunting images of seeing a friend killed in a helicopter crash and watching a young Vietnamese boy die in a truck accident. "I didn't lose any memory of what happened," he said. "I lost the anxiety."

The therapist, who did not want to be identified, said Walker seemed to open up. "This barrier that had been there was suddenly gone," she said.

Despite worries that she was risking her career, she agreed to conduct two more three-hour sessions over the next several months.

"Once his soul was open, it didn't fully close again," she said. "Each time, I feel that he was closer to his truest nature."

Tim Amoroso, a 24-year-old Army veteran, was tormented by memories of looking for body parts after a suicide bomber killed five U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. He said antidepressants and anti-anxiety pills prescribed by doctors at the VA provided little relief.

Now a student at the University of New Hampshire, Amoroso bought Ecstasy at a music festival last summer and later took the drug with a friend watching over him.

"I feel like I found meaning again," Amoroso said. "My life wasn't as bad as I thought it was."

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Doblin's nonprofit Multidisciplinary Assn. for Psychedelic Studies, which runs on donations, has sponsored all research into clinical uses of MDMA. Doblin hopes the drug follows the same path as marijuana, whose approval for medical purposes led to broad public acceptance.

Doblin's nonprofit Multidisciplinary Assn. for Psychedelic Studies, which runs on donations, has sponsored all research into clinical uses of MDMA. Doblin hopes the drug follows the same path as marijuana, whose approval for medical purposes led to broad public acceptance.

In 2004, South Carolina psychiatrist Michael Mithoefer launched a clinical trial involving 20 patients suffering from PTSD — mostly female victims of sexual violence who had unsuccessfully tried other therapies.

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In subsequent testing, the severity of the major's PTSD declined, the researchers said. The study's full results on 24 subjects are expected late next year.

Among other studies, a trial set to begin at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center will test MDMA's ability to combat social anxiety in high-functioning autistic adults. Bay Area researchers also are planning to conduct a study of whether MDMA can reduce anxiety in patients facing deadly illnesses.

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Author / [Full Article] Source: Alan Zarembo at LA Times

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