There has been a real buzz about MDMA assisted psychotherapy for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It could be the answer that everyone from the US Veterans Health Administration (VA) down dreams of for getting traumatised people back on their feet.
Currently standard treatments for PTSD cost $8300 per veteran per year and a significant number never fully recover. A few years ago, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) told me that the VA estimates that PTSD will cost $1.5 million per veteran’s lifetime – and these figures are based on Vietnam soldiers’ trauma. Iraq and Afghanistan conflict veterans are set to cost trillions of dollars between them. A large number commit suicide – there is research showing that more soldiers commit suicide after combat than die in combat in both the US and UK. The US veterans suicide rate is significantly higher than the civilian population too.
In my conversations with MAPS, they told me they estimated that MDMA assisted psychotherapy could cost $15,000 per treatment, with the patient returning for top up treatment every three years. This treatment is for people who were so traumatised that no other treatment works, and would be high risk and seriously screwed up people. Over 80% of those treated with MDMA recover to the point that they are found to no longer have PTSD. This could well be the cure psychologists have dreamed of for decades!
MDMA could be the first psychedelic drug to be legalised as a medicine, but as I have found over many years of writing on the subject there are huge hurdles to deal with before we see people with psychological problems undertaking this therapy. Let’s look at the issues and how they’re likely to be dealt with.
The counterculture has a problem in that people in government hate hippies. Even UK Prime Minister David Cameron used to enjoy a spliff but has gone from being a fan of drugs legalisation to being absolutely against it since moving into Downing Street.
In an interview in 1996, the inventor of LSD Albert Hoffman complained that recreational use of psychedelic drugs caused real problems for those wishing to research them as a medicine. He said, “Their use on the streets has been a problem for more than thirty years. On the streets the drugs are misunderstood, and accidents occur. This makes it very difficult for the health authorities to change their policies and allow medical use. And although it should be possible to convince the health authorities that in responsible hands psychedelics could be used safely in the medical field, their use on the streets continues to make it very hard for the health authorities to agree.”
Baldly, even Hoffman found the hippy and Beatnik cultures problematic because the hippy haters in governments around the world couldn’t bring themselves to allow research into something that made them feel threatened. If we could get Cameron to hug a hippy instead of ‘hugging hoodies’ then things may change rapidly. Personally, I think the only thing he’s likely to hug is a pig…
However, as has been seen with UK pharmaceutical company GW Pharmaceuticals’ research into cannabis, politicians like hard science. Though many people would prefer to eat weed in a cake or juice raw cannabis buds, politicians prefer people to swallow pills or take oromucosal sprays such as Sativex. The UK will more likely see a pharmaceutical preparation of any street drug than in the US where in a large number of states you can get the bud from dispensaries.
In being treated as a pharmaceutical preparation and lobbyists separating MDMA from ‘E’s’ in politicians’ imaginations, this may well be where MDMA finds its way out of a stigmatised underground and into mainstream use.
Good medical science
There have been promising results in good clinical research into MDMA in the US and Switzerland, with research also taking place under Professor David Nutt in University College London. Phase 2 Safety and Efficacy trials are close to completion and a number of papers have published leading international medical journals – have a look at the papers in question here.
A good explanation of the phases of clinical trials can be seen on the NHS Choices website. Essentially, the further you go through clinical research, the more people you need to test it on, and you need lots of money to get through the higher phases.
The more people that undergo treatment the more likely it is that we will see different effects of the medicine. We won’t see a Leah Betts type incident where someone suffers from taking it wrongly in a supervised medical setting. However we may find that there is a side effect of the drug that causes real problems in a large number of people. The psychiatric medication I am on causes obesity in 50% of patients – that’s acceptable. In fewer than 1 in 100,000 cases it causes sudden death. If 1 in 1000 people died taking olanzapine, then it would never be licensed. The same applies to MDMA, and this should be winkled out in large scale trials.
The other thing that must be shown is that it works! If it is effective in 80% of cases among 100 people trialled, that’s a good sign. What of 2,000? The idea of the trials is to see if it is effective among the majority. The 80 successes among 100 tested could have been luck of the draw. If 1600 people in 2000 are successful, then we’re showing that this is going to be a great medical approach.
MAPS has an information and funding website that details where the research is today and what they need to get to the next level. Contrary to what you may have read elsewhere, they state that if all goes well then it could be seven years – 2022 – before we see the psychotherapy technique widely used in medicine.
Money – the root of all evil…
Where the costs of getting to Phase 2 have been only millions of dollars, the next two phases will cost tens of millions of dollars if all goes well. The website states, “We estimate that it will take $3.1 million to complete our Phase 2 studies, and roughly $17.7 million to complete Phase 3 and establish MDMA-assisted psychotherapy as a legally available treatment.”
One of the major hurdles is that you cannot patent MDMA as that was originally patented over 100 years ago in Germany and cannot be patented again. You cannot get exclusive rights to manufacture it as you don’t own it. In not being able to manufacture it you cannot make a business case to sell it at a price that yields enough returns to pay for the research.
This is why MAPS have been relying on small donors to fund this project. In terms of what they have done so far, they have done amazingly well. You won’t however find a pharmaceutical giant with a few billion dollars to spare getting interested as they can’t make their money back.
I have written extensively on the subject over the years and as a journalist have targeted the defence procurement industry’s publications because government money could be the answer. The US government has billions of dollars swilling around to help its military and I spent days vainly pitching the story to military journals – in the end I got a 250 word story published in Jane’s Defence Weekly, a poor return on my investment of time. If it was some molecule they’d never heard of I could have made good money and got great coverage.
Sadly for you and I, generals don’t like hippies selling their soldiers street drugs to get well, no matter the fact that a $15,000 treatment could return them to sanity. Put against the US Veterans Administration estimate that a screwed up soldier can cost them $1.5 million and never recover from their mental battle scars? That there have been more suicides due to mental trauma than there have been deaths in battle in the US and UK militaries for several years? Hippy haters are more deranged at times with their silly ideas than their imaginings of a battalion of loved up Marines expanding their minds (and recovering from mental trauma in the process)!
This article was originally written in English, If you see any errors please email us at words@The-TripReport.com