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Psychedelics for PTSD: What a Long Strange Trip It's Been
By Virgil Huston
I am like so many vets with PTSD. There is nothing unique or special about me. I went to Iraq in 2004 and knew that something was drastically wrong when I took my mid-tour R&R.
I heard about a nonprofit organization called MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) that was funding research on MDMA assisted psychotherapy for veterans with treatment resistant PTSD. MDMA is what is supposed to be the active ingredient in "Molly" or "Ecstasy", although getting real MDMA on the street is pretty rare.
Long story short, I met the requirements to participate in the study, since I had been treated for years by the VA with every anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drug known to man, none of which made me feel better.
This is a three month psychotherapy process. There are non-MDMA psychotherapy sessions before the first MDMA session. This is for the patient and therapists to get to know one another and gain initial trust. These early sessions set the groundwork and rules for the MDMA sessions. They want you to know what to expect and your right to control your own experience. Patients take MDMA only three times under supervision. No big Pharma pills you take three times a day for the rest of your life. MDMA has an extremely good safety profile. It is also out of patent, so there is no money in it for the drug companies.
The in-between and after treatment sessions are to build on what came out of the MDMA sessions. All the psychotherapy sessions are important, MDMA or not.
This is THE silver bullet for treating PTSD. An earlier study with women suffering from PTSD caused by sexual trauma showed 83% no longer had symptoms after 3.8 years. I was in a Phase 2 study and results have been so good that the big Phase 3 trials are approved by the FDA and will begin soon. These are the trails that will lead to approval of this treatment for everyone with PTSD.
My three MDMA sessions built on one another and took me from outside influences on my life to my inner psyche. I was nervous at first, had never tried MDMA before.
The first treatment, I experienced anxiety when feeling the drug come on, but the therapists told me to breathe through it and ask myself why I was feeling this way. That soon passed into a beautiful euphoria where I was in complete control at all times. I remember everything. I had an agenda, I had work to do. The therapists had to work at getting me to let go and let the medicine do its work. They told me I was allowed to have a good time. What a concept, medicine that doesn't fuck you up and make you feel worse.
The majority of the time you are encouraged to commune within yourself with the aid of instrumental music that ranged from Hindu chants to drums to new age. Close your eyes and let the medicine and music guide your healing. My first session was about general outside influences on my life and how they might impact me, like the Army, my wife, my family and my work history. It was interesting and I knew work was getting done. I felt good about the therapy after it was over.
A month later, my second MDMA session was the pivotal one as far as the immediate and specific influences affecting me. These things were my wife and the specific war trauma. A lot of barriers were broken down during this day. I saw my wife as she actually sees herself, in filmstrips running rapidly through my brain. I needed to see that in order to understand her issues and life. It was very important for both of us. Then the trauma came up, starting with Iraq and then moving on to specific incidents in Afghanistan. This was the first time I was ever able to talk about these things.
It seems that part of the magic of MDMA is that it allows traumatic memories to be brought into the open and looked at and discussed in a neutral and nonthreatening manner. Then, when you restore the memories to the crevices in the brain, they no longer bother you as much. For me, no more nightmares, no more laying awake at night reliving the trauma over and over. I could sleep again. You don't forget, I didn't want to forget. But, I can now function. Those memories no longer rule my life. This is a wonderful thing.
This treatment saved my life. I have some survivor's guilt as I have been one of the few people to actually get this treatment legally and I know so many more who desperately need it.
MAPS, the non-profit organization funding this research, as well as research on using marijuana and other psychedelics as medicine, needs your help to spread the word, write your Congress members, get the VA and American Legion off its ass, etc.
Check out MAPS at http://maps.org.
Virgil Huston is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, served in the Army during the Cold War from 1976 through 1984 in Germany and Turkey. After 911, he joined the National Guard and was deployed to Iraq in 2004. He was a contractor in Afghanistan in 2011, a job he took due to his PTSD and being out of work at home.