Despite death and overdose, therapeutic Ecstasy shows promise

"This ecstasy doth unperplex / (We said) and tell us what we love." - John Donne

Three recent overdoses from the illegal drug Ecstasy in the Lower Mainland have police issuing warnings to users – but a local psychologist worries that misconceptions about the drug are causing the government to stall important research into treating trauma.
 
With two deaths and a 24-year old Abbotsford woman in critical condition since New Years Eve after ingesting eight tablets of the drug commonly associated with raves – its official name is methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) – police said the drug is not safe in any quantity.
 
Meanwhile, a ground-breaking study into using MDMA in psychotherapy to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has hit a bureaucratic wall after Health Canada inspectors changed security requirements, delaying an already-approved research study from proceeding, one of the study's researchers alleged.
 
“It looks like ... Health Canada is okay with the study, but there are higher-up politics involved,” said Andrew Feldmár, a psychologist approved three years ago to study the effects of MDMA on trauma patients. “Basically, they tied (Health Canada's) hands and want to frustrate the project.
 
“Because of the prejudice of politicians, thousands of people are deprived of the benefits (of MDMA). Who is putting pressure on Health Canada not to get this going?”

The drug, which was invented in 1912 by German chemist Anton Köllisch, produces what Feldmár called “empathogenic” effects: it increases feelings of empathy and trust. Treatment of patients with PTSD is often difficult, he explained, because trauma can cause a sense of isolation and loss of trust. Studies conducted with soldiers in the U.S., Israel and Switzerland suggest MDMA assists patients to develop a connection with their therapist, as well as to relieve feelings of shame associated with PTSD.
 
The history PTSD, like MDMA, has been controversial. Previously labelled “shell-shock” after World War One, until recently many have been reluctant to accept that experiencing violence such as war might have long-term psychological effects. Today, however, researchers are discovering trauma can cause physical changes to the brain. The majority of people with PTSD, in fact are civilians, not soldiers.
 
“Many people coming back from war are deeply traumatized,” Feldmár said. “The use of MDMA is the most effective and best method for freeing them of the effects of trauma.

“For people who have had trauma, it allows them to get back in touch with the terror or the horror of the original experience, and to be able to mourn and grieve it – and leave it behind. There are people who have been traumatized and no other therapy helps them.”

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