Ecstasy relief for trauma sufferers

Two Vancouver therapists have become the first Canadians to be permitted to give ecstasy to patients in a scientific trial aimed at finding new ways to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Psychologist Andrew Feldmar and psychiatrist Ingrid Pacey, with the help of the Boston-based organisation Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, also known as MAPS, are recruiting 12 people to take part in the trial, which they hope might include Canadian soldiers and police officers.

Mr. Feldmar said that like Vancouver’s supervised-injection site, the trial has obtained an exemption from Canada’s narcotics laws, and is waiting for an import permit for the Swiss-manufactured drug.

The Vancouver experiment is part of small but growing international movement to use drugs such as LSD, MDMA or ecstasy, and psylocibin as part of therapeutic treatment, which has received significant backing from MAPS.

‘There is a new interest,’ said Mr. Feldmar, who worked at Vancouver’s Hollywood Hospital in the 1960s when it used LSD as a treatment for alcoholism. ‘These substances are extremely effective. It was just when they were used irresponsibly that it created a senseless panic.’

MDMA was first synthesised by Merck Pharmaceuticals in 1912, but was rediscovered in the 1960s. It was considered an aid to psychotherapy before it was popularized as a party drug.

Mr. Feldmar said MDMA, often defined as an entheogen or psychoactive drug used to induce a mystical experience, helps people with post-traumatic stress disorder by breaking down barriers that are blocking their recovery.

He said it allows them to experience a sense of being in the present, of feeling connected to their therapist, and of feeling supported and loved.

‘You feel connected, therefore you feel able to go back and deal with the trauma.’

Mr. Doblin said MAPS designed the Vancouver study, got it through the regulatory process, and will now start raising the $200,000 needed to run it. Eight of the 12 patients will get full-strength doses of ecstacy up to three times during their treatment, while four will get a placebo.