The "turn on, tune in and drop out" age of psychedelics created a collective burnout, but these controversial drugs may be the answer for this era's addiction and depression epidemic. Viia Beaumanis investigates.
An aviation prodigy who first flew in a friend's plane at 13 and wanted to be a pilot after seeing Top Gun, C.J. Hardin signed up for active duty at 21, the day the Twin Towers fell. Pulling multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division, Hardin was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after his second deployment. Army doctors issued a stack of prescriptions: antidepressants, drugs to keep him alert, sleeping pills for insomnia, blood pressure meds to prevent the nightmares.
"When I left the military in 2010 and returned to the States, I quit all the meds," says Hardin, now 36 and living in Charleston, S.C. "But I wasn't functioning. I drank a bottle of rum and half a dozen beers every day, smoked a ton of pot. I bought a camper and lived on my family's land. I wouldn't leave the house. I was unemployable."
In 2013, Hardin learned about MDMA therapy (MDMA is also known as the "love drug" Ecstasy) and signed up. "I quit pot, submitted a clean drug test and got through a lot of interviews and examinations before I was admitted into the program. Then I had three MDMA sessions a month apart. After the first one, there was a major difference, like a giant weight had been lifted off my back. MDMA was like a blanket that wrapped around me and allowed me to talk about things I'd never been able to talk about with anybody. Without MDMA as a catalyst, I'd never have been as open. By the third session, I felt like I was wrapping it all up and closing the book." It's not a magic pill, he adds. "You need the PhD therapist with a lot of experience in psychedelics to go with it."
Clinical studies treating veterans for PTSD with MDMA report that just three months of care—weekly psychotherapy enhanced by three day-long MDMA-assisted sessions—offers a more than extraordinary 80 per cent success rate. And the effects are lasting: researchers monitored patients, who included firefighters, police officers and survivors of childhood sexual abuse as well as veterans, over a three-and-a-half–year span.
"The veteran suicides in America are a national tragedy: 22 every day. MDMA shows extremely positive results while no other medications—anti-depressants like Zoloft and Paxil—work well," explains Rick Doblin who founded the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) in 1986 and pioneered the research in conjunction with clinical scientists in Canada, the U.S., Switzerland, Spain and Israel. Pending final trials, MDMA looks slated to become a federally approved prescription drug, legal for therapeutic use, in 2021.
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