A husband-and-wife team who work in suburban South Carolina have been working with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with post-traumatic stress using an alternative MDMA treatment program. The husband-and-wife team offering the treatment, Michael and Ann Mithoefer, write in a paper posted online by the Journal of Psychopharmacology that they found 15 of 21 people who recovered in the early 2000s from severe post-traumatic stress in the therapy, which combines psychotherapy with a dose of MDMA, reported minor to virtually no symptoms today. Michael Mithoefer is a psychiatrist and Ann Mithoefer is a nurse.
Many of the participants have received other kinds of therapy since, but not with MDMA. The drug, better known as Ecstasy, is a party drug that surfaced in the 1980s and ’90s. The drug was criminalized in 1985 when government regulators placed it on a list of prohibited substances. The drug can induce pulses of euphoria and a radiating affection.
The Mithoefers collaborated with researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina and the nonprofit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies on the study. Experts familiar with the work cautioned that it was preliminary and based on small numbers of participants. A Department of Defense spokeswoman said that the military was not involved in any research involving MDMA.
In recent years, a small number of labs have been licensed by regulators to produce MDMA for research purposes. Psychiatrists’ tentative interest in hallucinogens and other recreational drugs could pay off. Dr. John H. Krystal, chairman of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine said that given the scarcity of good treatments for post-traumatic stress, “there is a tremendous need to study novel medications,” including MDMA.
The soldiers are lining up to try the treatment after taking traditional talking cures and prescription drugs that have given them little relief. Unfortunately, following Food and Drug Administration protocols for testing an experimental drug, the couple will treat no more than 24 veterans with the therapy. Dr. Mithoefer said, “We’ve had more than 250 vets call us. There’s a long waiting list, we wish we could enroll them all.” Similar experiments using MDMA, LSD, or marijuana are now in the works in Switzerland, Israel, and Britain.