At last the incurably traumatized may be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. And controversially, the key to taming their demons is the 'killer' drug Ecstasy
An Ecstasy tablet. That's what it took to make Donna Kilgore feel alive again that and the doctor who prescribed it. As the pill began to take effect, she giggled for the first time in ages. She felt warm and fuzzy, as if she was floating. The anxiety melted away. Gradually, it all became clear: the guilt, the anger, the shame.
Before, she'd been frozen, unable to feel anything but fear for 10 years. Touching her own arms was, she says, "like touching a corpse." She was terrified, unable to respond to her loving husband or rock her baby to sleep. She couldn't drive over bridges for fear of dying, was by turns uncontrollably angry and paralyzed with numbness. When she spoke, she heard her voice as if it were miles away; her head felt detached from her body. "It was like living in a movie but watching myself through the camera lens,"she says. "I wasn't real."
Unknowingly, Donna, now 39, had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And she would become the first subject in a pioneering American research program to test the effects of MDMA otherwise known as the dancefloor drug Ecstasy on PTSD sufferers.
Some doctors believe MDMA could be the key to solving previously untreatable deep-rooted traumas. For a hard core of PTSD cases, no amount of antidepressants or psychotherapy can rid them of the horror of systematic abuse or a bad near-death experience, and the slightest reminder triggers vivid flashbacks.
PTSD-specific psychotherapy has always been based on the idea that the sufferer must be guided back to the pivotal moment of that trauma the crash, the battlefield, the moment of rape and relive it before they can move on and begin to heal. But what if that trauma is insurmountable? What if a person is so horrified by their experience that even to think of revisiting it can bring on hysterics? After hysterics, the Home Office estimates that 11,000 clubbers take Ecstasy every weekend. Could MDMA the illegal class-A rave drug, found in the system of Leah Betts when she died in 1995, and over 200 others since really help? Dr Michael Mithoefer, the psychiatrist from South Carolina who struggled for years to get funding and permission for the study, believes so. Some regard his study approved by the US government as irresponsible, dangerous even. But Mithoefer's results tell a different story.
MDMA was patented in 1912 by the German pharmaceutical company Merck. To begin with, it was merely an intermediate chemical used in creating a drug to control bleeding. In the 1920s MDMA was used in studies on blood glucose as a substitute for adrenaline. The Merck chemist Max Oberlin concluded that it would be worth "keeping an eye on this field." Still, no further studies were carried out until 1952, when the chemist Dr Albert van Schoor tested the toxicity of MDMA on flies. "Flies lie in supine position, then death," he recorded.
MDMA's therapeutic potential wasn't realised until 1976, when the American chemist Alexander Shulgin tried it on himself. He noted that its effect, "an easily controlled altered state of consciousness with emotional and sensual overtones," could be ideal for psychotherapy, as it induced a state of openness and trust without hallucination or paranoia. It quickly became known as a wonder drug, and began to be used widely in couples therapy and for treating anxiety disorders. None of these tests was "empirical" in the scientific sense no placebos, no follow-up testing but anecdotally the results were almost entirely positive.
Word, and supplies, of the new "love drug" got out, and in the early 1980s it became popular in the fashionable clubs of Dallas, LA and London, where it was known as Ecstasy, X or "dolphins." As use became widespread, the US authorities panicked, and by 1985 MDMA was an illegal, schedule-1 drug. UK laws were even tighter: MDMA, illegal under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, was categorised class A in 1977, carrying a sentence of up to seven years for possession.
Criminalization put paid to MDMA research almost overnight, at least until Mithoefer's current program began. But it didn't stop the ravers. The drug was popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s for its energizing, euphoric effects. There are no official figures for that period, but the UK Home Office estimates that in 2006/7, between 236,000 and 341,000 people in the UK took Ecstasy. Experts say the drug is far less fashionable now than in its heyday in 1988, the second so-called "summer of love."
The MDMA used in the studies the drug Dr Mithoefer gave Donna and other patients was the pure chemical compound, not the black-market Ecstasy bought by recreational users. " A lot of Ecstasy pills aren't MDMA at all," says Steve Rolles of the drug-policy reform group Transform. "They may be amphetamines, or unknown pharmaceuticals, or they can be cut with almost any drug in pill or powder form. That's when you magnify risks associated with taking a drug that's already toxic. Plus, people use it irresponsibly, mixing it with other drugs, not drinking enough water or drinking too much."
- By the way in England an old men with alzeihmer, took mdma and in the hours that effect took place he remembered everything.