MDMA Ecstasy

What if Ecstasy could cure your PTSD?

Many veterans feel that no one really cares about their PTSD. Everyone says “Support Our Troops” but that’s about it. Many feel that treatment takes too long, and that treatments don’t really help anyway. But what if the illegal party drug MDMA (Ecstasy) could help?

What runs through your mind when you hear the phrase “Support Our Troops?” How about when the national anthem plays at a sporting event? Do you think about war-related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) when some pop-country singer sings about the red, white, and blue? There are countless phrases and images that conjure up the ideal “proud American” in today’s America, but most people ignore the dark realities of emotional issues that too many veterans face every day.

Put your political views aside for a second. Imagine reliving your worst nightmare over and over, but having no one to turn to, no one to understand. This is life for our country’s bravest men and women who are suffering from combat-related PTSD, an anxiety disorder in which veterans relive violent, traumatic events with disturbing vividness.

“It’s terrible because nobody recognizes it or takes it into consideration, not even your family. You’re not doing it on purpose, you just are that way sometimes,” says Carlos Saxony*, a 66 year-old Vietnam veteran who has suffered from PTSD since he was twenty. “Visibly, I look completely normal. It’s a big stigma with mental illness.” Veterans cannot simply put on a sign that says they have PTSD; mental illness is not visible in the same way a physical deformity or limitation might be, and because of this it tends to go unnoticed or be misunderstood.

Imagine reliving your worst nightmare over and over, but having no one to turn to, no one to understand. This is life for our country’s bravest men and women who are suffering from combat-related PTSD, an anxiety disorder in which veterans relive violent, traumatic events with disturbing vividness.

How many ribbons or bumper stickers refer to combat-related PTSD? When we say, “Thank you for your service,” are we really considering everything these people went through? According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), over twenty U.S. military veterans commit suicide every day. Maybe Toby Keith can sing about that. “I don’t look for respect because I really don’t know how anyone would ever come close to understanding what I’ve been through,” said Saxony.

“Just raising awareness about PTSD and how it affects veterans and others – much less raising funding for research to treat or cure it – has been difficult, though it’s getting easier,” says Brad Burge, Director of Communications and Marketing for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), one of the few organizations researching alternative forms of treatment for PTSD, and raising much-needed awareness.

“We haven’t come very far in recognizing mental-health issues,” adds Saxony. This is the crux of the problem.

Science is trying to open a door to the brain, but it can barely even see the light under the threshold – the American Psychology Association only just termed PTSD in 1980, though war veterans like Saxony had been suffering for decades. Current treatments are so ineffective that nearly half the veterans suffering from PTSD do not even seek them, and as of 2008, only half of those who did received what a Rand study called, “minimally adequate treatment.”

“When I came back from Vietnam, they told me there was nothing they could do for me,”

“I’m not aware of any new methods for treating individuals,” said Christine Daniels, a Clinical Nurse Specialist for Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, Illinois. She has worked with PTSD patients for twenty-five years, yet admits she follows no protocol – a familiar story for veterans like Saxony.

“When I came back from Vietnam, they told me there was nothing they could do for me,” said Saxony. It took thirty years to receive a PTSD diagnosis, though this was anything but helpful. They determined that I was 100 percent disabled, put me on seventeen different drugs over nine years: Valium, Oxycodone, Lorazepam, and several different anxiety medications.”

The side effects were worse than the PTSD itself: He had no feelings, no personality. After nine years he asked to be taken off the medications. Rather than slowly tapering his dosages, Saxony says doctors simply told him to stop taking his medications altogether. “They didn’t tell me about withdrawal. I almost died.” This was less than a decade ago.

Few medical breakthroughs have happened since, but for MAPS, it’s not from a lack of trying. “We are definitely very small potatoes compared to the vast sums of money and resources big pharmaceuticals or even startups have to spend,” said Mark Wagner, professor of neurology at the Medical University of South Carolina, and MAPS affiliate. His research has looked at MDMA (Ecstasy)-assisted psychotherapy, and early trials have proved remarkably successful. Still, with low funding and plenty of red tape, it will be at least a decade before Ecstasy can be a legal form of treatment. “Large pharmaceutical companies have chosen to ignore it [our work]. This emphasizes how uninterested Big Pharma is in developing treatments that only need to be taken a few times,” said Burge.

For-profit pharmaceutical companies, politicians, and a large percentage of the American people are not cognizant of the daily demons veterans must fight in their heads. Often the military and its actions become wrapped in politics. The average American creates an opinion of veterans and active military based on talking points in the news, or by content targeted to them in their news feed. This can create a gaping disconnect between the political/military machine and the fact that the core of our military is comprised of genuine human beings, most of whom joined the service in their late teens or early twenties for far different reasons than simply firing a gun.

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the actions of our government and military, you can still support our troops by supporting the war on mental illness.

*The names of any veterans and/or family members mentioned in this article have been changed to ensure privacy.

SIDEBAR: Ecstasy (MDMA) – Taking It Seriously

 

Kevin StearneKevin Sterne is a writer, editor, and journalist from Chicago. His work has appeared in “Better Mental Health Magazine,” “Chicago Health Magazine,” “The Chicago Review of Books,” “The Rumpus,” and “Substream Magazine,” among others. You can follow him on Twitter (@kevinsterne) or visit his web site at www.kevinsterne.com.