In stunning advance, MDMA now 'likely' to be legalized as medicine

In stunning advance, MDMA now 'likely' to be legalized as medicine

VicesNovember 30, 2016 By Reilly Capps

Just five years from now, in early 2022, your doctor might scribble down the letters "MDMA" on an Rx pad. It'll be in a therapist's office, one playing soothing music. You'll settle into a couch, pull the blinds down, and feel literal ecstasy.

The scenario isn't a far cry from reality. And it became even more of a likelihood this past Tuesday, when the government agreed for scientists to move ahead with studying MDMA-assisted psychotherapy as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. This clears the path for legal MDMA, although only as a medicine. It's still a long way away from being legal for Pretty Lights concerts. But Tuesday's decision was a remarkable moment; you could almost hear the Drug War quieting by a few decibels.

"Damn!" said CU Boulder student James Casey, an Army veteran, when told of the latest news. "2022 is still far away — but damn, that's really good news."

PTSD wrecks lives, and all kinds of folks suffer from it: rape victims, firefighters, abused wives and, yes, some of those serving in the military. A few of them rejoiced at the news.

Casey, 24, knows the power of MDMA therapy for PTSD. He served in Afghanistan as a medic. It was difficult. He was sometimes treating kids who'd been shot in the head. When he came home, he was a self-described "scary guy," punching out air vents in his car and choking his dog when she misbehaved — sometimes until her eyes rolled back in her head. He tried all known PTSD treatments. Nothing worked. He felt like he was in a cave, desperate to get out, but couldn't see any light. MDMA became a beacon.

In the summer of 2014, a therapist guided him through his first MDMA session. That one and many after it were legal sessions, part of 'Phase 2' of the research process, a protocol any drug goes through to become approved by the FDA. The severity of his PTSD dropped 52 percent based on Casey's scores on a standardized PTSD scale. In total, 130 people in Boulder, South Carolina, Israel and Canada went through the therapy. The vast majority of them improved.

Tuesday, the sponsor of the clinical trials, a nonprofit called the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), met with the FDA. The FDA gave them the go-ahead for 'Phase 3' trials, the final phase in the approval process. It means more participants — between 230 and 400 — in more parts of the country, including about 20 people in Boulder. The doses drop in summer 2017. Barring disaster, they're on track for approval in late 2021.

If you have PTSD, you might be able to dose yourself as early as 2022.

Brad Burge, a spokesperson for MAPS, said that the meeting yesterday was the biggest hurdle in the entire approval process, and none quite as tall ahead.

"We have a clear path ahead," Burge says "This is a moment that MAPS has been working towards for 30 years."

There are still challenges. Phase 3 will cost $20-$25 million, and MAPS only has about $10 million. It needs to buy the MDMA, which will cost $400,000. You can help buy some (this may be your only chance to buy molly legally) — even though you wouldn't be buying it for yourself.

Of course, a Trump administration could kibosh the whole thing. But Burge says he believes the chances of that are "slim to none."

With this news, the War on Drugs simmers down a few degrees. Casey, the Army vet who quieted his PTSD, marvels at the progress this crazy treatment is making.

"My parents could never have imagined this," he adds. "For them, MDMA puts holes in your brain, acid makes you jump off a building, magic mushrooms make you go crazy. But that was them. Me, I'm 24 years old, and I came up a little after all that, I always kind of saw past all that propaganda bullshit. Seeing that MDMA is going to be legal — at least as a medicine — what a time to be alive!"

(Photo courtesy of MAPS.org)