MDMA: Medicine for Healing from Trauma

Known on the street as Ecstasy, MDMA is found to promote recovery from posttraumatic stress disorder.

by Jennifer Purdon
November 27, 2017

On the horizon of cutting-edge psychological research, a small but expanding group of researchers are exploring psychedelic substances for their medicinal potential in treating a myriad of mental illnesses. One of these substances, currently being studied in FDA sanctioned clinical trials, is MDMA. MDMA is classified as an entactogen, meaning “touching within” and is short for the chemical name 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine. It is most well known as the desired constituent of the rave drug “ecstasy” or “molly”. Unlike MDMA, molly and ecstasy are frequently compromised with numerous adulterants, and more than often contain no MDMA at all. Ecstasy and Molly are street names given to the substance MDMA. “Ecstasy” originally referred to any drug which produced the feeling of ecstasy, and Molly referred to “Molecule” or pure MDMA in a powdered or crystallized form.

Before MDMA was made illegal, it was a legally prescribed drug utilized by a small community of therapists as a tool in couples’ therapy sessions. Don’t let the stigma surrounding MDMA fool you however. Modern research is demonstrating that MDMA shows extremely promising therapeutic potential as an assistant to therapy for individuals with chronic and treatment-resistant post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Current research into MDMA-Assisted therapy is being sponsored and conducted by the Santa-Cruz based organization Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). Phase 3 trials are starting at 15 locations throughout the US and internationally. Based on the impressive results from phase 2 trials, the FDA has recently granted MDMA “Breakthrough Therapy” status in its final phase, and if it continues to show promise, MDMA will be fast-tracked into designation and recognition as an empirically-supported effective treatment for PTSD.

Rachel Hope, one of the participants from the phase 2 stage of the study, agreed to be interviewed for this article. Like so many women and girls, she suffered from PTSD, and is a victim-survivor of complex trauma and repeated childhood rape. Rachel Hope is an empowered whirl-wind of feminine energy, and we spoke at length about the incredible effort that she’s putting into her work as an environmental activist, and her dreams and plans for the future.

Rachel is a full-time activist, mother, and community-builder living in Los Angeles, California. Growing up, she was ardent in pursuing her passions in art, dance, and the sciences. During her teenage years she graduated from a prep school in California with a concentration in dance choreography, all while working at a local brain and learning institute. She completed college at the University of Hawaii with a degree in Social Psychology, and is now forty-six years of age and the caring mother of four. Rachel spent 6 years working as a writer, but is presently living her dream occupation by aligning her work as an activist with her core values – sustainability, and addressing collective human trauma. She is preparing to embark on a speaking tour beginning in the Spring, where she will lecture at events and inform researchers, medical, and business professionals of the promising potential of therapies that utilize psychedelic medicines.

It was back in 2004 that Rachel was deteriorating to the point where she wasn’t holding down food, was having night terrors, and she described that her startle reflex at the time “had gone totally rogue.”

She said, “I would jump or scream when someone would come up to me and try to talk to me, even when I knew they were already in the room. I was extremely agitated, irritated, and dependent upon my assistant, and eventually he told me that he’d had enough.”

He handed her a stack of information on new PTSD research and challenged her to find help. Rachel looked through the 2-inch thick stack and was disgusted by the limitations of what big-pharma had to offer her. She refused to support corporate and industry research into substances that aim to entice at risk individuals in order to test out their “cures” that may potentially harm them.  When Rachel saw that MDMA-Assisted psychotherapy was one of her options, it sparked her interest. Rachel decided to fly out to South Carolina to participate in the MAPS phase 2 clinical trial, and it was there that she was introduced to the co-therapist team, Dr. Michael and Annie Mithoefer, who eventually helped her work through many of her traumatic experiences.

According to Rachel, “when I got to the MAPS trial and saw that it was privately funded, I realized this wasn’t big pharma and wondered, ‘who are these people?’ I didn’t even know what MDMA was. It was later on that I realized that this was the ‘party drug’ known as ecstasy. It seemed like a desperate thing, that only someone on their deathbed should try, but I thought that maybe I should be the guinea pig, because I was going to die anyway. That’s what I thought! I had no thought that this could ever help me, but at least if I was gonna go down in flames, I’d have an experience. At least I’d be protecting another person who wouldn’t get hurt, and as a last-ditch effort, maybe it would help me. I thought, I’m rooting for the underdog here. I never thought that it would work, I honestly thought that I was going to do it to hasten my inevitable death, but contribute to research on the way.

“I had no hope. That’s what makes it so interesting, because I had no agenda, I wasn’t anti drug-war, I wasn’t an activist in that way, I believed in decriminalization because I understood that legalized slavery is held into place by the drug war, and thought that was an incredible, exploitative human rights violation to disadvantaged and underserved people. My people. Still my attitude towards recreational drugs at the time was that it was a sad consequence of deep-trodden, marginalized, and oppressed people who have nothing to live for anymore. I didn’t understand peer-based therapies or sacred medicines at the time. I certainly didn’t want to help big pharma, and I wanted to keep my assistant. I was pretty shocked when I got well. Really shocked.”

Continue to part 2.

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