When Boulder psychiatrist Will Van Derveer first heard of people dealing with serious mental health issues with MDMA – popularly known as the party drug ecstasy, or molly – he was extremely skeptical.
He remembers learning that it was a drug of abuse and could even burn holes in users’ brains. Then he started seeing results as it helped trauma survivors and others open up to treatment and become mentally healthier. One article published in 2011 was particularly eye-opening, he says. It showed that 83% of participants with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder no longer met the criteria for the disorder, he said.
“My conventional training in psychiatry didn’t give me close to 83%,” Van Derveer said. “I would be lucky if I got the opposite of that, 17%, with this population.”
He soon joined a research team to conduct trials in Boulder, where patients who struggled with treatments for a decade saw marked results. Results so promising that he took the time on Tuesday to testify before the Colorado legislature in support of a bill that would legalize the drug in therapeutic treatments as soon as it receives federal approval.
After his testimony and the approval of all the other speakers, the bipartisan House Bill 1344 – sponsored by State Reps. Patrick Neville and David Ortiz, both U.S. Army veterans – passed at the unanimously by the House Public and Behavioral Health and Human Services Committee. It still needs to clean the entire chamber and the Senate before it is submitted to Governor Jared Polis for consideration.
The bill would not legalize MDMA as a prescription drug, but would allow its use if approved as a therapeutic treatment by the United States Food and Drug Administration. It’s in its final trial through the agency, setting it up for approval as early as next year, according to The New York Times.
Early trials have shown promise. In the most recent federal trial, 79 people with severe PTSD received supportive therapy for 18 weeks; 42 received MDMA and 37 received placebos in three of their sessions and in the presence of a trained therapeutic team.
At the end of it, two-thirds of patients who received MDMA no longer met the diagnostic criteria for the disease, compared to one-third of the control group, according to a study of the trial published in Nature Medicine.
“MDMA-assisted therapy has the potential to radically transform the treatment of PTSD and should be rapidly evaluated for clinical use,” the study authors wrote.
Jonathan Lubecky, a Marine Corps and United States Army veteran, has become an advocate for the treatment after undergoing it himself in an earlier trial. His PTSD led him to several suicide attempts, he said. He swallowed 42 prescribed pills a day, and they also did not alleviate his symptoms.
MDMA treatment, he said, cured him – of the urge to die, panic attacks in crowded areas, the fight-or-flight response when unconsciously pointing out a stranger as a threat.
“MDMA-assisted therapy is the reason my son has a father and not a folded flag,” said Lubecky, a national advocate for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.
In response to a question about his addiction, Lubecky said he had experienced drug-induced euphoria, but against the backdrop of reliving some of the worst times of his life. In short, he didn’t feel the need to take the medication again, even after suffering further trauma – although knowing he would be available in a treatment setting if needed always comforts him.
“I won’t lie – it’s like doing therapy while being hugged by everyone who loves you while in a bathtub full of puppies licking your face,” Lubecky quipped, before becoming more solemn about of his treatment. “I went there thinking I was just going to talk about Iraq, but I ended up talking about all the bad things in my life… My connection to drugs is not a fun thing. It is very difficult, very hard. But it’s not traumatic. »
Neville, a Republican representing Castle Rock, sponsored the bill after some initial hesitation. He was open to the concept as a way to expand medical freedoms. Data from early medical trials showing the effectiveness of treating people with PTSD led him to join.
Too many people, veterans or not, are already self-medicating to deal with their symptoms, he said.
“It’s interesting,” Neville said of the bill ahead of the committee hearing. “It’s not something I necessarily would have jumped on. I had to dig in and take a closer look. But, actually, it makes a lot of sense when you see the clinical trials that have been done. is really effective.”
Neville suffered from post-traumatic stress when he returned from his deployment in Iraq. He’s found relief in his faith and sense of purpose from his work in the legislature, and while he doesn’t see himself using MDMA as a treatment, he said it was good to know that it was an option.
“The cure isn’t permanent,” Neville said. “It can pop up at any time, so it’s good to know (these treatments are) out there.”
Ortiz, a Democrat representing Littleton, also said he felt the “dark weight” of PTSD. Efforts like this are another sign of treating mental health like physical health, he said, and he hopes it could be a pathway to help not just people with PTSD, but others. other mental health issues.
“If there’s any potential through treatment, using MDMA as a catalyst, to be able to free myself and others from that burden, that’s something really exciting and really meaningful,” Ortiz said. “I can’t overstate what this could be the start of.”