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The Peace Drug Being Used to Treat PTSD
( Tom Shroder, Washington Post, November 25, 2007)
PTSD is usually triggered by combat, rape, childhood abuse, a serious accident or natural disaster -- any situation in which someone believes death is imminent, or in which a significant threat of serious injury is accompanied by an intense sense of helplessness or horror. Not all or even most trauma victims develop PTSD, but enough do so that nearly 24 million Americans, or 8 percent of the population, have suffered from it at some point in their lifetime. It is estimated that in any given year, more than 5 million Americans have active PTSD -- a costly problem in humanitarian and economic terms. Drug and alcohol abuse are all-too-frequent consequences of PTSD, as is loss of productivity and the need for expensive, long-lasting medical treatment. . . . The ever-lengthening Iraq war will count among its other costs a legacy of thousands of veterans in need of psychiatric treatment. The government estimates that already more than 50,000 soldiers -- about 4 percent of those who have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan -- have been treated for symptoms of PTSD. Many more might actually have it: Military studies put the number at 12 to 20 percent of those returning from Iraq and 6 to 11 percent of those returning from Afghanistan. And the news gets worse. . . . "Vets with PTSD are particularly costly to the [Veterans Affairs] system," says Linda Bilmes, a lecturer in public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "They constitute 8 percent of the claims, but 20 percent of the payments." Bilmes, who has studied the ongoing costs of the wars, estimates that treating Iraq vets with PTSD over the next 50 years will cost taxpayers $100 billion. This is based on findings that one-third of vets with PTSD will remain unemployable, and all suffering with PTSD will have a much higher than normal likelihood of needing treatment for physical ailments. And that's just the direct costs to the budget. "Assuming that the war continues, though with lower deployments, through 2017," she says, and assuming the rate of PTSD isn't being underreported, the cost of lost economic productivity to the U.S. economy will be in excess of $65 billion. . . . Whatever the cause, the symptoms of PTSD are fairly consistent, and Donna's -- which rated severe on a standard diagnostic test -- were typical. Her prognosis was not great. Some antidepressants can diminish symptoms, and various forms of psychotherapy can, long term, sometimes untangle the psychological knot at the root of the problem. But the nature of PTSD makes therapy problematic. The very symptoms -- acute anxiety, heightened fear, diminished trust and inability to revisit the trauma -- are a direct roadblock to healing. At least one-third of people with PTSD never fully recover. . . . Two Iraq veterans with war-related PTSD, the study's first, are cleared to begin. Close behind are similar studies in Switzerland and Israel. At Harvard's McLean Hospital, researchers are set to evaluate MDMA therapy as a way to alleviate acute anxiety in terminal cancer patients. In Vancouver, Canada, the effectiveness of an ongoing program to treat drug addiction with another potent psychedelic drug, ibogaine, is under scrutiny. There is a proposal, based on case histories, to study the ability of LSD to defuse crippling cluster headaches. . . . THE PROMISE OF A BLOCKBUSTER TREATMENT, one that doesn't just address symptoms but defuses underlying causes, is a particularly seductive vision right now. A report issued last month by the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine emphasizes the uncertain effectiveness of current PTSD treatments, and the urgent need of returning soldiers who will suffer from it. . . . To a non-scientist, the very preliminary results of Mithoefer's study would suggest that MDMA might be just what the doctors ordered. Of the subjects who have been through both the MDMA-assisted therapy and the three-month post-experiment follow-up tests, Mithoefer reports, every one showed dramatic improvement. . . . It's not well understood why MDMA, or any psychedelic drug, can produce extraordinary experiences. But in MDMA's case, the crude explanation seems to involve a drug-forced rush of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin assists in the transmission of nerve impulses and plays a role in regulating a wide range of sensations and impulses, from mood, emotion, sleep and appetite to sensation, pleasure and sexuality. One recent study pointed out physiological similarities between a brain under the influence of MDMA and the post-orgasmic state, also known for producing emotional closeness and euphoria. . . . The new safety study was not testing the dangers of MDMA under the conditions of illegal use. Eighteen people were given dosages similar to those that would be used in psychotherapy sessions, and the settings were comparable to the calm of a psychiatrist's office. The gist of the findings: MDMA given under those circumstances produced no acute harm or evidence of brain impairment. These results were bolstered by a Swiss study in which people who had never before taken MDMA were given brain scans before and after being given a single therapeutic-range dose of the drug. Comparison of the before and after scans showed no damage.

[ALSO LISTEN TO: "MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder", a talk given by Dr. Michael Mithoefer.]








posted by Lorenzo 8:16 PM


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