A small group of soldiers, police officers and sexual assault victims suffering from chronic post-traumatic stress disorder will soon see if the rave party drug ecstasy can ease their symptoms.
The research group that will oversee the Vancouver-based study just received 9 grams of MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine, also known as ecstasy) from Switzerland after obtaining a long-awaited import permit for the prohibited drug.
Andrew Feldmar, a Vancouver psychologist who will help carry out the study with the synthetic drug — said there was a "whole hullabaloo" to meet the "Fort Knox" pharmacy-storage requirements.
"It's as if the whole of Vancouver is waiting to see this drug and will rob the pharmacy to get it," Feldmar told CBC News Network's Power & Politics.
He said it would be easy to get the ecstasy off the street — but researchers needed it to be "legal and pure."
Studies using ecstasy to treat PTSD are already underway in the U.S. and Europe by the non-profit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. The Canadian pilot has taken years to get off the ground and win approval from Health Canada and the Institutional Review Board due to regulatory hurdles.
Feldmar said there has been much stigma and controversy around the ground-breaking study because ecstasy is known as a rave party drug and has been linked to several high-profile deaths. But he insists it's an "incomparable experience" to use the drug in a therapeutic setting over a rave.
"The very same substance can be poison or medicine, depending on the dosage, depending on the circumstances in which it is ingested," he told host Power & Politics host Hannah Thibedeau.
Severe, persistent PTSD symptoms
The study will work with 12 subjects who "have found no solace" — in other words, have suffered with the most severe, persistent symptoms of PTSD and have not responded to conventional pharmaceuticals or psychotherapy. About 40 potential subjects have already applied to participate in the Canadian study.
Ecstasy helps hurt and frightened patients address the root trauma and establish security and trust, Feldmar said.
"You're shameless, your heart opens and you're present" when taking the drug, he said.
Therapists will stay with the participants for eight hours after taking the ecstasy for each session.
Feldmar said the cutting-edge therapy could help a generation of Canadian soldiers who are battling PTSD after serving in Afghanistan. Eventually, he hopes ecstasy will become a prescription, rather than a prohibited, drug.