The Current

'I have no doubt it saved my life': MDMA drug helps former firefighter with PTSD

Researchers say pure MDMA — not the stuff on the street — has the potential to change the brain and create conditions that allow psychotherapy. Ed Thompson who suffers from PTSD says MDMA treatment saved his life.
MDMA is the main chemical in the street drug know as ecstasy - it increases the release of hormones like seratonin, dopamine and cortisol, which inhibit fear. (U.S. DEA/Handout via Reuters)

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Researchers are exploring how MDMA, mostly known as an illegal recreational drug, could work as a therapeutic treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

The first Canadian MDMA assisted trauma therapy trial concluded with positive results. And just recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave the green light for large-scale clinical trials of the drug that will look at its effectiveness and side effects when treating PTSD — moving MDMA towards approval as a prescription medication.

Former firefighter Ed Thompson participated in a U.S. study using MDMA as a form of therapeutic treatment. He tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti how his life has changed.

"I truly couldn't be happier," Thompson says.

"And I have no doubt that it saved my life."

Thompson says he was skeptical when he heard about MDMA as a treatment because nothing had worked for him in the past.

"But I was desperate, and kind of grasping at straws for something that could possibly help me get my family back and help me get my life back."

He tells Tremonti that taking MDMA didn't feel like a party drug, "it was a lot of work." For Thompson, he says it worked because the right amount of numbing made him able to talk about things.

Outside of the context of therapy, Thompson says he is certain he wouldn't ever want to try the drug again but said it was "an overwhelmingly positive experience" in just three sessions.

As a former firefighter, Thompson says the seeds for PTSD were planted in his first years on the job responding to terrible calls and having to notify family members of loved ones who died.

"But I think the most significant source for me would be having to respond to my own family. Both of my twin girls had severe cardiac and neurological issues that have since healed. But I had to do CPR on my own little girls," Thomspon tells Tremonti.

"It wasn't until my daughter started getting better that I really started to lose it."

Thompson says unlike other therapies, MDMA helped him to take part in the healing process — whereas other cases "felt like a blame game."

Psychology professor Andy Parrott, who studies the recreational use of MDMA at Swansea University, worries about the message the drug used as therapy sends to young people.

"Lots of students I lecture say 'well MDMA must be a safe drug' for them to take because it helps solve problems," Parrott tells Tremonti.

"I think you need far more positive warnings around it which I haven't seen in the press reports."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Shannon Higgins and Karin Marley.