Navy SEAL Foundation backs study of ecstasy component for PTSD treatment
By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 16, 2020
A nonprofit that supports Navy special operations troops and their families has pledged $50,000 to back research into the use of the main component of the drug ecstasy to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
The grant made by the Navy SEAL Foundation to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies is expected to assist with large-scale trials of the psychoactive drug MDMA, also known as molly, coupled with psychotherapy. It was made in partnership with author, entrepreneur and podcaster Tim Ferriss, who has already contributed around $1 million to MAPS, the foundation said in a statement on Veterans Day.
“It should come as no surprise that a foundation that exists to support Navy SEALs, some of the most high-performing individuals on the planet, would become the first military-serving nonprofit to step up and fund critical research into MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD,” Ferriss said in the statement.
Proponents of the MAPS research believe it could revolutionize treatment of the disorder, which affects an estimated 8 million people in the U.S. each year. More than 2,500 donors have given $30 million to fund it.
The Food and Drug Administration granted breakthrough therapy status to MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in 2017, but the compound remains a Schedule 1 drug alongside LSD, heroin and marijuana, which the government says have no “accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
The privately funded MAPS hopes to change that and is in the midst of Phase 3 trials at 15 sites in the U.S., Canada and Israel, which is the final clinical research step before the FDA decides whether to approve MDMA for prescription as a PTSD treatment.
“This pioneering work has shown great promise and has now made its way into the mainstream,” said Robin King, the foundation’s CEO. “We’re leaning in to help [Naval Special Warfare] and other veterans overcome the debilitating effects of PTSD.”
The protocol uses a pure form of the drug, not the street version, along with outpatient psychotherapy sessions and a residential stay.
The foundation’s support for the research was spurred by SEALs who have “found relief from PTSD” through such treatment outside the U.S., MAPS founder and executive director Rick Doblin said.
The drug appears to increase feelings of trust, help patients access traumatic memories and reduce the fear response to those memories. But it may only be necessary for those who don’t find relief through more traditional methods, Louise Morgan, a lead researcher at the Centre for Veterans’ Health in London, wrote in an article this spring.
“Most people can, over time, begin to build up a trusting relationship with a psychotherapist and start to think and talk about the traumatic event that they are trying to avoid, and then begin to work through their feelings,” she wrote in the Annals of General Psychology.
Americans who joined the SEALs after the 9/11 attacks are approaching retirement from service after nearly two decades of war during which injuries, hardships and the loss of teammates may have left them with lasting “adverse effects,” the Navy SEAL Foundation said.
“Those who fight at the tip of the spear deserve cutting-edge treatments,” said Ferriss, who has written frequently about the use of MDMA as an aid to therapy and last year helped promote an Israeli documentary about it, called “Trip of Compassion.”
The foundation hopes to inspire other organizations that support special operators to raise funds for the research as well, King said.