Ecstasy Use Studied To Ease Fear in Terminally Ill

Ecstasy Use Studied To Ease Fear in Terminally Ill
Posted by CN Staff on December 27, 2004 at 13:37:31 PT
By Rick Weiss, Washington Post Staff Writer
Source: Washington Post
For some, the diagnosis comes out of the blue. For others, it arrives after a long battle. Either way, the news that death is just a few months away poses a daunting challenge for both doctor and patient.Drugs can ease pain and reduce anxiety, but what about the more profound issues that come with impending death? The wish to resolve lingering conflicts with family members. The longing to know, before it's too late, what it means to love, or what it meant to live. There is no medicine to address such disease.
Or is there?This month, in a little-noted administrative decision, the Food and Drug Administration gave the green light to a Harvard proposal to test the benefits of the illegal street drug known as "ecstasy" in patients diagnosed with severe anxiety related to advanced cancer. The drug, also known as 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA, has been referred to by psychiatrists as an "empathogen," a drug especially good at putting people in touch with their emotions. Some believe it could help patients come to terms with the biggest emotional challenge of all: the end of life.The FDA's approval puts the study on track to become the first test of a psychedelic substance since 1963 at Harvard, where drug guru Timothy Leary lost his teaching privileges after using students in experiments with LSD and other hallucinogens.It also marks a milestone for a small but increasingly effective movement favoring a more open-minded attitude toward the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs, virtually all of which have been criminalized and disparaged for decades as medically useless. Already, MDMA is being tested for its ability to reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. And two U.S. studies are looking at the usefulness of psilocybin -- the active ingredient in "magic mushrooms" -- in terminally ill cancer patients and in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder.In the coming year, advocates also hope to submit to the FDA an application to test psilocybin and LSD as treatments for a debilitating syndrome known as cluster headaches.That would be a fitting birthday present for Albert Hofmann, the chemist who discovered both compounds while working for the Swiss drug company Sandoz and who turns 99 in January, said Rick Doblin, president of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. The Sarasota-based nonprofit has organized and funded much of the new research.Hofmann, who has expressed support for clinical studies such as the one being planned at Harvard, has referred to LSD as his "problem child" -- a reference to his belief that despite its widespread abuse, the mind-altering drug has the potential to help some people. Although they vary in their chemical structures and specific effects, many psychedelic drugs work on the parts of the brain that regulate serotonin -- the same brain chemical that is the target of many FDA-approved antidepressants. That does not indicate that the drugs are necessarily safe; indeed, they all carry some medical and psychiatric risk.Yet even scientists who have been vocal about those risks have expressed at least guarded support for the idea that, in the company of a therapist and with proper medical monitoring, moderate doses might benefit some people. "When taken under adverse circumstances by ill-prepared individuals, there are substantial psychological risks," said Charles Grob, a psychiatrist at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. "But when taken in the context of carefully structured and approved research protocols and facilitated by individuals with expertise, adverse effects can be contained to a minimum."Grob is leading an FDA-approved study in which terminally ill cancer patients are being given psilocybin to see whether it can help them sort through emotional and spiritual issues. He said the patients take a "modest" dose of synthetic psilocybin, equivalent to two or three illicit mushrooms. They spend the next six hours or so in a comfortable setting with a psychiatrist -- talking, thinking and sometimes listening to music with headphones."So far they have had very impressive results in terms of amelioration of anxiety, improvement of mood, improved rapport with close family and friends and, interestingly, significant and lasting reductions in pain," Grob said of the first few patients to enroll. "These are extraordinary compounds that seem to have an uncanny ability to reliably induce spiritual or religious experiences when taken in the right conditions."Promising results have also been reported at the University of Arizona from a 10-person study of psilocybin for obsessive-compulsive disorder, which locks people into repetitive thoughts and actions. And Charleston, S.C., psychiatrist Michael Mithoefer has seen no complications in any of the five patients who have enrolled in his 20-person study of MDMA for victims of violence struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.With the FDA's Dec. 17 approval of the Harvard MDMA protocol -- and permission in hand from ethics review boards at Harvard and the nearby Lahey Clinic, where patients will be recruited -- the only remaining hurdle is getting a special license from the Drug Enforcement Administration. A dozen subjects with less than 12 months to live will get either low or moderate doses of MDMA during two sessions a few weeks apart, along with counseling and a variety of psychological tests before and after treatment.The approach has its doubters."Even in antiquity, some groups thought it was especially important to take whatever their local psychedelic was -- including alcohol -- when confronting mortality, whether it's to see into the hereafter, improve spiritual growth or just numb yourself to the reality," said Joanne Lynn, president of the Washington-based Americans for Better Care of the Dying and director of RAND Health, a science and policy research center. But drugs can be disorienting, she said."It's sometimes poetic, sometimes majestic, but often mundane work to wrap up one's life," Lynn said. "I think it's unlikely there's a pill that will make that go away."John Halpern, associate director of substance abuse research in the biological psychiatry lab at Harvard's McLean Hospital, who will lead the MDMA study there, agreed that it is not for everyone. But creating a sense of connection with something greater than oneself "may be helpful" for many facing death, he said.Halpern emphasized the differences between his study and the freewheeling experiments conducted by Leary in the 1960s. "This is not about hippy dippy Halpern trying to turn on the world. I'm not looking at this as a magic bullet," he said. "But for a lot of people, the anxiety about death is so tremendous that there is no way to get their arms around the problems that were ongoing in their family. This could be a substantial contribution to the range of palliative care strategies we're trying to develop for people facing their death." Laura Huxley, widow of the author and metaphysical pioneer Aldous Huxley, said her husband asked for -- and she provided -- a dose of LSD as he lay dying in 1963. "He wanted to be aware," the 93-year-old supporter of the new research said last week. "It's a very important moment."Leary took a wide array of psychedelics in the weeks leading up to his death from cancer in 1996. Some suspect the drugs clouded rather than sharpened his perceptions, but he died with a positive attitude."It's kind of interesting really," he said of dying, talking to a friend in his final days. "You should try it sometime." Complete Title: 'Ecstasy' Use Studied To Ease Fear in Terminally Ill Source: Washington Post (DC)Author:  Rick Weiss, Washington Post Staff WriterPublished: Monday, December 27, 2004; Page A11 Copyright: 2004 Washington Post Contact: letterstoed washpost.comWebsite: Related Articles & Web Sites:MAPS Agonistes Hope To Make Case for Ecstasy On Ecstasy Is Clouded By Errors
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Comment #12 posted by FoM on January 04, 2005 at 08:20:28 PT
Press Release from The Drug Policy Alliance
FDA Approves Harvard MAPS Study on EcstasyJanuary 4, 2005The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a Harvard Medical School study of the impact of MDMA (ecstasy) on anxiety suffered by cancer patients. The study, to be conducted by Dr. John Halpern, will be sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). In South Carolina a MAPS-sponsored study of MDMA therapy to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is already underway.“The longest day of winter has passed, and maybe so has the decades-long era of resistance to psychedelic research,” said MAPS Projects and Communications Director Brandy Doyle in a statement put out by the group late last month. “This ensures that we will now be able to begin psychedelic research at Harvard for the first time since studies ended in 1965, doing it carefully with the advantage of hindsight and the lessons learned from the past.”In other MAPS news, the group is moving ahead with plans for a lawsuit to overturn a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) decision to block the group’s plans to sponsor a controlled facility to grow medical-marijuana for research purposes at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst.Before the Harvard study may commence, the DEA must first grant Halpern a Schedule I license. MAPS expects that process to take up to two months.
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Comment #11 posted by FoM on December 28, 2004 at 19:55:28 PT
Frontline: PBS: The Alternative Fix
I just saw the last few minutes of the program but thought some here might be interested in checking out the web site. Here it is.
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Comment #10 posted by afterburner on December 28, 2004 at 12:59:32 PT
Related Serendipitous Discoveries
Psilocybin for the dying
"... In the early 1960s, Stanislav Grof used another hallucinogen, DPT, along with ... the
Harbor-UCLA's Institutional Review Board assessment of Grob's study, however ..." ******Selected highlights of this year's ITA Conference. I'm looking forward to next year's (2005).--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sunday, June 13--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
   9:30AM to 12:30PM
Stanislav Grof - Tav Sparks
The Adventure of Self-Discovery: A Holotropic Breathwork Experience (part 3) (Pre-conference Workshop)--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
   9:30AM to 5:00PM
Charles Grob - Francisco Moreno - Michael Mithoefer - John Halpern - Rick Doblin
Hypotheses, Designs, Observations from FDA-approved Psychedelic Psychotherapy Research: Psilocybin and MDMA Studies (Pre-conference Workshop)Angeles Arrien
Portals of the Imagination: Myths, Symbols, and Archetypes (Pre-conference Workshop)Chungliang Al Huang
The Tao of Movement and the Rhythm of Life (part 2) (Pre-conference workshop)Ralph Metzner
The Well of Memory and the Tree of Visions: Divining Our Origin and Our Destiny (Pre-conference Workshop)--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
   7:00PM to 9:45PM
Drew Dellinger - Chungliang Al Huang - Lorin Hollander - Christina Grof - Stanislav Grof - Jack Kornfield - Jai Uttal
Conference Opening: Overture (Special Events)----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 Monday, June 14--------------------------------------------------------------------------------  
   2:00PM to 3:00PM
Sean Kelly
Coming Home: Revisioning the Monomyth for the Planetary Era Tav Sparks
From Middle Earth to a Galaxy Far Far Away -- Death and Rebirth in Modern Popular Film (part 1) Charles Grob
Hallucinogens and Transpersonal Medicine Nubia Teixeira
Heart Flow Yoga: Opening the Heart through Reconnection with Breath, Emotions and Body-Movement (Special Events)Bokara Legendre - Angeles Arrien - Charlene Spretnak - Susan Griffin - Nina Simons
Panel on The New American Myth (part 1) --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
   3:15PM to 4:15PM
Bret Stephenson
Archetypal Adolescence Tav Sparks
From Middle Earth to a Galaxy Far Far Away -- Death and Rebirth in Modern Popular Film (part 2) Sandra Karpetas - Randolph Hencken - Rocky Caravelli - Valerie Mojeiko
Ibogaine-Assisted Psychotherapy in the Treatment of Chemical Dependence: The Iboga Therapy House (Vancouver) and Ibogaine Association Clinic (Mexico) Outcome Study Bokara Legendre - Susan Griffin - Nina Simons - Angeles Arrien - Charlene Spretnak
Panel on The New American Myth (part 2) Dennis Slattery
The Myth of Nature and the Nature of Myth: Becoming Transparent to Transcendence -- Joseph Campbell's Legacy --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
   4:45PM to 5:45PM
Jean Houston
The Mything of the World: The Social Artist as Transcultural and Transpersonal Agent of Change (Special Events)----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Friday, June 18--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
   9:00AM to 10:00AM
Stanislav Grof
Modern Consciousness Research, Archetypal Psychology, and Re-Enchantment of the World Huston Smith
Re-Enchantment: Its Time Has Finally Arrived Peter Russell
The Mystery of Consciousness ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------Mythic Imagination and Modern Society: The Re-Enchantment of the WorldSixteenth International Transpersonal ConferenceSchedule at a Glance (June 11-20, 2004)
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Comment #9 posted by BigDawg on December 28, 2004 at 09:38:07 PT
Some people just WANT others to suffer
She says:
"Even in antiquity, some groups thought it was especially important to take whatever their local psychedelic was -- including alcohol -- when confronting mortality, whether it's to see into the hereafter, improve spiritual growth or just numb yourself to the reality.... But drugs can be disorienting, she said.""It's sometimes poetic, sometimes majestic, but often mundane work to wrap up one's life," Lynn said. "I think it's unlikely there's a pill that will make that go away."I say:
Even in modern times, some groups think it is especially important to take away whatever their local psychedelic is -- including alcohol -- it's to see that nobody experiences any pleasure, even on ones death bed.I think it's unlikely there's a pill that will make them go away.
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Comment #8 posted by WolfgangWylde on December 28, 2004 at 03:24:10 PT
I've been debating...
this on other boards of a conservative bent. The Drug Warriors are majorly P.O.'d at this. My guess is the Bush Administration will shut this down within a month.
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Comment #7 posted by FoM on December 27, 2004 at 19:45:35 PT
It's great to see you. It sounds like you are having a wonderful time. News is very slow but I thought it would be until after New Years. Enjoy your vacation!
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Comment #6 posted by Dankhank on December 27, 2004 at 19:30:58 PT:
High from the Ozone ...
Been traveling and finally found the 21st century...Gilbertsville KY and Warner Robins GA were washouts for any easily found public high-speed internet. Found this amazing hotel at exit 114 on I 20 in Monroe LA that has wireless High speed internet in a business room avail 24/7 and I managed to get up wireless in our room, also. Coupled with a heated pool, hot tub, delux breakfast and great rooms it is a steal at 69 for our party of 2 adults and 2 young ladies, 11 and 6.Wingate is the name of the hotel, look for it when traveling. Super place.Haven't read the latest stories, yet, but I will now.Peace to all this night and many more
Peace on Earth 
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Comment #5 posted by mayan on December 27, 2004 at 18:23:34 PT
Can't Grow Ecstasy
I'm all for the research. Why not? But this on the heels of the DEA's decision to block cannabis research at UMASS is a tad hypocritical. I guess one can't grow an "ecstasy plant"! More on the biggest story in the land...Blackwell Asks Court for Protective Order Against Subpoenas: Reports, New Interest in Recount - Blackwell's Role Becoming Clearer: third rate burglary: the vote in Miami County: -- Monday, January 3rd -- Columbus, Ohio: WAY OUT IS THE WAY IN...Sibel Edmonds: Still Silenced, But Why? - Rodriguez vs. Bush: Was an Inside Job - A Call to All True Patriots:
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Comment #4 posted by kaptinemo on December 27, 2004 at 17:28:44 PT:
The mundane versus the divine
If one reads the works of those involved in thanatolgy (the study of death and the dying process) one is struck by an awesome similarity of the reports of those who have have near-death experiences and those having profound psychedelic ones. Those who have survived the NDE are for the most part no longer afraid of death. Many who have used psychedlics with supportive environments report similar positive life-changing experiences.Who is anyone to deny those fearful of life's end some lessening of their fears? Those who would make that denial are themselves in denial of more than their own frail mortality... but of their humanity. It's said that misery loves company; such who would make that denial to my mind are amongst the most miserable creatures on Earth.
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Comment #3 posted by E_Johnson on December 27, 2004 at 14:20:10 PT
Oh ye of little faith
""It's sometimes poetic, sometimes majestic, but often mundane work to wrap up one's life," Lynn said. "I think it's unlikely there's a pill that will make that go away.""Maybe God works in ways that are a mystery even to your highly powered intellect. Just a thought.
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Comment #2 posted by Truth on December 27, 2004 at 14:17:26 PT
I vote yes
Let the reserch begin...
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Comment #1 posted by E_Johnson on December 27, 2004 at 14:11:52 PT
My how the Post has changed
I still remember five years ago when the IOM report came out and the first article they published could have been written by McCaffrey, that's how bad it used to be.
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