Laura and Ed Thompson with their children Stephen, left to right, Claire and Jane. In 2015 after Ed Thompson enrolled in an experimental psychotherapy trial that used clinical-grade MDMA, also known as the party drug ecstasy, to treat patients suffering from severe cases of post-traumatic stress disorder. Thompson said the experience saved his life and kept his family together. (Handout/Ed Thompson via the Canadian Press)

Final phase of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy trials to kick off in B.C.

Doctors hope to get psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy legalized in Canada and the U.S. by 2021

Ed Thompson remembers the helplessness he felt each of the thousands of times his twin daughters would turn blue and go lifeless in his arms.

The young girls suffered from acute breath-holding spells, an involuntary condition that causes children to pass out, in their case up to 40 times a day.

“Having your kids die in your arms 7,500 times kind of sucks,” he said.

The girls’ conditions eventually improved, but the experience compounded earlier trauma Thompson had witnessed as a firefighter in South Carolina, sending him into a spiral of post-traumatic stress, substance abuse and thoughts of suicide.

That all changed in 2015 after Thompson enrolled in an experimental psychotherapy trial that used clinical-grade MDMA, also known as the party drug ecstasy, to treat patients suffering from severe cases of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Thompson said the experience saved his life and kept his family together.

Now, researchers across North America, including B.C., are gearing up for the third and final stage of trials ahead of plans to legalize psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy in Canada and the United States by 2021.

Vancouver is one of 16 locations in the United States, Canada and Israel where clinicians hope to demonstrate that a drug historically associated with gurus and raves can revolutionize psychotherapy and trauma treatment.

The B.C. Centre on Substance Use will conduct the Vancouver trials as part of a larger research project overseen by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, a non-profit pharmaceutical company based in California. Talks are also underway for a Montreal facility to participate.

“We hope to prove that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is the most effective treatment for PTSD that exists on the planet,” said Mark Haden, a public health professor at UBC. Haden founded the Canadian wing of MAPS and helped organize stage two of the organization’s research trials in Vancouver.

Traditional PTSD treatment focuses on desensitization, which is painful and can last years, or even a lifetime, Haden said, adding that only about 10 to 15 per cent of people successfully recover and the drop-out rate is high.

MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, however, lasts fewer than four months and preliminary studies show two thirds of participants remained free of PTSD one year after treatment, he said.

The experimental trials have been so successful, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which overseas the approval and regulation of pharmaceutical drugs, has labelled it a “breakthrough therapy” for PTSD treatment.

Researchers believe the psychedelic drug’s effectiveness is partly due to its ability to dispel a participant’s fear and to boost what Haden called the therapeutic alliance.

“The alliance between the therapist and the subject is … the greatest predictor of success,” Haden said, describing MDMA as an empathogen. “MDMA really, really, really increases bonding between people.”

The therapy involves three psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy sessions lasting eight hours each, as well as 12 therapy sessions without MDMA, which all take place over a three-and-a-half-month period.

Thompson, who participated in the stage two trials, said the drug allowed him to trust his therapists and open up in a way he could not before.

“It wasn’t a party drug. There was no party,” he said, as he described laying on a futon and wearing eye shades for most of the experience. “It wasn’t trippy. I didn’t see things. I didn’t have some miraculous spiritual experience. I didn’t get the urge to get up and dance.

“For the first time in years … I was able to open up and talk painlessly,” he said. “The fear, the barriers were removed and I was able to talk to these people.”

Rick Doblin, who founded MAPS in 1986, said one reason so little effort has been put into researching the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics is that pharmaceutical companies don’t stand to profit from studying compounds that are already in the public domain and cannot be patented.

Phase three will cost $26 million and involve up to 150 study participants. It aims to demonstrate that results obtained in the trial’s second stage are applicable on a larger scale.

Doblin said the FDA has agreed to approve the therapy if stage three studies show the drug is effective and there are no safety issues.

Health Canada gave the green light for the latest round of trials, and discussions are slated to begin in February over what the department will need to see in order to approve the treatment.

Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

VIDEO: Rivermen back on the ice in Langley tonight

In their game against West Kelowna tonight, Langley’s junior A hockey team gets into action at 7:15.

Louder helicopter partly to blame for rash of complaints in Surrey: RCMP

Police say helicopter training is conducted in Cloverdale because it’s ‘a very practical area where we do a lot of real police work’

Chances coming for public to have say on Langley tax rates

Local councillors will soon debate property tax rates for 2019.

Parking rules could limit ‘tandem’ spots in Langley

The Township is considering limits on restrictive parking in townhouse complexes.

End ‘exploitative’ parking fees at Lower Mainland hospitals, group says

HospitalPayParking.ca is criticizing a new contract between health authorities and Impark

VIDEO: Here’s what the B.C. legislature officers are accused of buying

Personal trips, purchases, alcohol and more laid out in 76-page report by Plecas

South Surrey mother ‘never called 911’ after killing daughter, court hears

Crown submits evidence shows Lisa Batstone wanted eight-year-old Teagan to die

Why would the B.C. legislature need a firewood splitter?

First sign of police involvement in investigation of top managers

New Canada Food Guide nixes portion sizes, promotes plant-based proteins

Guide no longer lists milk and dairy products as a distinct food group

Heavy snowfall expected for Coquihalla, Okanagan valley

Coquihalla highway, the Connector, and Highway 3, from Princeton to Allison Pass are getting snow.

Judge annuls hairdresser’s forced marriage to boss’ relative

Woman was told she’d be fired if she didn’t marry boss’s Indian relative so he could immigrate here

Video: Runaway Coquihalla dog returned to owner

Archer, the dog found roaming along Coq. Hwy. on Jan. 19, has been reunited with owner

Most Read