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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

You Have the Right to Try Psychedelics

So long as patients are trying a drug of their own volition and free will, no government should stand in their way.

Suffering from PTSD can feel like you are trapped in a prison built of your own horrific memories. Being held captive within your own mind is a unique form of torture since you can’t run away from it or simply think happier thoughts. The darkness follows you in all things, waiting to be triggered. Something as simple as a smell or a sound is enough to flood your mind with unpleasant memories until you feel as though you are drowning in them.

The FDA’s decision asks sufferers to wait years for a drug that could dramatically improve their diagnosis.

Once that trigger is pulled, those suffering may say and do things they would not normally do. Locked in survival mode, the mind goes into a state that is trapped somewhere between reality and the realm of memory.

In the United States, it is estimated that during the course of a given year, 5.2 million adults experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Currently, the only legal treatments available for sufferers of PTSD are prescription anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications. While these may help curb symptoms of PTSD, the medications themselves come with pages of unwanted side effects, including the very real possibility that these drugs will actually make the situation worse. It is also all too common for these medicines to cause a sufferer to take their own life.  

Not to mention, anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications usually serve to numb the unpleasant feelings. While this helps improve the patient’s mood while taking the medication, it doesn’t help them actually deal with the issues that are causing the discomfort.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that better treatments don’t exist. But it does mean that sufferers would be viewed as criminals if they were to try alternatives not sanctioned by the federal government.

But luckily, after years of persistent pressure from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the Food and Drug Administration has recently announced that it will forge ahead with the approval process for the psychedelic drug methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). And while the FDA’s newfound acceptance of the substance is definitely a sign of progress, it’s far from perfect. What is, perhaps, most infuriating about the FDA’s decision is that it asks sufferers to wait years for a drug that could dramatically improve their diagnosis after only a few uses.  

MDMA helps patients work through the issues that have been holding them back for far too long. 

A “Breakthrough” Treatment

Better recognized by the name MDMA or Molly and commonly associated with the drug Ecstasy, methylenedioxymethamphetamine has been found to have “breakthrough” therapeutic qualities for treating PTSD.

In fact, after the second phase of trials conducted by MAPS, 61 percent of the 107 participants no longer qualified as having PTSD. What is more astonishing is that these results were obtained after only three sessions of MDMA being administered. Also worth mentioning, the participants accepted into this study had treatment-resistant PTSD averaging over a time of 17.8 years.

In other words, these were patients who for years had seen little to no improvement with traditional methods of treatment. Yet, with just a few doses of the drug, the majority of participants saw life-changing improvements.

MDMA works by increasing levels of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine within the brain and then blocking those chemicals from reuptake. This results in a rush of euphoria and empathy and enhanced emotional and physical sensations. When patients are in a state where they are more at ease than usual, it is easier to address past traumas head-on.

When taken in smaller doses than are typically ingested for recreational use, patients are able to work through the issues that have been holding them back for far too long.

The Controlled Substance Act categorized psychedelic drugs and even cannabis as being “Schedule 1” drugs.

Of course, this information isn’t new. It has been around for decades. But it is the first time the government has bothered to pay attention.

State Control 

For more than 30 years, organizations like MAPS and scholarly individuals like the psychedelic researcher Dr. James Fadiman have been doing their utmost to spread information on the healing powers of psychedelics like MDMA. However, any progress made towards the accepted use of psychedelics in the field of mental health was completely halted with the passing of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

Nixon was no fan of the hippie, free love drug culture that accompanied the United States’s involvement in the Vietnam War. He wanted law and order and, to that end, started America’s War on Drugs.

Unfortunately, his lack of understanding of the subject meant that for years psychedelic research was suspended. Those studies that continued underground in spite of the new policies were viewed as merely anecdotal and given no substantial medical attention.

The Controlled Substance Act categorized psychedelic drugs and even cannabis as being “Schedule 1” drugs. According to the federal government, drugs given this designation have a high potential for abuse and have no accepted medical use.

In 2017, most doctors understand the medicinal benefits associated with marijuana. But even considering all the information that is around today, the DEA has doubled down on its outdated position and refused to remove cannabis from the list of Schedule 1 substances.

If marijuana can’t be removed from the list, it seems far-fetched to believe that the DEA would consider downgrading psychedelics. But, since Trump was elected on a platform of deregulation, many psychedelic researchers and activists are hopeful.

Rick Doblin, executive director of MAPS, stated:

I do feel very optimistic. One of the Trump administration’s main things is lower regulation. They’re pro business and pro making it easier for Big Pharma to get drugs through the FDA. And that benefits us.”

However, while this is great news for psychedelics like MDMA, the benefit of having Big Pharma anxious to make a profit does not bode well for other psychedelics, like Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). As Doblin pointed out in a statement he made in 2012, substances like LSD and psilocybin (magic mushrooms) are “off-patent, can’t be monopolized, and compete with other psychiatric medications that people take daily.”

Unfortunately, this makes its medical use unappealing to pharmaceutical companies. Much like marijuana, which can be cultivated by individuals in their home, big pharma has almost nothing to gain from the legality of these substances. In fact, they have everything to lose since research suggests that psychedelics could remove the need for long-term use of anti-depressants and other drugs associated with improved mental health.

But the legality or government approval status of a drug or substance should not determine whether or not an ailing mental health patient has the right to try experimental treatments. Just as terminally ill patients have advocated for “right to try” policies that would allow them to use experimental drugs not yet approved by the FDA, so should mental health patients be able to try psychedelics at their own risk.

The Right to Try

Headlines touted how wonderful it is that as soon as 2021, MDMA may be available by prescription to those who need it most. While this is most certainly a giant step forward, it is also appalling that those suffering are being asked to wait for a potentially life-changing remedy.

So long as patients are trying a drug of their own volition and free will, no government should stand in their way. 

“Right to try” policies are typically crafted for patients who are suffering from a terminal illness and allows them to try experimental treatments. While advocating for “right to try” laws have been an uphill battle, the movement has grown in support over the last several years.

Logically, it follows that if someone has been given a terminal prognosis, the individual in question should be allowed to try experimental treatments regardless of the possible negative side effects. While this is justified by concluding that the patient is already going to die so there is no harm in experimentation, this practice should be extended to all consenting adults.

Each individual is the sole owner of his or her body. As such, no governing body has the legitimate authority to tell a person what they can and cannot consume. Yet, over the course of history, governments have decided that it is their duty to ensure that mankind only consumes substances given an official stamp of approval.

The FDA, the agency responsible for dictating what Americans can safely consume, is the same agency that claims Poptarts are healthier than avocados. When this is partnered with the fact that the DEA has routinely ignored scientific evidence that marijuana has medicinal properties, one has to wonder why this authority has not yet been removed.

Suffering from mental ailments or chronic diseases takes a tremendous toll on the sufferer. When your quality of life is in decline because of these daily struggles it is nothing less than evil to prohibit patients from experimenting with different treatments. The drugs that have been approved for medical use, anti-depressants for example, come with a huge risk of side effects including death.

Psychedelics, on the other hand, have fewer physical side effects and are proving themselves to be more impactful for treating varieties of depression. Yet, because of the illegality of these schedule 1 drugs, any patient caught trying MDMA or LSD outside of a government-sanctioned study is a criminal in the eyes of the law.

Something has to change.

So long as patients are trying a drug of their own volition and free will, no government should stand in their way. Every time we consume anything, even food, there is risk associated. Nothing in life is risk-free. But when you are suffering on a daily basis, that risk is mitigated by the need to live a more fulfilling and happy life.

“Right to try” laws should be championed, but for all people. Those suffering from mental illness deserve the chance to heal today, not four years from now.

  • Brittany is a writer for the Pacific Legal Foundation. She is a co-host of “The Way The World Works,” a Tuttle Twins podcast for families.