Veteran Explains How MDMA Helped Heal His Postwar Trauma

MDMA, the illegal raver stimulant commonly known by its street names molly and ecstasy, may be poised to attract a new demographic beyond young people looking to party: Individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

In a Reddit.com Ask Me Anything session Wednesday, Tony Macie, a 27-year-old retired U.S. Army sergeant from Vernon, Vt., praised the drug for helping him conquer his PTSD symptoms when psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and antidepressants couldn’t. He also said the drug, which he took only once as part of a psychiatric study, helped him realize he had been turned into a numb “zombie” because of his addiction to prescription painkillers.

“I use the strong emotion from trauma now as motivation instead of letting it bring me down,” Macie wrote during the Reddit session. “I want to honor the fallen by doing and making change, not by secluding and numbing myself out.”

Macie took MDMA through a clinical trial conducted by psychiatrist Michael Mithoefer, and his wife, psychiatric nurse Ann Mithoefer, in Charleston, S.C. The couple has tested the effects of MDMA on dozens of patients. Like other researchers who use illegal drugs in their studies, Mithoefer has approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration for the research.

Under the supervision of the Mithoefers, Macie was given a dose of MDMA while listening to music. Soon, he said his normally hyper-vigilant mind, a souvenir from two tours in Iraq, began to calm.

He stayed in the state of relaxed bliss for about an hour before his traumatic war memories began to resurface. The Mithoefers talked with Macie about whatever came up. The MDMA, he said, kept the therapy session flowing smoothly.

Macie explained the session in detail on Reddit:

After about an hour of just relaxing and being in the present is when memories started to come up. For me if I tried to push them away I would feel anxious, but if I dealt with it and processed the memory, I would have a wave of pleasure come over my body. I believe that the MDMA was showing me how to deal with my trauma and also that it is more beneficial for me to face trauma head on than to try and ignore it or suppress it. I had a lot of powerful realization that day.

Mithoefer is affiliated with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a nonprofit research group. He published his first study about positive effects MDMA can have on subjects who suffer from depression and PTSD in 2010. He described the benefits of his treatments in an email to HuffPost.

“MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, in our early studies, appears to allow people to revisit trauma in a therapeutic setting without being overwhelmed by emotions, but also without being cut off from emotions,” Mithoefer wrote in the email. “This can allow them to process trauma in a way they had not been able to previously.”

MDMA, which stands for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, was created by Merck in 1912 and was meant to be used as a blood clotting agent. Some U.S. psychiatrists embraced it in the 1970s because of its purported ability to allow patients to be more communicative and to achieve insights about their own problems, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The FDA has never approved the drug for use outside research studies.

The informal psychiatric use all but stopped in 1985, when the DEA classified it as a Schedule I drug, with no medical use and a high potential for abuse. But since the prohibition, regulators have allowed a few legal labs to continue producing MDMA for research.

Research into MDMA’s potential to treat symptoms of PTSD, anxiety and even autism are popping up around the country. A trial at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, for instance, will test MDMA on high-functioning autistic adults. Researchers in Northern California are investigating whether MDMA can reduce anxiety in patients facing death, reports the Los Angeles Times. Researchers are also looking into LSD, a Schedule I hallucinogenic drug, for its effects on treating anxiety and alcoholism.

Despite its potential for therapy, MDMA is not without risks, which can include fatal hyperthermia and brain damage.

Macie emphasized that he doesn’t recommend MDMA for recreational abuse. He said he wishes all veterans who struggle with PTSD could have the option to be part of an MDMA research trial.

He also has a new mission: To speak out about his experience in the hopes of advancing change. “Ultimately I’d like to see the VA look into this as a tool for veterans, so people with PTSD who are treatment resistant to other things can have this as an option,” Macie told HuffPost.

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To the Mother of My Patient

Apparently, I stopped believing in miracles. I’m not sure when it happened, or actually even why.

Growing up, I never believed in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, and due to a mishap involving my first lost tooth and a furnace vent, the Tooth Fairy and I didn’t coexist in my reality for long, either. Yet I always, since before I can remember, believed in miracles.

Until this past week, when I realized that I don’t believe any longer.

Maybe it came from years of seemingly-unanswered prayer for miraculous healing from Crohn’s disease.

Perhaps it’s from years of working around sick and often dying children, watching time and time again as a child slips away from the arms of a pleading, bargaining, begging mother.

Maybe it comes from an unwarranted sense of control paired with perceived understanding of the world around me. The world was mysterious when I was a child, so miracles were welcome wonders. Now, there doesn’t seem to be space for them in this world I so intelligently understand.

I have stopped hoping as the parents around me hope. I have stopped praying as they do on their knees, on their feet, surely even as they lay in bed before tossing and turning for brief moments of sleep as their world crumbles down around them.

What’s worse, I have grown irritated by the irrational, unrealistic, recklessly optimistic attitudes around me, often muttering in the privacy of my own head, “Are we looking at the same child, are we seeing the same thing? How can you possibly have hope? How can you possibly imagine a positive outcome?”

I have become the Grinch who stole miracles, packing my bag full of the last ounces of joy and hope, certain that no positive will come. Wishing for it, hoping for it, clinging to it is a waste of time and energy. My heart is two sizes too small. I am worse than a three-decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce.

I recently cared for a patient near the end of his life. Medically speaking, his situation was hopeless, which as a nurse makes me feel hopeless, helpless, defeated, and failed. My usually-sunny disposition melts away under my sarcasm and snark.

Because I no longer believe in miracles.

His mother came in to see him. I had prepared myself to support her, imagining she would crumble into a pile of tears, falling apart being the only possible manifestation of the hopeless emotions I was feeling amplified by her mother’s love.

Our God is faithful, she said, with a smile on her face, the sunshine of hope in her eyes.

Cancer is faithful, I snipped back in my mind.

We still believe He can heal him, she continued, as if she had heard what I was thinking.

I believe that if I went home and the doctors went home, cancer would win lady, right here, right now. It is over; we lost this one.

For a brief moment, my frustration turned to guilt for my lack of faith, then to jealousy for her overflowing devotion to a God I sometimes long to hear, likely due to my recent failure to ask for Him to speak.

I pulled myself back to the reality of where I stood with her. I provided updates, what we were doing for him, what his body was doing in return. In a laundry list of updates, perhaps two things were positive. She thanked me for the information, repeating back the minor positive notes I had given.

Again I began to feel my irritation welling up. Do you really not understand the gravity of this illness? I wanted to ask.

And then, yet again, as if she had heard me, she replied with this. Shrinking me back to size, putting me back in my place: A positive attitude gives us power over our circumstances, rather than allowing our circumstances to have power over us.

I was stunned. Here I was, judging her positive attitude as a fault or a flaw. Completely disregarding the choice that it was. Similar to the choice she was making to believe God for a miracle. It wasn’t blind faith. It wasn’t negligent belief. It was strength and devotion. The choice to believe in something more powerful than me, more healing than the doctors on our team.

When I came out of the room, tears welling in my eyes, I sat at my computer and looked down at a small plate of candies she must have left for me on her way into the room. A hand written note was laid above them:

Kate, your devotion is so appreciated, S.

S, it is your devotion that I am appreciating today. And because of you, mother of my patient, I am beginning again to believe in miracles. Because in the depth of despair over losing your beloved son you took me into your arms and guided me back onto a track where love is real, positive thinking is a choice that saves us, and miracles do happen.

So today, I too am praying for a miracle for your son. And as I pray, with a positive attitude and a humbled heart, I am referring to Psalm 30, my personal favorite, and one I know we both can love.

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If You Think Clowns Are Creepy, Don’t Look At These Awesome Vintage Circus Photos

Family entertainment sure has come a long way since the heyday of traveling circuses in the United States.

For example, check out this collection of images taken by amateur photographer Charles W. Cushman that document a series stops in Chicago by the traveling Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus between 1944 and 1951.

Some of the vintage photos, taken over 60 years ago and archived by Indiana University, have an eerie quality. All of them reflect an essentially bygone era. Though a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey tour continues to this day, the popularity of the circus was never the same after television and movies gained prominence in the 1950s and 1960s. Allegations of animal abuse have also plagued the circus through the years.

We don’t recommend scrolling down if you suffer from coulrophobia, the fear of clowns.

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Christian Leaders Call For Ending Drug War, Mass Incarceration

As the Easter holiday approaches, several Christian leaders called for the U.S. to end the war on drugs and mass incarceration of offenders. The faith leaders said they hoped the story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ inspires the resurrection of people and communities devastated by what they said was failed U.S. drug policy.

“The policies of this failed war on drugs — which in a reality, is a war on people who happen to be poor, primarily black and brown — is a stain on the image of this society,” said the Rev. John E. Jackson, senior pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Gary, Ind., and leader of the social justice organization Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, on a conference call Wednesday organized by the Drug Policy Alliance. “Instead of trying to help individuals heal and become whole and have the help they need, people are being stigmatized for profit in the privatized prison system in this country.

“If this resurrection season means anything,” Jackson continued, “it means that people are to be loved and not used. People should be helped and not harassed and that people should be placed above profit.”

The United States incarcerates more of its population than any country in the world. That’s largely because of harsh sentences for certain drug-related crimes. There are roughly 25,000 drug-related convictions in federal courts each year and, according to The Associated Press, 45 percent of those are for lower-level offenses. State and local courts handle the vast majority of drug crimes.

“The ministry of Jesus the Christ was about challenging unjust systems that held individuals and marginalized communities in bondage,” said the Rev. Robina Winbush, a Presbyterian Church leader and president of Churches Uniting In Christ. “He empowered his disciples to touch lives and tear down strongholds of captivity. He commissioned them to care for the most vulnerable in society and give witness to the reign of God marked by justice.”

A reformed drug policy also may help right some racial wrongs, the church leaders said.

More than 2.2 million people are incarcerated in the U.S., a number that has quadrupled since the 1980s.

If current incarceration trends continue, one in every three black males born in America today can expect to go to prison at some point in their life, compared with one in six Latino males, and one in 17 white males, according to a recent report by the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based justice reform group.

“Racial disparities within the criminal justice system are just one manifestation of institutionalized racism in our society,” Winbush said.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) has sponsored the Smarter Sentencing Act, which, if passed, would amend the federal criminal code to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for many low-level drug-related crimes.

Bill Mefford, director of civil and human rights for the United Methodist Church, said on Wednesday’s call that his organization supports the Senate legislation, which was referred to committee January. Mefford urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to make the passage of the measure a priority.

Attorney General Eric Holder last month announced support for sentencing reform that would reduce prison time for some nonviolent drug crimes.

“This over-reliance on incarceration is not just financially unsustainable, it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate,” Holder said, according to The Associated Press.

The Department of Justice has said Holder’s reform ideas would affect about 70 percent of drug trafficking offenders and may reduce the federal prison population by several thousand over the next five years.

“The Bureau of Prisons budget has increased every year under President Obama,” Jackson said. “This increase for the Bureau of Prisons would be more than the total amount for the initial proposed private investment in his My Brother’s Keeper initiative.”

Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper this year to help young minority men to stay in school and out of the criminal justice system, according to a White House official.

A recent national survey from Pew suggests Americans may be ready to end the drug war’s focus on incarceration and prosecution, with 67 percent favoring policies that would provide drug treatment.

In a statement released before the call, the faith leaders outlined their goals for U.S. drug policy reform:

  • Repeal laws that criminalize drug possession and replace them with policies that expand access to effective health approaches to drug use, including evidence-based drug treatment.
  • Eliminate policies that result in racially disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates.
  • End policies that unjustly exclude people with a record of arrest or conviction from key rights and opportunities.

“I think of the words of the Prophet Micah where he simply says, ‘What does the Lord require of you? That you do justice, love, mercy and walk humbly with your God,’” said the Rev. Edwin Sanders, moderator of Wednesday’s call and senior servant at Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, Tenn. “And I think for us, today, that translates into being involved in repealing the laws that criminalize drug possession.”

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Lyft Prepares To Fight Ride Share Regulation By Hiring GOP-Linked Lobbyists

WASHINGTON — The ride-sharing service Lyft has hired two well-connected Washington lobbying firms to help it fight a looming battle in Congress and the executive branch over how to regulate ride-share and private taxi services.

The two boutique firms retained by Lyft have strong ties to Republicans. In disclosure forms filed with the U.S. Senate, both firms reported that they would be “advocating for the removal of barriers and anticompetitive activities that inhibit ride sharing.”

TwinLogic Strategies is a woman-owned firm whose partners include former aides to Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Jochum Shore & Trossevin consists of two former George W. Bush-era Department of Commerce officials, who specialize in foreign trade issues, and two former Republican congressional aides.

Some six months ago, Lyft’s chief competitor in the non-traditional taxi business, Uber, also hired a lobbying firm, led by former congressional aides to Senate Democrats.

Ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber’s UberX program are coming under intense pressure across the country from municipal boards and state legislators, who argue that the companies are essentially operating unlicensed taxi services.

The companies respond that while taxis pick up people on the street for a regulated fee, services like UberX and Lyft simply allow members looking for rides to connect with other members who are willing to drive them where they want to go. The three biggest players in the ride-sharing market — Lyft, UberX and SideCar — operate in most states via a “donation” system, under which passengers are encouraged, but not legally required, to make a donation to their driver at the end of their ride. California, however, rejected the “donation” argument last fall, and both Lyft and SideCar have subsequently transitioned to pay models in the state.

Ride-sharing services argue that their drivers should not be subjected to the same regulations as taxi drivers — although companies like Lyft and Uber emphasize how carefully they screen their potential drivers for valid licenses, car insurance and no criminal records. Both Lyft and Uber recently instituted broad liability insurance policies that cover passengers who are injured in an accident and drivers who are hit by other cars.

Nonetheless, such “transportation network companies” are still banned from operating in a half-dozen major cities, including Miami, New Orleans, Houston, Austin, Texas, and Portland, Ore. Where they are permitted to operate, the companies often draw the ire of entrenched lobbying interests.

Often, those most opposed to the arrival of ride-sharing companies are the taxi and limousine operators, as well as municipal taxicab commissions. In many cities, these are powerful interest groups with deep roots in city politics.

By hiring lobbyists to push for federal legislation to protect their business models, Lyft and Uber could effectively bypass local governments. But that’s not the only reason it makes sense for Lyft to retain Washington advocates.

The company may be seeking support in Washington if it plans to expand internationally — a prospect that became more realistic this spring, after the company reportedly raised more than $150 million from investors looking to cash in on the growing concept. Uber is already well ahead of Lyft on that front. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker singled out Lyft’s main rival last month, during a speech in Saudi Arabia, as an example of American startups that succeed overseas.

According to the disclosure forms filed this week, one of Lyft’s new representatives on K Street, Jochum Shore & Trossevin, plans to lobby on trade issues for the company.

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Teaching the Judeo-Spanish Heritage to Chicago Seventh Graders

During the Jewish and Christian holidays of Passover and Easter, it is well to think back on histories of inter-communal goodwill between these two Peoples of the Book and Muslims. One outstanding example involves the rich heritage of Sephardic Jewish life in the former Turkish empire, including the Balkans.

Some weeks ago, I traveled to Chicago to address parents affiliated with a multifaith private school, which serves Jewish and Catholic pupils, about Islam and its influence on Jewish and Catholic mysticism. The night before my talk to the parents, I was the guest of a kind, Bangladeshi Muslim couple living in the suburbs. There, I was introduced to Faith Laux, a seventh-grade teacher of Spanish at Carleton Washburn School in Winnetka, Ill.

Faith Laux and I spoke, after dinner, about the Spanish Jewish (Sephardic) language still found in the Balkans. She was surprised when I told her that spoken Judeo-Spanish (known as Ladino when it used in the Jewish liturgy) is comprehensible to any speaker of Spanish today. Many myths circulate about Judeo-Spanish. It is often described as a dying language, but I believe this is incorrect, since it is part of the great and wide Spanish linguistic sea, which counts more than 400 million speakers around the globe.

In my experience, Spanish is a conservative language. It has not changed greatly either in its written or spoken forms since the Renaissance, although it has spawned local dialects, such as that in Mexico, for “conventional” Spanish, or in the Balkans and Turkey, for Judeo-Spanish.

Evidence of slow change among Spanish speakers includes the persistent popularity of great literary works by Spanish authors of the Golden Age, including Cervantes and Don Quixote, from the 17th century.

In poetry, millions of Spanish readers still enjoy the writings of the mystical Saint John of the Cross and the baroque Luis de Góngora, who composed their works in the 16th century.

The Judeo-Spanish of the Sephardic Jews is equally conservative. For example, a Sephardic Jew from Bosnia-Hercegovina who went to Spain as a diplomat during the Bosnian War of 1992-95 was able to converse easily with high officials in Madrid. Another of the myths about Judeo-Spanish is that it represents an archaic form of Spanish; but it is no more so than Spanish in general.

Mrs. Laux invited me to address her seventh-grade Spanish classes, on Sephardic Jewish literature, and, the next day, I did so. I was first somewhat perturbed by a “No Guns” sticker on the door of the school, but was told that such measures are uniform in Illinois with adoption of the 2013 Firearm Concealed Carry Act. I was surprised and pleased to find that the students were remarkably proficient in Spanish, although most are not of Hispanic background.

Their instructor told me:

In our school district we empower students to become proficient speakers of French and Spanish. We want them to be able to communicate with each other and in the outside world with greater and greater ease. The methodology we use is Teaching with Comprehensible Input (TCI) and Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS).

The method works in three steps: in step one, the new vocabulary structures to be learned are taught using a combination of translation, gestures, and personalized questions; in step two, those structures are used in a spoken class story; and finally, in step three, these same structures are used in a class reading.

Mrs. Laux recalled:

I attended a one day workshop with TCI expert Carol Gaab five years ago. I was so inspired that I returned to my students in Evanston and told them to close their books and put them in the back of the room; we were going to try something new. My students spoke so much Spanish those first days that I knew my teaching would never be the same. And it hasn’t been. I am now the World Language Program Facilitator in Winnetka, helping our whole department shift to this way of teaching. It’s a beautiful thing to walk into a language classroom and hear so much authentic communication happening in the here and now. We not only are preparing our students for a future trip or standardized test, we are empowering them to communicate about things that matter to them right now.

We began a discussion with the students by asking where Spanish is spoken. Pupils mentioned Spain, Mexico, Latin America, and the U.S. — including Chicago — but were surprised to hear that Spanish is spoken in Morocco, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Turkey, and Israel. I described the passage to Morocco, the Balkans, and Turkey of Spanish and Portuguese Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492, the same year Columbus undertook his voyage to the New World. I then sang a Sephardic song, “En la mar hay una torre” (“In the sea there is a tower”) which is so popular as to be known as a Sephardic national anthem. Its poetry and clear Spanish were easily understood by the seventh grade students.

The song was included in a 1994 article of mine on this topic, titled Yo Soy Una Rosa (I Am A Rose), published by the Mexican magazine Vuelta, which was edited by the Nobel Prize-winning poet Octavio Paz. I gave a copy of the article to Mrs. Laux. In an unexpected coincidence, at a Princeton University conference on the history of Communism a week later, I met Professor Rubén Gallo, who had translated my article into Spanish in Mexico 20 years ago. In a world growing smaller, the survival of distinctive lyrical traditions and of interreligious civility — harmonies based on harmony — is worth a continued effort at preservation.

I was impressed by the attainments of the Chicago students and I believe they, too, were affected by learning something new. It was a good day in a Chicago public school. My thanks to the seventh graders of Winnetka and their dedicated teacher. They gave me hope in the future of our country and our children, and of mutual respect between religious believers.

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Will You Use the New Illinois State Lottery App?

I spent 10 years editing letters to the editor at The State Journal-Register in Springfield and I could retire comfortably, probably with a 3 percent annually compounding cost of living adjustment, if I had a dollar for every letter that went something like this:

“They told us the Illinois State Lottery was going to pay for education so WHERE IS THE MONEY?!?!?!?!?”

My answer then was the same as it is now: The Illinois State Lottery does pay for education. It puts well over $600 million a year into education. That’s a lot of money. But it’s only a small slice of the $4.8 billion the state spends on K-12 education.

If only the lottery could increase its profit eight-fold, perhaps it could “pay for education,” in the sense that my former letter writers meant.

Why bring this up now? Because now you can buy lottery tickets straight off your phone with the Illinois State Lottery’s new phone app.

lottery app 2

Reports the Chicago Tribune:

The app was created by Northstar Lottery Group, the company the state hired in 2010 to manage the Illinois Lottery. Gamblers can get in on the action of popular games like Mega Millions and Powerball and quickly check winning numbers.

While the app is free, there’s a $5 minimum purchase. To buy tickets and collect winnings, users have to create an account and link it to their credit card, which lottery officials say is a way to ensure that people younger than 18 aren’t playing. In addition, there are purchase limits of $150 a day, $1,050 a week and $3,500 a month.

A Northstar spokeswoman said there have been no big winners on the app yet, but several gamblers have snagged $1,500 prizes. Winners can get their money sent to their bank account or request a check.

So what do you think, lottery players? Is this the development that will please all those letter-to-the-editor writers who expect the lottery to pay for the state’s education needs?

Or is the lottery culture built around its convenience store culture, and unlikely to embrace mobile buying?

Please take our poll and share your thoughts.
Watch Chicago’s middle class disappear over 42 years in this amazing animated map>>> 

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Gov. Pat Quinn advocates for increasing the minimum wage in this interview with Chicago Sun-Times political writer Natasha Korecki. 

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The minimum wage and other issues could help drive Democratic voter turnout in November. 

Don’t forget to like Reboot Illinois on Facebook!

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