Military Giving Ecstasy for Combat Stress

Ecstasy trials for combat stress (Guardian)

American soldiers traumatised by fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are to be offered the drug ecstasy to help free them of flashbacks and recurring nightmares. The US food and drug administration has given the go-ahead for the soldiers to be included in an experiment to see if MDMA, the active ingredient in ecstasy, can treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

Scientists behind the trial in South Carolina think the feelings of emotional closeness reported by those taking the drug could help the soldiers talk about their experiences to therapists. Several victims of rape and sexual abuse with post-traumatic stress disorder, for whom existing treatments are ineffective, have been given MDMA since the research began last year.

Michael Mithoefer, the psychiatrist leading the trial, said: “It’s looking very promising. It’s too early to draw any conclusions but in these treatment-resistant people so far the results are encouraging. “People are able to connect more deeply on an emotional level with the fact they are safe now.

This replaces the old treatment: a boot in the ass from the squad leader accompanied by encouraging words like, “Suck it up, you wussy! What are you, a girl?”

One wonders if this program will become part of the recruiting pitch: Join the Army: Free drugs, man!

Update: Treating agony with ecstasy (Salon)

Tagline: Drugs dismissed as merely recreational, such as MDMA and psilocybin, are getting a second look for medicinal use in trials underway at several universities.

In 1960 a 40-year-old psychology lecturer at Harvard University took a trip that changed his life. In Mexico for a holiday, the academic tried magic mushrooms, triggering an interest in the psychological effects of hallucinogenic drugs that would ultimately lead to his being sacked, arrested, kidnapped and having seven grams of his mortal remains blasted into space after he died. The lecturer was Timothy Leary, better known as the 1960s drug guru who urged America’s youngsters to “turn on, tune in, drop out.” Leary believed that hallucinogens could alter behavior in unprecedented and beneficial ways, and in experiments at Harvard he doped graduate students with psilocybin — the active compound in magic mushrooms — and LSD.


John Halpern, a psychiatrist at the university’s McLean Hospital, is set to study whether the compound MDMA can help ease anxiety in terminal cancer patients. MDMA — or to chemists 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine — is better known as the dance-floor drug ecstasy. The study is the latest example of revived interest in the medicinal properties of controlled hallucinogenic or psychedelic drugs, loosely defined by their ability to alter perception, cognition or mood. Some researchers place MDMA in a different class, the empathogens, because it influences emotions.

Trials of MDMA for post-traumatic stress disorder are already underway in America, and psilocybin is being tried for anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. There are even moves to reintroduce research on LSD at Harvard, where Halpern wants to test its abilities to treat cluster headaches — severe attacks that strike at the same time each day for weeks at a time.


The ecstasy is not a chemical fix for the patients’ anxiety; instead it is intended to help them to open up and get the most from conventional counseling. Halpern says the drug allows people to talk about topics they would otherwise avoid. “It’s really tough doing psychotherapy with people who have anxiety disorders because when you get to the heart of the matter it causes a panic attack. For somebody who has a particularly gruesome time trying to talk about important end-of-life issues, it bubbles into anxiety and nothing gets achieved,” Halpern says.

Update: Jeff Quinton has the South Carolina angle, including Mithoefer’s bio.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Israel started doing the same thing a few months ago – weed for troops -I suspect Jerry Brown is somehow involved.

  2. Brian J. says:

    Shall we start the countdown to the lawsuits that stem from this story?

    Will it be a military person who reacted adversely, oor a civilian who wants legalization?

    Man, this could be a whole pool.

  3. chris says:

    If I’m not mistaken, MDMA was originally used in early 20th century Germany to help with marriage counseling.

    So ecstacy may be returning to its roots.