November 28, 2016 5:36 pm
Updated: November 28, 2016 7:17 pm

Psychedelic party drug MDMA is now being used to treat PTSD

WATCH ABOVE: It's controversial, but something many are convinced will save lives. The drug MDMA, or ecstasy, is being used for therapy. A Calgary couple is exploring its benefits and advocating for its legalization. Jill Croteau explains why.

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By all appearances, Calgary couple Thomas and Melanie Heath lived a very normal suburban life, busy with careers and raising two school-aged children. But there was something they could no longer hide.

Separately, their respective pasts had destroyed part of their lives and they needed help. Despite societal stigma and judgment, they discovered MDMA – commonly known as ecstasy.

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“We were gobsmacked about what we found out,” Thomas Heath said. “You can read all the medical journals you want, but it would be like describing the colour purple to a blind person.”

He and his wife Melanie both tried MDMA.

“It was significant, it was profound, it was life-changing.”

READ MORE: MDMA will be approved to aid therapy for PTSD suffers by 2021, says research group

But they didn’t use MDMA to get a euphoric high. They were using it for the same purpose it was originally intended for.

“If somebody could look at the current state of psychiatric care and go, ‘we need a drug that increases chances of talk therapy being effective,’ they would come to MDMA.”

For the first time in decades, Canadian researchers are probing the potential of a psychedelic drug – ecstasy – for use in psychotherapy in a clinical trial approved by Health Canada

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Thomas said he used it to cope with the sudden passing of his first wife from cancer.

“I felt guilt thinking there must have been something more we could have done.”

Melanie, Thomas’ second wife, said she wanted a way to heal after suffering a childhood of abuse and an adulthood of shame. Years of talk therapy couldn’t compare to her experience with one session of MDMA.

“I had done cognitive behavior therapy and sat for 15 years in that chair wanting to be the best self I could be and never being able to get there,” Melanie said. “All it did was allow me to tread water.”

MDMA was first made in 1912 and re-developed in the 1960s by a chemist. It was used for psychotherapy.

But once the drug went mainstream and hit the streets in the 1980s, different forms showed up on the party scene and it was then made illegal. But a non-profit organization, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), is looking to resurrect the drug to be used in assisted therapy.

FILE: MDMA

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Mark Haden is with MAPS Canada. He’s working with his American counterparts to bring MDMA to market by 2021.

EXTRA: Mark Haden with Maps Canada talks about the past and future of psychedelic drugs

The group has been actively conducting clinical trials for people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They selected patients who were resistant to other forms of therapy.

Results have shown almost 85 per cent no longer have PTSD.

“Phase 3 of the clinical trial will cost us $1.5 million,” Haden said. “The traditional drugs can’t be patented by large pharmaceutical companies, so if you can’t patent it, they’re not going to make money, so there’s no money to promote the research.”

People around the world are raising money to help them achieve their goal. Thomas and Melanie are fundraising, too.

“We’ve lost a lot of time and lot of lives,” Thomas said. “That’s why we are willing to step up and talk about it.”

Melanie feels compelled to advocate.

“I have gained so much because of this medicine and I will be ever indebted.”

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