“I personally know how effective it is, and I know how much it will help my brothers and sisters in arms.”
Meet Jonathan Lubecky. He’s a former U.S. soldier who spent an impressive 4 years serving in the Marines Corps and 8 years serving in the Army. He was deployed to Iraq in 2005 to 2006, and says he returned home “100% rated with PTSD” — the highest tier of PTSD severeness measured by the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs — as well as a brain injury.
From the moment he stepped back on U.S. soil, Lubecky would spend the next years of his life struggling with debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), driving him to attempt suicide multiple times.
Lubecky says he tried everything from exposure therapy to multiple FDA-approved medications for PTSD, but nothing worked for him. Then, after his last suicide attempt, he was told about a Phase I clinical trial that would be taking place in Charleston, in which people struggling with PTSD would be treated with MDMA-assisted therapy.
“One of my biggest reservations was I had never used MDMA before in my life,” Lubecky told me in a phone interview. “I had no idea what to expect.”
Lubecky called up researchers Michael and Annie Mithoefer, who have been leading the MDMA-assisted psychotherapy studies of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) — an organization that is one of the torchbearers behind the modern-day psychedelic research movement.
After an interview, a physical exam, and neuropsychology testing, the researchers confirmed that Lubecky qualified for the MDMA study, and just 3 MDMA treatment sessions would go on to transform his life.
He says that many people only think of PTSD as a mental health problem, but it’s mental and physical.
“When you’re in combat where you’re getting shot at and everyone could be a potential threat, your brain and body train themselves to survive.” he says. “Then you come home and those things are no longer needed, but there’s no way to retrain the body.”
He says that his PTSD caused such emotional and physiological reactions that he simply didn’t want to talk about his hardships.
Courtesy of Jonathan Lubecky. Imaged has been cropped.
“Under the influence of MDMA, I was able to talk about and work through these things without having that physiological reaction,” he said. “It kind of rewires the brain back to baseline before the PTSD.”
During the treatment, the researchers created a comfortable environment with music and blankets, and Lubecky was 100 percent supervised for a 24-hour period. While he was hooked up to blood pressure monitors and other devices, he was gradually given a 125 mg dose of MDMA. He went through 3 treatment sessions like this one, with 6 weeks between each.
Amazingly, just 3 MDMA-assisted therapy sessions reduced his PTSD symptoms by 50 percent.
Lubecky says after each session, the researchers talked to him and the other study participants every day for a week. “That week is really rough,” he admits. “You think about a lot of stuff and there’s a lot of stuff going on.”
But after just 2 or 3 weeks, Lubecky realized something incredible: “I wasn’t having the kind of reactions that I used to, like in crowds.”
These drastic benefits provided by MDMA are long-lasting, as well. Lubecky says he had his 1-year follow-up just a few weeks ago, and all of the testing shows his symptoms are still at a 50 percent reduction — and incredibly, his depression has continued in a steady decline.
“A lot of that is because I now see that I have a future,” he says.
Lubecky notes that traditional medications for PTSD are effective for about 70 percent of the people who try them, but he admires MAPS researchers Michael and Annie for working towards alternate solutions for the other 30 percent — like himself — that get left behind.
He says the mindset of some of his previous doctors was basically, “medicate him to the point where he doesn't kill himself.”
“It kept me alive, but it’s not a solution,” he argues. “This [MDMA-assisted therapy] is a solution.”
He likens MDMA-assisted treatment to the regulation of the powerful narcotics that are given to people in hospitals to knock them out for surgeries.
“Those aren't necessarily things we want to give people to come home with and I understand that — this is the same thing,” he says. “There is no reason why MDMA cannot be given in a clinical environment. There is virtually no chance of abuse.”
He says when some people hear the word “MDMA,” they automatically picture someone taking a bunch of ecstasy pills, but “it’s nothing like that.” If the treatment gains FDA-approval following the Phase III clinical trial, which MAPS hopes to begin in 2017, the MDMA-assisted therapy would be clinically-guided in controlled environments.
However, even if everything goes smoothly, it wouldn’t be until about 2021 that MDMA could become an FDA-approved medicine. That’s another five years for people with PTSD to continue suffering and committing suicide, so Lubecky plans to continue advocating for the cause in the meantime — and says everybody should get involved.
Today, Lubecky works as a lobbyist and a campaign advisor on military, veteran, and foreign policy issues. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Lubecky. Image has been cropped.
Lubecky will be talking to legislators about FDA Expanded Access, otherwise known as “Compassionate Use,” which would permit doctors to use the MDMA treatment outside of the phase III clinical trial while it’s still being considered by the FDA.
He urges everybody else to contact congressman and senators to voice that expanded access to MDMA-assisted treatments should be available for those suffering from PTSD.
“To make veterans wait 5 years, to lose thousands of veterans, just because of the bureaucratic process is ridiculous,” he says.
“I personally know how effective MDMA is. I know how much it will help my brothers and sisters in arms.”