The debate around the medical use of cannabis has been raging for many years.

The NSW government is currently examining how the active component in cannabis (THC) can be provided legally to ease symptoms of a number of conditions including AIDS-related wasting, cancer and multiple sclerosis.

It may surprise many to learn that there are some countries in the world that are also looking at using ecstasy (MDMA) in a therapeutic way.

One of these countries is the US where it is being proposed that American soldiers traumatised by fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are to be offered MDMA to help free them of flashbacks and recurring nightmares.

Earlier this year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave the go-ahead for the soldiers to be included in an experiment to see if MDMA can assist in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

This is not the first time MDMA has been used in this way.

In the late 70s psychotherapists used the drug in counselling sessions, usually when dealing with couples, e.g. marriage guidance.

The drug was used to assist couples to open up and express feelings that they might usually feel uncomfortable speaking about.

In the 1990s a Spanish team of researchers used MDMA in an experimental trial to investigate its usefulness in assisting victims of sexual assault.

This current US trial is to take place in South Carolina.

Several victims of rape and sexual abuse with PTSD, for whom existing treatments have proven ineffective, have been given MDMA since the research began last year.

It is proposed that the feelings of emotional closeness reported by those taking MDMA could help the soldiers talk about their experiences to therapists.

Researchers involved with the trial so far believe that the results are promising with MDMA appearing to act as a catalyst helping people move through whatever has been blocking their success in the therapy used previously.

The existing drug-assisted therapy sessions last up to eight hours during which music is played. The patients swallow a capsule containing a placebo or 125mg of MDMA -“ about the same or a little more than a typical ecstasy tablet.

Psychologists assess the patients before and after the trial to judge whether the drug has helped.

As you can imagine the study has provoked a great deal of controversy, with some people believing that allowing studies like this to take place sends a message that ecstasy is a safe drug.

Whatever your belief, this study is a trailblazer.

Although studies like these have taken place across Europe over the past decade, it is the first of several studies in the US which are planned or are under way to investigate whether MDMA, LSD and psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, can treat conditions ranging from obsessive compulsive disorder to anxiety in terminal cancer patients.

Remember: if you do not want any negative consequences, do not use the drug and, no matter how many times you have used a substance, never be blas?

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