Dr. Michael Mithoefer: MDMA Breakthrough

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By Keith Miller. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

In this episode of The Soul of Life I speak with Dr. Michael Mithoefer, the lead investigator that has successfully piloted the first-ever study of MDMA, otherwise known as ecstasy, into the third and final stage of FDA approval for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dr. Mithoefer is featured as a lead character in the 2015 book Acid Test by award-winning journalist Tom Shroder, a meticulously researched history of the controversy and unprecedented healing properties associated with psychedelics.

The FDA granted Dr. Mithoefer and his colleagues “breakthrough status” to expedite its application for approval because they’re seeing such dramatic results working with veterans tormented by complex PTSD which is notoriously difficult to treat even with the best and most expensive therapies.

“We’ve had people with uncontrollable rage just have that stop happening after one session.”

I talk with Michael about the safety of therapeutically-supervised MDMA and how it works in the brain.

MDMA is referred to as an “empathogen,” because it activates our natural ability to be openhearted, friendly, and collaborative, something that immediately gets switched off when the brain goes into safe mode while experiencing emotional turmoil—even garden variety stress can do this, like a parent that yells every day, or a boss that expects to get perfection but only gives criticism. But for now, Dr. Mithoefer is using particularly egregious forms of trauma—combat experience—as the test use case with the FDA.

And unlike many people’s idea of all illegal drugs being dangerous or addictive, a full course of MDMA is given in micro-doses only 2-3 times in about a month—accompanied by an all-day psychotherapy session each time—but the patient essentially walks away born-again. They report seeing the world not just the way it was before their trauma but with eyes that are profoundly capable of seeing gratitude, joy and meaning in life.

“People think they’re grateful because they’re happy. Actually they’re happy because they’re grateful.”

I don’t think I’m the only one wondering, “Do I have to wait to get complex-PTSD to sign up?”

Wider access to these intense life-changing treatments for less acute suffering indeed may be coming down the line.

Just a week ago the bestselling self-help guru and podcast superstar Tim Ferris talked about his experience of sexual abuse in childhood, for the first time publicly, and he credits Dr. Mithoefer for what he described as a breakthrough treatment with MDMA, as well as Dr. Richard Schwartz and IFS therapy, someone I interviewed in episode 4 of the Soul of Life podcast. (By the way, the Tim Ferris episode that talks about MDMA and Internal Family Systems Therapy is episode #464 of his show, which I’ll put a link to in notes here at souloflifeshow.com.)

As a psychiatrist for many decades, Michael describes how all psychoactive medicines—medicines that act on brain function—are merely tools to help free the brain up to do what it knows how to do. Heal and function as a whole.

“Anybody really paying attention realizes there’s so much more to psychological healing than isolating it to ‘You’ve got to reprocess your trauma,’ or ‘You’ve got to correct these cognitive distortions.’ Both of those may well be true [but] if you get out of the way and be curious and encourage people to be open to what comes, you find that the breadth and the depth and the complexity to each individual’s healing process is beyond what we could have cooked up with our rational minds as a plan. And it’s far more beautiful and far more effective.”

15 episodes