BRATTLEBORO, Vt. – Army Sgt. Tony Macie remembers vividly the day he knew he was at war. He was a forward observer in Iraq, on patrol outside of Baghdad, at the height of the surge in 2006. At the time, he was only 19.
“We were doing a dismounted patrol, and two guys in front of me stepped on an IED,” he said, referring to an improvised explosive device. “It was surreal seeing someone blown up, and also being just two people away from it … [The experience] kind of jolted me into this war. This is real. It’s not training anymore.”
Macie served in the Army for 15 months before a back injury not related to combat forced him to leave the Army. He returned to his childhood home in a small town outside of Brattleboro, Vermont, but couldn’t shake what he had seen. He replayed the war over and over in his mind, willing himself back in time to change the past.
“I would think about, ‘If I had been there in this situation, I could have prevented it,’ or ‘If I could have gotten retaliation after, that would have made me feel better,’” he said.
Like tens of thousands of veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Macie was eventually diagnosed with PTSD. But he says the care he received at the VA – anti-anxiety and anti-depressants combined with therapy, and painkillers for his back – only made him numb. He eventually became addicted to Oxycodone.
“You’re not dead, you’re not alive,” he said. “You’re just in this in-between state.”
Mithoefer was by Macie’s side when he took his first dose of MDMA. He was given an eye mask and headphones to listen to music. He lay down and waited for the drug to take affect.
“It was just like a paradigm shift. The medication kicked in and I went from feeling anxious to for the first time post-deployment feeling nothing, just complete relaxation,” Macie said. “I felt like I had an ache in my chest and it was just released. It was a wave of not pleasure – but relief – that I could let this memory go.”
He added: “I still remembered it, but was just moving on from it.”
Macie’s treatment would not have been possible without the efforts of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). Leading the charge is Rick Doblin, the group’s executive director, who became familiar with MDMA in the early 1980s when it was being used to enhance therapy sessions throughout the United States. But as MDMA spread beyond the psychotherapy community and people started using it as a party drug, Doblin saw the writing on the wall.
“The recreational use was going to doom the medical use. It was clear that was going to happen,” he said. “So I started a non profit, MAPS, to organize the underground psychotherapy community to defend MDMA once the DEA cracked down.”
In 1985, the DEA classified MDMA as a Schedule 1 drug, the same category as heroin and LSD: defined as having a high potential for abuse with no known medical benefit.
Macie says six more years is too long for the veterans currently suffering through what he experienced, especially, he says, when an average of 22 veterans are committing suicide every day. Macie is pushing for the VA to actively support further research into MDMA.
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