distractions of the world and in a world ever more full of distraction, its appeal is growing. al jazeera, southern greece. you can keep up to date with all the news on our website, aljazeera.com. aljazeera.com. >> oh, this is so great! >> um hmm. >> annie! >> it is a video that is extremely personal. >> our fears are dancing between us. >> yeah? >> a woman's private pain examined for scientific research. >> it's so healing. >> instead of holding us down. >> she's on one of america's most popular party drugs. forget what you've heard about "molly", "x" or "mdma". >> it makes you feel euphoric, happiness, love. >> what you're about to see is the intersection of therapy and science and a journey to find the truth about mdma.
>> this is "techknow". a show about innovations that can change lives. >> the science of fighting a wildfire. >> we're going to explore the intersection of hardware and humanity, but we're doing it in a unique way. this is a show about science... >> oh! >> oh my god! >> by scientists. >> tonight, "techknow" investigates "molly". >> hey guys, welcome to "techknow". i'm phil torres. "mdma", "molly", "x", call it what you want, this drug is offering some intriguing and even surprising potential in both the military institutional perspective and medical scientific. and that's why i'm joined by "techknow's" ex-cia operative, lindsay moran, and cara santa maria who can explain it from a neuroscience perspective. now, i've seen "molly" as a club drug but as a therapeutic drug?
>> the military once used this as what they imagined could be a truth serum and now there's evidence that suggests that it could help ptsd sufferers. >> yeah and you know, scientists have long been intrigued by the sort of empathic benefits of mdma but now for the first time, there's an fda backed study so that they can see if these results are scientifically quantifiable. >> this serene treatment room nestled in the woods of south carolina... couldn't be further than the pulsing lights and booming music at this electronic music festival. at festivals and nightclubs the illegal drug "molly" or "ecstasy" is part of the culture. called "molly" or "x" on the street, mdma is really
methylenedioxy-methamphetamine. it's a psychoactive drug first developed as a blood-clotting agent - later patented as a diet drug. when taken, mdma acts on the brain by causing the neurons to release more serotonin... this also causes the neurotransmitter dopamine as well as hormones like oxytocin to be released. all leading to a heightened feeling of trust and compassion. this is why mdma is often called an "empathogen". a hollywood club goer explains. >> i think people like taking mdma because it makes you feel euphoric, it makes you feel like your anxiety is released, feelings of happiness, and you can't talk about mdma without talking about love, and that's essentially why people take it. >> and maybe that's something i can take in the rest of my world, is to be around mom. >> and although this clinical setting is a world away...
patient rachel hope just took the illegal drug, mdma. >> i was very anti-drugs, a teetotaler. i had seen what drug use had done to people in the 70s. i blamed a lot of the things that had happened to me on peoples' drug and alcohol abuse. >> rachel spoke with "techknow" from her new home in berlin, she's hopeful she's put her difficult past behind. rachel says as a child she was severely neglected and by age six she had been sexually abused. in the 90s, she was diagnosed with ptsd although back then she says they called her condition "acute anxiety". >> i spent up to 6 weeks at a time hospitalized or in clinics specializing in trauma. no matter what anyone did or gave me and how motivated i was - i was highly compliant, i finally told this therapist "i am doing everything you told me to do, i'm doing everything right - why am i getting worse"? i was hysterical and he said
"because we have no cure for ptsd". >> still, for more than 16 years she tried conventional therapy. in 2005 rachel applied for and became part of a revolutionary study. she was one of twenty three patients to undergo mdma assisted therapy. she was initially a bit hesitant. >> i also believe, like most people, that this medication puts holes in your brain and it can't possibly do anything... but at least it was different. >> "techknow's" lindsay moran traveled to south carolina to meet with doctor micheal mithoefer the psychiatrist who led the mdma study. >> the clips you're about to see may look like a standard therapy session, but rachel hope had just been given 125 milligrams of pure mdma. rachel gave "techknow" special permission to view these never before seen clips. she also gave the mithoefers permission to discuss her therapy session.
>> but maybe being willing to let go of trying to understand for a few minutes? >> in this videotaped session, rachel shares what she says was a difficult relationship with her mother. >> why didn't she want anybody else to have me either? >> with the mdma i was able to connect with these really primal and scary helpless feelings of what it was really like to have the mother who brought me to life truly not love me or want me. what was wrong with me? how come every mom feels that way but not me? >> because it wasn't about you... it wasn't something wrong with you. (moaning noise) >> how could it not be? she wanted a baby just not me... it was painful and hard and i felt all these feelings of being a helpless little child just wishing, hoping that this person
would love me and going- "what is wrong with me"? i mean you can go into some of these wounds with hypnotherapy but it's not going to change you the way mdma allows you to go into the depth of the experience of a preverbal, precognitive wound. >> treating ptsd virtually always involves re-visiting the trauma in a therapeutic setting, and if they are not emotionally engaged enough then the therapy doesn't work. so we think mdma seems to have this interesting combination of helping decrease fear and defensiveness at the same time so people are not numb from their emotions but they're not overwhelmed by them either. >> well, just now when i was talking with you... um, i was feeling connected to you and then there was this little flick a flare of fear that went up and then i decided i'm gonna ignore it, i don't want to deal with it.
but then -- >> fear from me? >> yeah, but then the medicine like... nudge nudge nudge... just go check it out... you know you don't have to pick it up, you can just look at it for a minute. >> what would be something you'd be afraid of? what would there be there that would be fearful? >> that i wouldn't be enough that you would expect more. >> those would be my fears. that i couldn't enough i couldn't match your mind and your thoughts and... yeah, very similar. >> wow. >> i couldn't keep up or... >> oh, this is so great - annie annie. >> so you can see how we both have fears? >> our fears are dancing between us. >> yeah. >> they're making art. >> um hmm.
they're out in the open running around (laughs), right? >> oh god! that is so healing. >> instead of holding us down. >> thank you so much! >> well, thank you. >> why is that such a significant moment? >> in the beginning she says i feel connected with you which we were talking about the way mdma helps with the therapeutic connection. but it wasn't just that everything was fine and she wasn't feeling anything else because then very quickly she was able to recognize consciously... have clarity about the fact that other feelings were coming up including fear and she was able and willing to express that rather than try to move away from it. >> but establishing trust between doctor and patient is essential. >> i realize that i had so many guards up in relation to women.
i had a very hard time making bonding, lasting, like sister friendships. so i wanted to work on that with annie mithoefer. >> rachel says she saw almost instant improvement after the mdma assisted therapy. although it's key to remember she, as well as all the test patients, did undergo extensive post sessions to process the emotions the mdma dug up. >> it's not just what happened during the mdma effect... the process, it's an experience that continues to unfold so it's important to have proper support to help people integrate and to continue to benefit from the experience. >> in july 2010, doctor mithoefer published the findings from this first phase of his study in the journal of psychopharmacology. a positive clinical response occurred in 83 percent of those patients given mdma. that's in comparison to the 25 percent found in placebo patients. >> so, we often have this sense "well maybe a couple of years worth of therapy just happened
today". so there is something about the mdma that seems to help a lot happen in a short period of time. >> today rachel insists she has completely recovered from ptsd and is living a healthy life, with no long term side effects. >> how is that possible? >> it makes sense that if people can have a deep enough experience of coming to terms with trauma, that you can argue whether it's a cure or a durable remission, but in any case she doesn't have the symptoms that would qualify for the diagnosis of ptsd anymore. >> the mithoefers received enough funding to enter a second phase of testing. this time, a test group of war veterans with ptsd participated. the results from this study will be submitted to the fda. their long term goal is to study whether mdma should be re-classified by the fda so it becomes legal for medicinal uses. >> i think the rational thing to do is to learn everything we can
about the possible risks and benefits and act accordingly. not to put it in a separate category just because it's been used recreationally. >> coming up on "techknow", the u.s. military's secret roll in psychedelic drug testing. >> we want to hear what you think about these stories. join the conversation by following us on twitter and at aljazeera.com/techknow. >> what in god's name makes you think that you can handle stress, anxiety, depression... post-traumatic stress? >> the closest i got was sitting in my truck, gun in hand. >> who will save america's heroes? >> i wish he'd been able to talk to somebody. >> "faultlines". >> what do we want? >> al jazeera america's hard-hitting... >> today the will be arrested.
>> the drug was given orally to the men in the hospital ward at 11:15 and they immediately em-bussed, arriving at the exercise area ten minutes later. at 11:40 the first affects of the drug make their appearance the men no longer take cover they relax and begin to giggle. >> this british army experiment was filmed in 1964. the effects of psychedelics on humans has been tested-- officially and unofficially-- for at least six decades. >> the troops have lost their air of urgency and many men are laughing. >> the u.s. army conducted their own chemical warfare testing using soldiers as test subjects during the same period. >> 2 hours later the squad, all except the drill sergeant, were
given lsd. again they are ordered to fall in... the response was not the same. >> the american government was trying to determine if lsd could act as a truth serum. >> perhaps most troubling was a covert operation cooked up by my former outfit, the cia, code named "mk-ultra". according to agency documents officially declassified in 2001, from the 1950's until at least 1964, the agency was secretly dosing inmates and also using prostitutes to lure "johns" whom they could then unknowingly drug. they then observed their behavior in what was essentially a government sanctioned mind-control study. >> while the u.s. government was attempting to use psychedelics for their benefit, secretly scientists were also using them on the academic side. techknow's cara santa maria met with dr charles grob a pioneer
in the therapuetic use of mdma and other psychoactive drugs. she visited his high security lab at the harbor-ucla medical center. >> in a safe that's bolted to the ground behind one locked door and then behind this other one here, researchers at harbor-ucla medical center keep their mdma under lock and key, literally. >> grob says that as controversial as the drug is today, it wasn't initially viewed as an illegal street drug. >> research of psychedelic compounds in the 50s and early/mid 60s was really the cutting edge of psychiatric research. there was great excitement and enthusiasm about the range of effects of these drugs, how they might facilitate our understanding of the brain. unfortunately by the mid/late 60s it became associated with a politically active counter culture.
>> recreational use of psychedelics was on the rise. so were overdoses and deaths associated with them. so doctor grob says that pressure against psychedelic research began to build. >> there was a great deal of cultural upheaval and by and large, primarily for political reasons, all research by the early 70s was repressed. >> for years, mdma had flown beneath government regulators' radar. in 1984, the dea began investigating whether it should be classified as a schedule 1 drug, meaning it has no medical use and high abuse potential. a year later under the controlled substances act mdma was added to the schedule 1 list. dr alicia danforth a psychologist and researcher who studies psychedelics explains the impact. >> research has been hindered because mdma was put on schedule 1, putting it in the most prohibitive class of controlled
substances and a lot of research that could have taken place since it was scheduled in the mid 80s has been postponed. so, there are some things we know about mdma but there's a lot more to learn. >> by 1986 a growing number of psychedelic researchers had begun to lobby and even sue the federal government. the multi-disciplinary association of psychedelic studies, or "maps", was born. rick doblin, self proclaimed hippie turned advocate, researcher and fundraiser began his mission. >> it became apparent to me that the only way back into legal use of mdma would be through the fda to medicalize mdma through scientific research. >> launching maps into a 30 year struggle with federal regulators, thats resulted in small, but privately funded mdma studies across the world. coming up on techknow. >> it's kind of an orangish
>> it's friday night in hollywood... the dance clubs along hollywood boulevard are starting to fill up with partiers. "molly" is part of the scene. a team of volunteers from a non profit called "dance safe" has hit the streets too. as members of the harm reduction movement, they are on a mission that they think is very important. >> so you use this term "harm reduction", what does that really mean? >> well, "harm reduction" is acknowledging the fact that despite zero-tolerance drug policies, people are still going to use drugs... so the end goal is to keep people safe, alive and really
prevent overdose and death. >> having attended hundreds of concerts across the country this summer, they know first hand, it's been a deadly festival season. in several states, high profile media reports of overdoses and deaths associated with drugs, often mistakenly called "molly" or "x", underline the importance of their work. >> this anonymous festival goer's experience is not unique among those who admit to taking "molly" or "x". independent private testing group erowid has collected data. by offering anonymous testing of samples, they've been able to track how often street pills sold as "ecstasy" or "molly" actually have mdma in them. of the almost 37 hundred samples
submitted so far this year, they found just 27.5 percent were pure mdma. so dance safe volunteers are armed with information about the dangers of taking unknown substances. and they even carry self-testing drug kits. they will test anyone's drugs on site, for free. no questions asked. they let me try a kit for myself, using a sample of a white substance a volunter found lying on the ground at a rave. >> so the dance safe test kit is really simple to use. you're gonna wanna take a really tiny amount of the unknown substance and scrape it onto any white porcelain surface. now there are four reagents involved to help you really narrow down what your possible substance is. so one drop is all it takes. and the reaction will occur within 5 to 30 seconds max. it looks like it's kind of an orangish color. so it's possibly either methamphetamine or amphetamine.
>> the problem with "molly" is significant, and not just in hollywood. cities across the us are seeing a rise in substances called "molly", or "x" on the street. in the last year, the dea has also seen a huge spike in synthetic drug impostors posing as "molly". techknow's lindsay moran has that part of the story. >> we're just outside washington dc-at the dea's special testing and research lab. this is where drug seizures and samples from all over the world are sent to be chemically identified. >> jill head is a supervising chemist at the lab. >> every drug exhibit that's submitted to the laboratory is approached as a complete unknown. we don't suspect that its anything until we conduct our analysis and make an actual identification. >> the lab tests thousands of drugs each year. >> she has two materials and they are both white powders, and so they are going to both be prepared in the same way.
>> most are evidence collected during seizures. using the most advanced equipment in the world, it's still a challenge identifying the constantly changing chemical compositions found in synthetic impostors. >> and we've determined that it's methalone. >> do you ever test something and low and behold its pure mdma? or is it typically not? >> we do analyze and identify pure mdma. we do however also identify it and it's something completely different. >> but dea spokesman rusty payne is quick to debunk an mdma myth. >> some people have the perception that mdma, if it's pure, isn't dangerous. what's the reality? >> there's no such thing as a good batch of drugs vs. a bad batch of drugs. ask the parents of the dead kids. >> to a certain degree, leading mdma assisted therapist, michael mithoefer agrees. his samples are kept in a safe.
he stresses mdma should always given to patients while they're under psychiatric supervision so their physical and mental states can be closely monitored. >> it's important to note, this is not take home medicine. people only receive mdma depending on the protocol, about 3 times, a month apart, under direct supervision. >> and while the dea is in charge of enforcing penalties against those who use mdma or ecstasy outside approved clinical research. the agency takes no official stance on it. >> our job is law enforcement. we leave the medical and scientific decisions to doctors and researchers and scientists. you don't want cops making decisions about what should be medicine and what shouldn't be medicine. >> you know, i gotta say this one really fascinates me because it's something that scientists have wanted to study for decades, but there is a taboo out there holding them back from it...
and laws holding them back from this. >> completely and i think that this is a really important point to make, even though when you're under the influence of a drug like mdma you feel more open and more connected and really empathetic with the people around you, its a fleeting experience. in a therapeutic context though this can be used to the therapists advantage. it's not about pop a pill, you're gonna get better. its really kind of an assistive property to the therapy itself. and i think thats the important point to make, that with or without the mdma the therapy is going to happen, the mdma can potentially make it happen a little more quickly. >> maybe break down some of those barriers. >> exactly. >> i think its gonna be a long time before we see something like this as say the "go to" treatment for people suffering from combat trauma. i mean we've covered for techknow some other experimental treatments for ptsd like virtual reality and hyperbearic oxygen chamber treatment...
i have to say it'll probably to be a while before the va is willing to delve into this kind of treatment just because of the conceptual taboo. >> well thank you guys for sharing both your personal experiences and what you saw during this piece. now mdma is certainly going to keep presenting a challenge for law enforcement and medical researchers so we're going to keep an eye on this story. thanks for watching techknow. we'll catch you next time. >> dive deep into these stories and go behind the scenes at aljazeera.com/techknow. follow our expert contributors on twitter, facebook, instagram, google+ and more. >> hunted to the brink of extinction. >> we need an urgent method that stops the killing. >> now fighting back with a revolutionary new science. >> this radiocarbon dating method can tell us if trade of ivory is legal. >> it could save a species. >> i feel like we're making an impact. >> techknows team of experts show you how the miracles of science...
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