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FDA Could Approve Ecstasy For PTSD, But Not In Colorado Unless Lawmakers Act

DENVER (CBS4)- The party drug ecstasy is being hailed as a breakthrough treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. The FDA could approve the treatment later this year. While FDA-approved drugs are offered automatically in half of the states, Colorado is in the other half that also require state approval.

Two lawmakers are pushing for that as clinical trials show a 67% success rate even in the most severe cases of PTSD. A total of 180 people have participated in the study so far, including Jon Lubecky, who testified in support of the bill.

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"I spent eight years of life trying kill myself every day," he said.

Lubecky told state lawmakers he shouldn't be alive. An Army veteran, he returned from Iraq in 2006 with severe post-traumatic stress.

"I put a loaded 9 millimeter to my temple and pulled the trigger," he said.

When defective ammunition spared his life, he tried to end it again. He would attempt suicide five times in eight years. Then, in 2014, he entered a clinical trial thinking it would be the last thing he would do before he died.

"It made me not want to die anymore."

He received MDMA -- the active ingredient in ecstasy -- and, for the first time, was able to talk about and deal with his trauma. Researchers say the drug works by muting the part of the brain responsible for fear so people can open up without crippling panic attacks.

"The MDMA puts the mind, body and spirit in a place where it needs to be so it can heal, and therapy can actually work," said Lubecky.

Boulder psychiatrist Dr. Will Van Derveer, who helped conduct the study, says participants receive three doses of MDMA in a controlled setting. They then undergo more than 1,000 hours of therapy.

"What's happening in those sessions is not fun. It's not pleasurable. It's fear diminishing and trust enhancing so people can actually do the work of healing," said Van Derveer.

The therapy could get FDA approval by the end of the year, but it won't be available here unless it also gets state approval, which is why state Rep.s Patrick Neville and David Ortiz have introduced a bill to clear the way. Both lawmakers are combat veterans themselves.

"I think veterans that I know that self-medicate," said Neville. "This is done in a safe, clinical setting and has proven to be extremely effective. I'd much rather have them doing that than self-medicate with something much more dangerous on their own."

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Worse than self-medicating, some like Lubecky are trying to end their life to end the suffering.

"MDMA-assisted therapy is one reason my son has a father instead of a folded flag, and I think Colorado needs more mothers and fathers and less funerals."

If the FDA gives the green light, MDMA would only be available in a clinical setting -- you couldn't get a prescription to take it at home -- and only in combination with therapy.

While there will still likely be some pushback since it is a controlled substance, Lubecky says if there was a treatment that eliminated 67% of tumors in cancer patients, lawmakers would legalize it immediately. The bill passed the House Behavioral Health and Human Services Committee unanimously, but still has a way to go before it's law.

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