British veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could face years of delay in receiving MDMA-assisted therapy due to a funding gap, a charity has said.
In the United States, 90 patients diagnosed with chronic PTSD received the therapy, with more than two-thirds of participants no longer diagnosed as experiencing PTSD following completion of the trial.
The therapy involves administering medical-grade MDMA and it is thought to be effective in treating patients whose symptoms have not been alleviated by other, more established treatments.
Military charity Supporting Wounded Veterans says that despite its own fundraising, and having secured contributions from NHS England, additional funding is needed to start the planned UK research this summer.
In December 2020, the charity launched a programme to raise money for the research – so far raising £775,000 – but that still leaves a shortfall of £725,000 from the required £1.5m.
Gilly Norton, Supporting Wounded Veterans' chief executive, said it would be a "national disgrace" if British veterans were unable to access the treatment while veterans from other nations could.
"We do not want to see British veterans miss out on a potentially invaluable treatment and suffer for even more years," she said.
"An important opportunity lies before us, and we are asking the public to help us seize it.
"Together, we can make a tremendous difference to brave people who need our support.
"Many veterans with PTSD will have tried existing treatments for years – with determination, but without success.
"This new therapy has the potential to transform their lives, and those of their families," she added.
The aim of the therapy is to create ideal conditions for re-processing traumatic experiences and reduce overactivity of the 'flight or fight' response.
The combination of therapy and medical doses of MDMA may make it easier for people with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD to work through distressing experiences in a safe atmosphere without becoming overwhelmed.
Research by King's College London's Centre for Military Health suggests that 17% of veterans whose last deployment was in a combat role suffer from PTSD.
And it is estimated that between a third and a half of overall PTSD cases are resistant to established treatments – with veterans tending to be more resistant to treatment.
Having looked to help numerous veterans with PTSD resistant to other therapies, Supporting Wounded Veterans engaged with a research team at King's College London to undertake the research around MDMA-assisted therapy in the UK.
There are now plans to carry out a Phase 3 trial, working with 25 veterans as well as some civilians.
General Sir Nick Carter, Chief of Defence Staff and also patron of Supporting Wounded Veterans, said the charity "has seen first-hand the problems that veterans face, and the limitations of conventional treatments".
"Now it may have found a therapy that is likely to make a critical difference to many people suffering terrible effects of trauma, using outstanding British scientists at one of our top universities," he said.
The call for extra funding comes after the results of a highly successful US trial of therapy, which treated 90 patients with severe PTSD.
MAPS, an American-based non-profit body, ran the trial and revealed that 67% of participants who received three MDMA-assisted therapy sessions no longer qualified for a PTSD diagnosis.
They also found that 88% experienced a clinically meaningful reduction in symptoms, among other positive findings.
Martin Hewitt is Lead Ambassador for Supporting Wounded Veterans and a former officer in the Parachute Regiment who lost the use of his right arm leading an attack in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
He said he knows many veterans whose mental health is "preventing them from achieving what they want in life".
"PTSD can affect any rank or role in the military," he said.
"We urgently need to conduct research on this new treatment, to maximise support for those who are suffering and encourage healing."
Cover image: PA.