Jonathan Lubecky is a 41-year-old veteran who, until a few years ago, suffered from a severe form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Lubecky attempted suicide five times after he was discharged from the Army in 2009.
“My unit there knew there was something off with me while I was deployed, but it didn’t really become noticeable to me until after I got home. That’s when I started having a lot of problems,” Lubecky told The Daily Beast. “My first suicide attempt was on Christmas Eve/Christmas morning in 2006—right after I got back.”
In the years following his service, Lubecky was at times taking around 40 pills to deal with his PTSD and injuries he sustained when he was deployed in Iraq. At one point, Lubecky was stationed in what soldiers referred to as “mortar-itaville,” a camp that constantly got mortared.
Lubecky said the pills all had their own side effects, and they simply weren’t working for him. He was constantly suicidal.
At the end of 2014, however, there was a glimmer of hope. Lubecky volunteered to be a participant in a Phase 2 study where veterans would receive MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, which was overseen by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).
Lubecky would enter the office where two therapists awaited him. He would lay down as blood pressure monitors and other devices were affixed to his body. He would take one 125 mg dose of pure MDMA and wait for the effects to kick in (that’s about 30 minutes of anticipating the unknown). Lubecky did three sessions in total, six-to-eight weeks apart, through the spring of 2015.
The first time, he knew the MDMA was kicking in because he started to see geometric patterns while his eyes were closed—bright colors and strange shapes. He hadn’t tried the drug before. The therapists started with simple questions about the weather and moved on to questions related to his trauma. The significance of the different questions felt the same. He could tell them anything, and his body melted into the couch. Time ceased to exist. During one session, a painting of a gorilla turned into Homer Simpson whenever he wasn’t looking.
“For proper emotional processing, you really have to let the feelings come out as fully as they can,” Dr. Yevgeniy “Zhenya” Gelfand, who will be the principal investigator for Phase 3 trials in Charleston, S.C. when they begin next month, told The Daily Beast.
That’s the idea behind using MDMA to treat PTSD. Gelfand said people who have PTSD often find it difficult to open up about their emotions and memories during therapy, so MDMA helps break down those barriers—making therapy far more effective. Gelfans said patients “progress sometimes in leaps and bounds.”
The results from Phase 2 were extremely promising. There were 107 participants; of the 90 who could follow up one year after the trial was completed, 61 no longer had PTSD. Some were unable to make time to be examined again. Lubecky said his PTSD didn’t go away completely, but it was reduced by roughly 50 percent, according to the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale.
That sort of success is phenomenal, and its earned MDMA cautious praise. In August last year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) designated this treatment as a “breakthrough therapy.” If Phase 3 trials go as well, the FDA could approve the treatment for all who are suffering from PTSD.
“The results we’re seeing are very good, and I had been frustrated with conventional treatments for PTSD,” Gelfand said. He has worked with veterans with PTSD for years and saw many who were not responding to traditional treatments. “Instead of suppressing symptoms and working on their pathology, you can work on turning on their inner healing response and their intuition,” Gelfand said. “Healing comes from within, and you just have to remove the barriers so that can happen.”
Since finishing his trial, Lubecky has gone on to live a successful life. He even went on to work for Rand Paul’s presidential campaign in 2016. “I went from a VA in-patient mental health ward to working on a presidential campaign at the national level in two years because of the MDMA treatment,” Lubecky said.
“It’s been life-altering. It’s a miracle,” he said.
After the MDMA treatment, Lubecky was no longer suicidal and ended up working on Sen. Paul’s campaign. Now Lubecky is helping MAPS as a veterans and governmental affairs liaison. He said he’s living a happy life and hopes his story will inspire others to hold on.
“I know I lost hope. That’s why I tried to kill myself, because I got to that point,” Lubecky said. “I want everyone with PTSD to know not to lose hope until this treatment is authorized. I hope someone reads these articles, hears my story and doesn’t put a gun in their mouth.”