If hanging out with a bunch of strangers in a foreign country shooting at other strangers for a living isn't damaging enough, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is always there to prolong the trauma once combat soldiers return from war. Around 25 percent of discharged American soldiers suffer from the disorder.
Tony Macie, an Iraq veteran, is one of those soldiers. Traumatized by the deaths of two of his friends in a truck-bomb attack, Macie was prescribed conventional medication to treat his PTSD after returning to the US. When that wasn’t working out for him, he started to research alternative remedies and came across the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which was offering an experimental treatment with MDMA.
I gave Tony a call and spoke to him about using the drug to try to overcome his post-Iraq trauma.
Tony in Iraq
VICE: Hi, Tony. Can you tell me about your experience of serving in Iraq?
Tony Macie: I was there for 15 months. A lot of the time I was clearing roads, and there was a constant fear of being ambushed. I think it was six months into my tour. I wasn’t there when it happened, but a petrol base got hit by a truck bomb and killed a couple of my buddies. That was really upsetting; it was the point when I was like, "This is real. This is war."
Do you think you were suffering more than your colleagues? Or was everyone in the same boat?
I think everyone was suffering. At times we didn’t realize it, though, because we were so focused on staying alive.
Were there any points when you felt particularly afraid for your life?
Probably just after the car bomb went off. We were there for three days straight guarding the road, just waiting for another car bomb to come. There was a point when we were sitting in the Humvee and we thought there was going to be an attack. Nothing happened in the end, but I was out there for three days, on night duty, just waiting for something to happen. Over there, death could have happened at any point. I was always expecting an ambush or a firefight.
How did you feel when you got back to America?
At first, there was a lot of relief. I was glad to be back and felt kind of safe. But after a couple of days I couldn’t really sleep and I started overheating. After a couple of weeks I started drinking to go to sleep, and a month or two after that I started to have anxiety and panic attacks. That’s when I decided to go to the doctors.
What did they prescribe you?
They gave me antidepressants; I don’t remember which ones. Then Xanax and a couple of sleeping pills.
Did that have any positive effect?
I’m not a big fan of anti-depressants; they had side effects that didn’t help at all. If anything, they made things worse. I ended up taking even more medication.
How did you first find out about the MDMA trials for your PTSD?
I looked at alternative treatment for PTSD on the internet, read about how MDMA was used in treatment and found out about the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). I contacted them to give it a shot.
Can you tell me about your MDMA trial?
The dose was 75 mg, which I took once in pill form. I went to meet with the guys three or four times before I took the MDMA, just to talk with them about the trial. I was on the coach and just relaxing for the first hour after I took it, but I started to feel a lot of anxiety when the MDMA was about to kick in. I think I was trying to fight it.
Then the MDMA kicked in and I started to feel good. I felt relaxed and calm, and a complete peace came over me. Memories came up I was previously trying to ignore, but then as soon as I would let the memory come up I would have a wave of pleasure, so I think my body was telling me to accept the memories. I also felt I needed to take the positives out of everything, no matter what the situation is. I also came to a lot of realizations when I was on the MDMA.
Tony in Iraq
What kind of realizations?
I was using painkillers, and when I was in the session I realized that I was very dependent on them. I also realized that I had to accept the past how it was. I needed to move on; there was nothing I could do to change it.
How did the MDMA treatment affect your relationships with friends and family?
I realized that I was pushing people away, so I rekindled a lot of relationships with my family and friends, and I was more open to love. I also felt I was able to talk and communicate again. When I got home I couldn’t really communicate with my family, but I think I'm a lot closer to them now. But just in general, I don’t try to say negative things to people now. My relationship with PTSD has also changed completely.
How long did the positive feelings last for?
I think it’s been something I have actually been feeling more and more. I feel I can open up more now and talk to people about things. It’s a continual thing.
Did you feel any negative effects when you were coming down?
Not really. The only side effect was that my jaw might have been a little sore, but I didn’t really feel any negative effects from the treatment. It was a very positive experience.
Are you going to do more sessions?
If I start to drink or suffer from symptoms again, then I would try to do it if I could—if it was legal.
Would you recommend the MDMA treatment to other veterans?
I wouldn’t recommend that anyone try it off the street, but I feel there should be more trials and research into this treatment. I want anyone who is lost as a result of trauma to be able to have this tool at his or her disposal. For me, MDMA-assisted psychotherapy opened the doors to compassion, love, and moving on.
Thanks for chatting to me, Tony.