VICE (2013) s06e27 Episode Script

A Living Hell and MDMA for PTSD

1 SHANE SMITH: This week on Vice: the escalating crisis in Yemen.
(RAPID GUNFIRE) (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) The UN has just estimated that a child is dying every ten minutes here as a result of the war.
SMITH: And then, a shocking new treatment for PTSD.
JON LUBECKY: Within 60 days of coming back from Iraq, I put a loaded Beretta to my temple and pulled the trigger.
At that point, I would try anything, even something as crazy as Ecstasy.
BEN ANDERSON: I think I might face things that I haven't thought about or talked about or faced really, ever.
(THEME MUSIC PLAYING) (CROWD SHOUTING) They're saying that right now, it's time for change.
(SHOUTING INDISTINCTLY) The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is already the most serious in the world, and it looks like it's about to get worse, leaving a majority of the population exposed to the risk of starvation and disease.
So Ben Anderson went to Yemen, where peace talks had recently collapsed, to see just how bad the situation is on the ground.
(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) Can you describe the situation that you fled from? This this tank is empty, as well, this is ? No water in here, as well? (WOMAN SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) (MAN SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) No proper toilets, just just this four-walled structure and just for privacy, but not actually to get rid of the sewage.
In the north of the country, there's a major problem with cholera.
Has cholera come to this camp, as well? ANDERSON : There are already over 1.
2 million suspected cases of cholera in Yemen, one of the reasons this is considered the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
And that number is rising as more people are forced to flee to camps like this.
So I've been to lots of IDP camps and this is, um, easily the worst one I've seen.
Um, there's almost nothing provided here, in terms of, you know, a proper toilet, a proper tent, and people are just making do with whatever they can.
I mean, this is just sticks shoved into the ground, and then bits of clothing, cardboard, old bags, and sacks.
(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) (ANDERSON SPEAKING) How close were the Houthi fighters to you, when when the missile struck? (JET ENGINE ROARS) ANDERSON: The airstrikes began nearly four years ago, after the Houthi rebels, routinely described as Iranian-backed, took all of Yemen's major cities.
The coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, with US-supplied planes and weapons, are attempting to defeat the Houthis.
But far too many of their airstrikes hit civilian targets, and fighting on the ground has cut off access to vital food and aid, causing hideous levels of starvation and disease.
The coalition have been taking land along the Red Sea coast, and are on the verge of a decisive battle for Hodeidah, the country's biggest port.
Fighting around the port is jeopardizing the nearly 70 percent of Yemen's goods, including food and medicine that travel through it.
We joined three of the major forces fighting with the coalition.
They have vastly different goals, but are united for now in battling the Houthis.
(ANDERSON SPEAKS) Whoa.
(MEN CHATTERING) So we're approaching their final position before the no-man's-land between them and Houthis' area.
And you can see what kind of fight has taken place, I mean, there's two trucks here just blown to bits.
The airport is about 150-200 meters in front of me, and over three months ago the UAE said it was under their control, but clearly, it's nowhere near under their control.
And that's before you even get to the outskirts of the city.
The city is you can just see the buildings about four kilometers away.
And according to the coalition's predictions, this was supposed to have been over a long time ago.
(BULLET RICOCHETS) (COALITION FIGHTER SPEAKS) (ANDERSON SPEAKING) (COALITION FIGHTER SPEAKS) So now they're saying we've got to pull back.
(MISSILE WHISTLING) It's about midnight, and I'm right on the outskirts of Tahayta.
And they're saying that 100 meters from here is a tarmac and just beyond that there are Houthis positioned.
They lost two guys yesterday to Houthi snipers.
And they said that two days before that, they killed two Houthis.
(BLASTS) (RAPID GUNFIRE) (COALITION FIGHTER SPEAKING) (RAPID GUNFIRE) (ANDERSON WHISPERS) The mortars are going on between the Houthis over here.
And the air force is here, but now Houthis over here are shooting as well.
(DISTANT EXPLOSIONS) (BLASTS) (ANDERSON SPEAKING) (BLASTS) (RAPID GUNFIRE) (COALITION FIGHTER SPEAKS) ANDERSON: Like all sides in this conflict, the Giants Brigade use child soldiers.
One of the many young fighters we met took us to a key position in the battle for Hodeidah.
(MAMDOEH SAEED SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) ANDERSON: And how long have you been a fighter? (SAEED SPEAKS) ANDERSON: So how old are you now? ANDERSON: So you started fighting when you were 11 years old? (SAEED SPEAKS) ANDERSON: And do think that when you've taken Hodeidah and the road, that you'll get a chance to stop fighting? ANDERSON: Then take the whole country? (SAEED SPEAKING) (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) (BLASTS) (ANDERSON SPEAKING) (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) ANDERSON: There have been lots of efforts, you know, peace talks, some kind of deal.
Do you think there's any chance they could succeed, or do you think this is a fight until one side is completely defeated? (MEN CHATTERING) - (DISTANT BLAST) - (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) (GUNSHOT) How much support do you get from the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and how much how much power do they have? Do they give you orders directly, or or are you fighting independently? (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) What do you think it'll mean if you take the road soon, What will it mean for the Houthis? (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) (DISTANT RAPID GUNFIRE) (DISTANT ROOSTER CROWS) (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) (GUNSHOT ECHOES) (GUNSHOT ECHOES) (RAPID GUNFIRE) Oh, shit.
So this is this is one of our cars.
As you can hear, they've been firing all night long.
This base is surrounded by a I don't know, ten-foot-high wall.
The air above that ten-foot-high wall has been filled with bullets and mortars.
A bullet's clearly gone up and down and hit the window.
Jesus Christ.
We spent a few days on the front lines with, with your fighters and we saw a lot of them who were 13, 14, 15 years old.
How do you justify the use of children as fighters? (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) ANDERSON: So, some people would say there's something even more important than your hatred for each other, and that's the civilians in Yemen.
Ten thousand, at least, have been killed so far.
Millions are on the brink of starvation.
Should the war not be brought to an end for their benefit? ANDERSON: The various fighting forces clearly want a fight to the death that could last years.
And while their wealthy foreign backers with seemingly unconditional US support are willing to fund them in this, the people trying to save Yemen civilians are left to work in impossible conditions.
(ANDERSON SPEAKING) (WOMAN SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) How many children in this town are malnourished as a result of the war? (AHYAF SPEAKING) ANDERSON: Are there children here who you can't get to or who can't get here? (AHYAF SPEAKING) ANDERSON: There are an estimated 1.
8 million severely malnourished children in Yemen.
(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) ANDERSON: Right now you don't have the specialists and the medicines you need to treat a child like this? ANDERSON: So there have been attempts to reach some kind of a peace agreement, but they failed, and it looks like both sides want to keep on fighting until one side is defeated.
Can you just describe what that looks like for civilians who are caught in the middle in towns like this? (SULAIMAN SPEAKING) Ben Anderson has been reporting from war zones like Yemen for 18 years.
ANDERSON: I think some guys went out to get some water.
Came under heavy fire.
SMITH: Just over a year ago, he was diagnosed with PTSD.
Now this condition affects millions of Americans, including 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and up to 30 percent of first responders.
Despite this, available treatment is extremely limited.
But a solution may be in sight.
Psychotherapists using MDMA, the active ingredient in Ecstasy, are getting amazing results.
Ben wanted to know more, so he tried the treatment himself.
ANDERSON: For a long time, I've seen little things, but I've sort of brushed them off.
Just keep on going.
You know, I don't know when I first had PTSD, but things have been wrong for a decade or more.
(RAPID GUNFIRE) Dealing with really nasty situations where bullets are flying, I functioned really well there, but I didn't function well at the most basic, everyday things back at home.
Too often, I think, "No.
This is, this is the way you are now, and this is the way you're going to be for the rest of your life.
" You ready for your capsule? Sure.
ANDERSON: For myself, and the millions who suffer from PTSD, especially when medication and therapy haven't helped, it can feel like you're unfixable.
But there could be hope, following a new set of trials.
Ed Thompson developed PTSD as a fireman.
He participated in the first phase of trials for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.
Patients do three sessions that last up to eight hours each.
This is your first medicated treatment session? THOMPSON: Correct.
This is the beginning of some interesting revelations on this video.
Are you feeling completely conscious, and you're in control, and ? Yeah.
And I felt like I was able to relax, even when I was talking through probably my most traumatic memories.
I don't think I had seen a dead person until then.
First one was gruesome, too.
And I just shrugged it off at the time.
I think I was hurting myself every time I talked about that stuff.
THERAPIST: Yeah, it's a different experience - when you're really processing it this way.
- God, how is it that I'm only just now coming to this? Thank you for what you're doing.
It was like being able to take a big breath, you know, uh after being stuck underwater for a long time.
ANDERSON: Before the treatment, Ed was dependent on prescription drugs and alcohol, and suicidal.
LAURA THOMPSON: It was terrible.
There were nights where I remember just checking to make sure he had a pulse.
And then I would go to bed.
So what did you think when someone said, "There's this MDMA therapy.
This could be the thing that helps you.
" I was terrified.
I was, like, "This isn't going to help you.
" I was, like, "Great.
Another thing for him to be hooked on, and for him to try to kill himself with, because he can't deal with what's going on in his head.
" And it completely changed his life.
ANDERSON: The majority of other patients had similar results, including two veterans we spoke with.
Within 60 days of coming back from Iraq, I put a loaded Beretta to my temple and pulled the trigger.
Without this study, I'd probably be dead right now.
I know the taste of a pistol in my mouth.
You sit there and you go, this If I can end this right now, is it worth it? LUBECKY: My house was foreclosed on.
There were times when I had no income, went into abandoned buildings, pulled out copper so I could buy ramen noodles.
I'd never really thought that I'd be doing anything other than living in a van down by the river.
- And you thought that was it for you? - That's what I'm gonna do.
That's the height of my existence is getting high every day, getting drunk every day, and doing that until my life expires.
- Therapy hadn't worked.
- Not at all.
- Prescription drugs hadn't worked.
- I'd been through all of it.
They threw every pill imaginable at me.
At one point I was on 42 pills a day between physical and mental injuries.
At that point, I would try anything, even something as crazy as Ecstasy.
I'm here to say that there is new hope for the treatment of trauma.
This hope is coming from a psychedelic drug called MDMA.
ANDERSON: One of MDMA's earliest proponents was Dr.
Rick Doblin.
His work has been hugely beneficial to veterans and first responders, forcing even the Pentagon to take note.
I'm a draft resister.
I was prepared to go to jail instead of going to Vietnam.
But now all these years later, we're being invited into the Pentagon to talk to them about MDMA therapy for veterans.
ANDERSON: Rick founded the nonprofit MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, back in 1986, a year after the Reagan Administration made the drug illegal.
We knew about therapeutic use of MDMA from the middle '70s, and just think about how many suicides would have been prevented, how much suffering would have been prevented.
It's a national crisis, and in a crisis, people are willing to look at things that they weren't otherwise willing to look at.
ANDERSON: After 42 years, Rick has almost succeeded.
In Phase Two of the MAPS study, 68 percent of participants no longer qualified for PTSD.
DOBLIN: There's a major change taking place now, in the attitudes, and it's because they're desperate.
Because the VA has tried everything else.
And there's a shifting around the whole concept of prohibition.
We have the legalization of marijuana here in Massachusetts, so that's why I'm not hiding my bong.
Even under Trump and Sessions, the FDA was not scared to say, "This is a breakthrough therapy.
" ANDERSON: Even Fox News is open to the idea, because helping veterans may be one of the few non-partisan issues left.
But I think there is definitely a genuine interest in trying to do the best for our men and women that served.
GREG GUTFELD: I think that there was a group of psychotherapists who were really, really angry when a valuable tool was taken from them.
And I can't remember the guy who's in charge Dubrin, I think, or Dubul.
I can't think of the guy's name, but he's been pioneering all of this.
They didn't once mention MDMA and therapy.
- No.
- They seem to have missed the entire point.
Did you ever think you'd be doing a pro Ecstasy segment on Fox News? - No, uh - (LAUGHS) ANDERSON: We spoke to one vet who says he experienced lasting impact and a whole new way of thinking after just one session.
I just went from feeling anxious to feeling completely relaxed.
Things happened, and people are dead, and my way of not accepting it was role-playing in my mind, about other scenarios on how Okay, if I would have done this and been there, then maybe something could have changed.
One of the realizations that I had was, I put myself in their shoes.
There's no way, if I was to die over there, I'd want someone suffering the rest of their life.
And, uh, I would want them living their life, and being successful.
So, enjoy family, enjoy friends, because I'm still able to.
ANDERSON: Scientists at Yale are beginning to understand what makes MDMA potentially so effective.
I got my brain scanned by two doctors at Yale who are working with the VA on advancing breakthrough PTSD treatments.
DR.
CHADI ABDALLAH: If we look at all PTSD symptoms together, numbness, arousal, avoidance, flashback, we see that the main issue on average is reduction of connectivity in the interior hippocampus, this area, and the amygdala, as well, which is in front of it.
The more numbness they have, the less overall connectivity they have in these areas.
ANDERSON: Early studies suggest that MDMA and other psychedelics may enhance the brain's ability to recover after traumatic experiences.
Maybe MDMA opens the window of plasticity, recreating or re-enhancing the ability for new emotional learning, new social learning.
Think about it as you have a kind of psychological roadblock, and this is You get this window to overcome this roadblock, and have a different psychology that gets you out of this viscous cycle.
What is the potential for this? What is the potential for MDMA? There's a real potential for it to become part of the mainstream of PTSD treatment.
It's almost like the rules of the game are changing right right in front of us.
ANDERSON: For now, MDMA remains illegal outside of the clinical trial.
To undergo the therapy myself, I had to travel abroad.
When I'd started talking to people about this, and said, yeah, I think may have PTSD, a lot of close friends kind of said, "Of course you do, you idiot.
" - (EXPLOSION) - (DEBRIS CLATTERS) I was never violent, but I definitely had violent urges.
Walking on the street, if someone walked too close behind me, I was ready for a confrontation.
(WAILING, SHOUTING) A colleague, who I, I had a pretty intense trip with to Iraq, and we saw people we'd spent time with literally get their heads and bodies blown to bits in front of us.
(RAPID GUNFIRE) And then he said, "You just look bored.
" Just numbness.
Numbness to, you know, real physical danger, numbness to addressing your own feelings about thing, at all, and even when you get home, numbness to things which should be, you know, pleasurable.
As soon as you start thinking slightly about what impact it could have on you, and how you might be suffering in some way, you just, just block it out straight away.
- (CRICKETS CHIRPING) - (DOVE COOING) (SIGHS) So, I'm going to take, I think, 200 milligrams of MDMA.
And then do a therapy session which lasts seven or eight hours.
You know, I think I might think about things or talk about things or face things that I haven't thought about or talked about or faced really, ever.
(SIGHS) Take the pill now? How long has it been? (THERAPIST SPEAKING) - I'm not really feeling anything yet.
- (THERAPIST SPEAKS) Like I've taken a placebo, um, rather than MDMA.
(THERAPIST SPEAKING) That's what I'm saying, yeah, I'm doing what I'm doing with everything, which is expecting it to be a disappointment.
I'm thinking, another thing that you thought would help that didn't help.
(THERAPIST SPEAKING) But yeah, that's still that feeling of "No, you don't.
" You know, someone who witnessed their family being killed, or someone who was raped, they they would have it.
You don't.
ANDERSON: What right have you got to feel sorry for yourself or think you need help, or think you have a condition? (THERAPIST SPEAKING) Yeah.
I felt the urge that there was there was quite a lot of, like I wanted to go like this, and having to, like, punch to defend myself, but my hand is just breaking.
- You know, just shattering.
I've had that.
- THERAPIST: Huh? (THERAPIST SPEAKING) Yeah.
ANDERSON: I am strong, you know.
(THERAPIST SPEAKING) Yeah.
Yeah.
Yeah.
The fragile hands thing is stupid, you know.
But it's just it's a feeling that's been there for a long time.
I've thought a lot before about the veteran, Tony.
He'd lost some friends in Irak.
He's spent all the time since then wondering if he could have done something to save their lives.
It was almost like he was talking to his friends and they just and they just said, "What are you doing?" Like, you know, "We want you to have a happy, good, "pleasurable, fulfilled life," and, and the the phrase that kept on coming up before was just "permission.
" - THERAPIST: Mm.
- That really resonated.
But I just thought, I want to focus on giving yourself permission to - you know, to really give and receive love.
- THERAPIST: Mm.
Whereas, you know, that blocked.
(THERAPIST SPEAKING) I was.
(THERAPIST SPEAKS) I felt like a warm I was gonna say, like a warm, wet towel across my chest, but it was more than that.
I don't think I've slept on my back.
I normally sleep in a ball.
I don't think I've even been comfortable and relaxed on my back THERAPIST: Uh-huh.
ANDERSON: for a very long time.
Javier, the guy who said to me that I looked bored, in Mosul, to get to the soldiers that we wanted to film with, we had to run across a four-lane highway (EXPLODING) where we knew ISIS snipers would take a shot at us.
And for some reason, him and Andre, our Brazilian photographer friend, went first.
And as they were running across, a sniper took a shot.
(GUNSHOT ECHOES) (GRUNTING) And Javier tripped exactly that second, so for a moment, we all thought he'd been hit.
But, then of course, it was my turn to run.
And I've had this feeling a few times, like I've run across open bits of land, not knowing we were going to get shot at.
I've kind of almost expected the impact.
I haven't really cared at all.
Heart rate didn't go up.
No, no fear.
No excitement, either, but just indifference, real indifference.
(DISTANT GUNFIRE) There are loads of people who've had much worse experiences than me that would really benefit from this treatment.
That doesn't mean I shouldn't benefit from it, too, you know what I mean.
There'd be a very long line if you had to wait for everyone who'd had it worse than you.
When I woke up this morning, like, all of the old ways of resisting and fighting, you know, these emotions came back up.
But then slowly, um, they went down again and I came to appreciate a lot of the things that that happened, and I said, and I felt.
Um, just even, you know, it sounds ridiculous, but even just smiling now, it feels like a you know, more of a genuine smile than I've been able to make for for a long time.