📌 After witnessing the brutal murder of his mother, Dave Pounds hit the bottle. Now, an innovative drug trial promises hope

🏡 On the night of May 12, 1976, his “idyllic, middle England” childhood was thrown into turmoil.

His mother, Margaret, was driven home from work by a colleague. She invited him inside for what was supposed to be a quick mug of coffee.

He raped her before stabbing her to death
“I pretended to be asleep. After what seemed like ages he left. I stayed in my room unable to move, not knowing where he was”
🧠 Pounds never spoke with his father or siblings about what he overheard that night. As an adult he avoided discussing it with his wife and three children.

Instead, he buried the trauma, only for it to emerge when he was 18 in the form of raw, painful “emotional flashbacks”
🖨️ About eight years ago, the trauma forced him to take a break from his career in business consultancy.

“Anxiety is too soft a word; it’s terrifying...If the nearest thing is a bottle of vodka, I defy anybody not to take off the top. I know it’s not great, but it does the job"
🏥 One Saturday in 2014, in the pub with his cricket team, he got through three bottles of vodka and woke up in hospital.

“Apparently when I got back from the pub I could barely stand. [My family] couldn’t understand me. I think that was really upsetting for the kids"
🚑 After a stay at the Southgate Priory hospital, he tried NHS and private therapies. But he always relapsed until, in 2019, he signed up for an experiment in Bristol in which he and 13 other alcoholics were given the psychoactive drug MDMA, alongside psychotherapy sessions
💊 Developed in 1912, MDMA sparked interest among doctors in the Sixties as a potential tool for enhanced psychotherapy.

But it became associated with nightclubs and, after causing death, was listed in 1977 as a Class A drug in the UK, meaning it officially has “no medical use”
🧠 Now the drug is attracting attention for its benefits for mental health problems. A large body of evidence shows MDMA-assisted therapy can help people with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Bristol trial was the world’s first study using it as a treatment for addiction
☀️ By stimulating the brain’s production of serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline – chemicals associated with happiness – MDMA essentially “switches off” the brain’s amygdala (known as the “fear centre”) while keeping the other parts of the brain “switched on,” says @BenSessa
🎧 The theory is MDMA can allow patients to revisit traumatic mental images with confidence and clarity.

Pounds, having never used illegal drugs, was nervous. After testing negative for alcohol, he took the tablet, lay on the bed and put on a blindfold and a pair of headphones
😌 As the drug kicked in he felt “really anxious” for two minutes, as he’d been warned would happen (clubbers call this “coming up”). Then, he says, “this amazing feeling comes over you. You have a clarity of thought, and calmness. Those layers of fear have been taken away”
💪 He had a vision of being back in his bedroom as a 12-year-old boy with the killer:

“I didn’t feel scared. I sat up in bed and said, ‘I know what you’ve done downstairs, and I know you could probably kill me as well. But I just want to tell you, you don’t frighten me anymore’"
🍻 Two years on, his emotional flashbacks have become less severe and he no longer considers himself an alcoholic. He thinks he now drinks around 14 units per week – roughly in line with government recommendations.

“I still drink, but not dangerously. I’m a social drinker”
Dr Sessa compared effects of MDMA with talking therapies:

👄 Talking therapy: 75% were back to their pre-trial levels of drinking within nine months

💊 MDMA: 21% returned to that level

“That difference is staggering, you don’t see results like that in human psychopharmacology"
🚨 Much more research is needed and MDMA remains illegal.

But for Pounds, the treatment was transformative:

“It allows me to be stronger emotionally than I’ve been for many, many years”

For support on alcohol addiction visit drinkaware.co.uk or wearewithyou.org.uk

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