Just as cannabis is gaining traction as a legitimate treatment option for military veterans, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given the “breakthrough therapy” designation to MDMA — the main chemical in the club drug Ecstasy — for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

The move appears to pave the way for a Santa Cruz, Calif.-based advocacy group to conduct two trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for patients with severe PTSD.

The nonprofit group Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies plans to test out the strategy on 200 to 300 participants in clinical trials this spring.

“For the first time ever, psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy will be evaluated in (advanced) trials for possible prescription use, with MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD leading the way,” said Rick Doblin, the group’s founder and executive director.

The FDA says it doesn’t disclose the names of drugs that receive “breakthrough therapy” designation. But if a researcher or drug company chooses to release that information, they are allowed to. In this case, the Psychedelic Studies group is the researcher.

Veterans have pushed for new treatments for PTSD, which some consider the “signature” injury of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Symptoms include depression, isolation, inability to concentrate and, in the extreme, suicidal thoughts.

Groups as big as the American Legion have called for the federal government to loosen up restrictions on cannabis research for PTSD, traumatic brain injury and other combat-related wounds.

The Veterans Affairs secretary recently opened the door to pot, saying in June that there “may be some evidence this is beginning to be helpful and we are interested in looking at that.”

A “breakthrough therapy” is a classification granted by the FDA when preliminary clinical evidence shows “substantial improvement over existing therapies on one or more clinically significant endpoints, such as substantial treatment effects observed early in clinical development.”

—The San Diego Union-Tribune


Man admits constructing drug-smuggling tunnel in California

SAN DIEGO — A 35-year-old man pleaded guilty Monday to conspiring to finance, construct and use a drug-smuggling tunnel discovered in Calexico six years ago, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Habib Mujica, of Calexico, spent nearly six years in a Mexican prison for gun trafficking only to be arrested in connection with the drug-smuggling tunnel case once he was returned to the U.S. in May.

The tunnel was discovered by Homeland Security Investigations agents at a warehouse in Calexico, about 120 miles east of San Diego, in 2011.

According to his plea agreement, Mujica instructed another man to use drug proceeds to rent the warehouse and purchased tools and equipment — including pipes, a level tripod, a jackhammer, electric saws, a forklift and air compressors — to build the tunnel. He used a horizontal-drilling machine to start the project, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Mujica also admitted in his plea agreement that he intended to run a business called Baja Bikes as a front to conceal the illegal activities.

He faces up to 40 years in prison and up to $750,000 in fines at his sentencing, scheduled for Nov. 27. He also faces gun-related charges in a separate case, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

—The San Diego Union-Tribune


Atlantic wave could be depression or tropical storm later this week

MIAMI — A wave heading into the Central Atlantic is likely to become a depression or tropical storm later this week, National Hurricane Center forecasters said Tuesday.

The storm, which would be named Irma, has an 80 percent chance of forming in 48 hours and a 90 percent chance in five days after becoming better organized overnight, National Hurricane Center forecasters said. The system is expected to continue moving toward the northwest, taking it toward the Lesser Antilles.

In his Tuesday blog, Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters said the wave had a moderate amount of thunderstorms and consistent spin. As it crosses the Atlantic, it will encounter above average ocean temperatures which can fuel a storm and low wind shear.

A strong ridge of high pressure is expected to steer the system, he said, with it arriving in the islands possibly Tuesday. However, another model showed the system missing the islands, which Masters noted highlights the uncertainty of track forecasts before a cyclone fully forms.

In Texas, Tropical Storm Harvey continued crawling along the coast, with sustained winds of 50 mph and “catastrophic” rains, forecasters said. The storm should continue heading northeast and make landfall again early Wednesday. Additional rainfall may total six to 12 inches to the north and east of Houston and into Louisiana, driving up totals expected to top 50 inches over the upper Texas coast.

Preliminary reports show Harvey has already broken the state’s rainfall record, with a gauge east of Highlands recording 51.88 inches. The previous record was set by Amelia in 1978 at 48 inches.

—Miami Herald


Kissimmee police shooting suspect to undergo competency evaluation, court says

ORLANDO, Fla. — The man suspected of gunning down two Kissimmee officers this month will undergo a competency evaluation before his first court hearing, the Orange-Osceola Circuit Court announced Tuesday via social media.

Everett Miller, 45, was arrested at Roscoe’s Bar & Packaging in Kissimmee about two hours after prosecutors say he shot Officer Matthew Baxter and Sgt. Sam Howard Aug. 18.

Baxter died that night. Howard died in the hospital the next day.

Miller, a veteran who spent 21 years in the Marine Corps, had no criminal record in Florida before his arrest.

Records show, however, that he was involuntarily hospitalized under the state’s Baker Act, after Miller stripped to his boxers and walked down an Osceola County street carrying a high-powered rifle, according to his family.

Miller’s competency evaluation will be reviewed by a judge before his case goes forward.

—Orlando Sentinel

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