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Ecstasy to Treat PTSD; When Consensual Sex is a Crime; Meatless Mondays

Aired December 1, 2012 - 16:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Hey, there. And thanks for being with us.

This weekend, we're marking World AIDS Day. And I'm going to look at a tough issue that might surprise. The question is this: if someone has sex with a partner and doesn't tell them they have HIV, should they be punished? And if so, how?

Plus, a new food trend. I promise you this is healthy. The question is: would you really want a bite of this?

But first, more than 7 million Americans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. The nightmares, the flashbacks, the anxiety, it can be debilitating, to a point where a normal life is simply impossible, and it's also tough to treat. In fact, at least half those who suffer are not helped by any of the existing therapies.

But there's been some new emerging research, pointing in a sort of surprising direction, and it has to do with a drug that most people simply know as ecstasy.


RACHEL HOPE, DIAGNOSED WITH POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER: Some part of you is on guard. It just wouldn't stop, couldn't shut it down.

GUPTA (voice-over): For Rachel Hope, the mental agony began in childhood, when she says she was abused and raped at age 4. As a grown-up, the smallest trigger like a familiar smell even, would bring it all back.

HOPE: I would get very extreme stabbing sensations in my body, and like fixed visions -- visuals, like being, for instance, raped.

GUPTA: Mental breakdowns, four hospitalizations. And along the way, Rachel tried almost every treatment in the book.

HOPE: I tried EMDR, rapid eye movement therapy, hypnosis, Gestalt -- yell it out, scream it out, you know? Nothing worked.

GUPTA: And then she discovered an experiment run by Michael Mithoefer. He's a psychiatrist in Charleston, South Carolina.

DR. MICHAEL MITHOEFER, PSYCHIATRIST: This is a place where we do the study, this is where we meet with people, and then, this is where we do the MDMA sessions. GUPTA: Intense psychotherapy, including eight-hour sessions after taking a capsule of MDMA, of ecstasy.

Now listen closely on this tape, you can hear Rachel along with Dr. Mithoefer.

HOPE: I could turn to you and say I really need, keep guiding me, keep guiding me, keep guiding me, keep guiding me --

It felt as if my whole brain was powered up like a Christmas tree all at once. Voom.

MITHOEFER: Sometimes, usually people did have some very positive affirming experiences, but a lot of times it was revisiting the trauma. It was painful, difficult to experience, but the MDMA seemed to make it possible to do it effectively.

GUPTA: Within weeks, Rachel says, about 90 percent of her symptoms were gone.

HOPE: I don't scream, I don't have flashbacks anymore.

GUPTA: And in the results just published, Dr. Mithoefer says that 14 of 19 patients were dramatically better more than three years later.

MITHOEFER: The question is, OK, was this just a flash in the pan? Did people just feel good taking the drug?

So the answer turned out to be, no, it was not just the flash in the pan for most people.

GUPTA: Now, of course, just 19 people is still just a tiny study, but it is getting attention.

Loree Sutton was the Army's top psychiatrist until she retired in 2010.

BRIG. GEN. LOREE SUTTON (RET.), PSYCHIATRIST: I've certainly reviewed it, and the results look promising. It's like the rest of science, we'll apply the rigor, we'll follow where the data leads. We'll leave our politics at the door.

GUPTA: Similar studies are under way in Europe and Canada. And Mithoefer is halfway through a study offering this treatment to combat veterans, firefighters and police officers.


GUPTA: And here with me now is Rachel Hope. And you know I should start off by pointing out because people watch that, no one is saying that street ecstasy is safe. A lot of times you don't know what you're getting. You don't for sure if you're not in a controlled setting what it's doing to you.

But that wasn't the situation for you, necessarily. You were doing this in a very controlled setting. What was it like? You'd never done anything like this before.

HOPE: Yes, I had never done anything like that. And I -- but Mithoefer made it so comfortable for me, and prepared me, so when I -- I got the medicine, I had an idea what would happen. But it was pretty remarkable. I mean --

GUPTA: You described it, if I remember correctly, like your brain lit up like a Christmas tree.

HOPE: Yes.

GUPTA: So what is -- most people have no idea what that means, they have never done this.

HOPE: I don't either. I really want to know why it felt like that. Like all my systems were lit up. Like I was -- just -- I had all of this access to my mind, and I could control where I was thinking and going. And look at things differently.

GUPTA: How did you -- so your brain is feeling that way. How did you feel overall in terms of your emotion? You had two sessions. They were several hours each.

Do you remember much about them? And what was your state of emotion during that in?

HOPE: Roller coaster.

GUPTA: Really, up and down?

HOPE: Yes, because it's assisted psychotherapy, the medicine is helping me look at traumatic events and help me deal with them, and have a new perspective on that, and kind of re-integrate it. So, I'm looking at these horrible experiences from my past. I'm -- and that's intense, but with the help of the medicine I was able to do it in a totally different way.

GUPTA: So during that time, during the sessions you're doing well. And how about now? I mean, you lived in Maui, you're now living in a big city here in Los Angeles. That alone was a big move for you.

HOPE: Yes, that's because of my recovery, for sure.

GUPTA: So it was long-lasting, I guess, is the point.

HOPE: I kept getting better even after. I had 80 percent reduction of symptoms. And then it kept going, and I'm 90 percent reduced of the symptoms.

GUPTA: There are -- people watch this and say, look, it's ecstasy. It has the reputation that it does. What would you say to them?

HOPE: Well, you don't know -- the street drug named ecstasy could be cut with all kinds of things. It's not administered in an intentional setting with -- in a therapeutic setting. And it's a wasted opportunity, quite frankly. So I don't think people should do this recreationally. I also think it's quite dangerous. I need to have medical help taking care of me, taking care of my body in order to do this work.

GUPTA: Well, I appreciate you sharing your story. Hopefully, it helps a lot of people.

HOPE: I really hope so.

GUPTA: Rachel, thanks so much.

HOPE: Thank you, Dr. Gupta.

GUPTA: Appreciate it. Thank you.

Coming up, when sex, even consensual sex becomes a crime. We'll explain.


GUPTA: This weekend marks World AIDS Day, and this weekend, we got some, what I would consider, extremely troubling news, perhaps surprising as well.

Listen to this closely: more than a quarter of all new HIV infections in this country are in 13 to 24-year-olds. And most of those young people don't even know that they are infected.

Now, as you know, there's always been secrecy around HIV/AIDS. But it also brings up a tough issue. More than half of the United States' states have laws that make it a crime for people with HIV to not disclose it when they have sex. Now, some say that's only fair, but others say making this crime not just scares people and keeps them from being tested or seeking care.


GUPTA (voice-over): Four years, Nick Rhoades, an HIV positive, 34- year-old, living in Iowa, met a younger man. They hit it off, and had sex.

NICK RHOADES, CONVICTED OF CRIMINAL TRANSMISSION OF HIV: My viral load is undetectable. I wore a condom. I did everything I could to protect him and myself.

GUPTA: What Rhoades didn't do was tell his friend about having HIV. And when the friend out later, he sought treatment at a local hospital. And the hospital employee called the police.

Rhodes was arrested, charged with criminal transmission of HIV and after pleading guilty on the advice of his lawyer, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

RHOADES: I served over a year locked up, some of it in maximum security and some of it in solitary confinement. And I still have to register as a sex offender for the rest of my life. GUPTA: Scott Schoettes, an the attorney for Lambda Legal, is Rhoades new lawyer. He is asking the Iowa Supreme Court to overturn Rhoades conviction.

SCOTT SCHOETTES, HIV PROJECT DIRECTOR, LAMBDA LEGAL: This case in particular was compelling, it really was a good example of the ways in which these laws are misused by the justice system to punish people in very severe ways for things that should not even be crimes.

GUPTA: About a thousand miles away in Louisiana, a similar case.

Robert Suttle said his partner knew Suttle had HIV, but after a messy break-up, his ex went to the police. Suttle was charged of intentionally exposing the man to the AIDS virus.


GUPTA: To avoid a possible 10-year sentence, Suttle entered a plea. And he spent six months in jail.

Under the picture on his driver's license in bold red capital letters, it says "sex offender". He has to carry that tag for 15 years.

SUTTLE: There are a lot of good people in the world that are HIV positive, but that doesn't mean that they are criminals. It doesn't mean they have malicious intent to hurt anybody. They're just trying to deal and cope with having this disease. And yet, there's these laws that make us look like we're criminals.

GUPTA: At least 34 states and two U.S. territories have laws that criminalize activities of people with HIV. Not disclosing your status to a sexual partner, that can land you in jail. So can spitting on somebody or biting them if you have the disease.

Often, it doesn't matter if you actually transmit the virus. In fact, the man that slept with Rhoades never got HIV.

REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: Jail time is not warranted in these cases.

GUPTA: Last year, Congresswoman Barbara Lee introduced legislation to get rid of these state laws.

LEE: Many offenses receive a lesser sentence than the transmission of HIV. And these laws, again, they're archaic. They're wrong. They are unjust. And they need to be looked at and taken off of the books.

GUPTA: Prosecutor Scott Burns agrees that the laws need updating, but he also says repeal would be a mistake.

SCOTT BURNS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL DISTRICT ATTORNEYS ASSOCIATION: Any time that someone knows they have HIV or AIDS doesn't disclose that to the other party, I think, is wrong. I think there should be a sanction. I just don't think you do that in America. And I think most prosecutors would agree with me. GUPTA: Rhoades and Suttle now work for the Sero Project. It's a group that fights stigma and discrimination, trying to make the case that what happened to them should never happen to others.

SUTTLE: We cannot sit and ignore the fact that this is happening.

RHOADES: I have to fight for this, and I think there are a lot of people that are fighting, as well.


GUPTA: Now, I should say the accuser in Nick's case didn't want to talk to us. And the identity of Robert's accuser is sealed as well by court order.

This weekend on "THE NEXT LIST", you're going to meet Max Little. He is this math wiz and an innovator who has a surprising goal.


MAX LITTLE, MATH WIZ: My name is Max Little and I am aiming to screen the population for Parkinson's disease using voice match (ph).

GUPTA: Max Little has a bold idea. What if doctors could detect Parkinson's disease simply by the sound of your voice?

Max Little is close to proving just that. He says one simple voice test can determine if someone has Parkinson's. All you need is a telephone.

LITTLE: We've got an ultralow cost way of detecting the disease.


GUPTA: You're going to watch how Max Little's surprising idea is taking shape, on Sunday on "THE NEXT LIST", 2:00 p.m. Eastern.

And, you know, it was not long ago that sushi was considered a novelty food. Well, today, as you know, it's an American favorite. Well, up next, a new food trend -- eating bugs to save the planet.


GUPTA: All right. Stop me if you've heard this one. It's an old joke.

There's a guy in a restaurant and he yells, "Hey, waiter, there's a fly in my soup. What's it doing there?" And the waiter rushes over and looks in the guy's soup and he says, "I don't know, back stroke?"

All jokes aside, a lot of people are starting to really take a look at bugs, seriously, bugs as a health food. They say it's good for the environment and possibly good for you.


GUPTA (voice-over): Silkworm larvae stir-fried with soy, sugar and just a dash of white pepper.

KEVIN OH, CHEF, TYPHOON RESTAURANT: The silkworms have texture of like popcorn, and they have a creamy center.

GUPTA: Bon appetite!

Typhoon Restaurant in Santa Monica is one of a handful of restaurants right here in America that serves patrons bugs, on purpose.

Chilly-pepper seasoned crickets. Even scorpions on shrimp toast.

OH: Scorpions still have the stinger in them, but they are dried, so the poison is neutralized.

GUPTA: Scorpions are just one of 1,700 bugs that are safe for people to consume.

It's still a novelty here in the States, but insects are part of a daily diet in most of the world. Earlier this year, the United Nations held their global conference on the benefits of eating insects, even suggesting it might be a good solution to world hunger.

OH: I don't know why the United States doesn't eat insects, when they are actually very healthy for you.

GUPTA: And he is right: insects are high in protein, low in fat and cholesterol.

Take a cricket, for example. A six-ounce serving of these crunchy bugs have 60 percent less saturated fat as the same amount of ground beef.

OH: And now, the ants.

GUPTA: These string potatoes aren't complete without adding some dried ants.

OH: They taste a little sour, tangy, and they have a hint of black pepper to them.

GUPTA: They also have 14 grams of protein per serving.

With the growing population and rising costs of food, the rest of the world just might be on to something.


GUPTA: Now, if you plan to get bugs a try, do make sure you get them from a certified seller or restaurant. You know, some bugs may have chemicals on them, so you don't want to just pluck them from your own backyard.

Superstar athletes are years in the making, but sometimes the pressures to be perfect can push anyone over the edge. So I want you to meet today, Joe Putignano. He turned to drugs and alcohol for relief. But he has since made this stunning recovery. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE PUTIGNANO, GYMNAST: I started gymnastics when I was 9 years old. And I was watching the 1984 Olympics. And it spoke to me as if it was like broadcast directly to me. And I immediately took the cushions off the couch and started flipping around.

GUPTA (voice-over): Joseph Putignano's foray into gymnastics got serious after that. At the Olympic training center just two years later, he realized he had a natural gift, but his insatiable need to perform perfectly took over his life.

PUTIGNANO: For me, it kind of became a darkness that I have to be perfect.

GUPTA: And that's where his downward spiral began.

PUTIGNANO: I had my first drink and all that desire for me to be perfect and to be the best was just washed away in the moment.

GUPTA: Within months, things got worse.

PUTIGNANO: I was drinking and using prescription drugs and a lot of cocaine. And it was that thing where I came to a crossroads where it was, like, I can't use and perform, so something's got to go. One of the worst moments of my entire life, which I'll never forget, is actually calling the coach up and quitting, because it's like you're giving back your gift.

GUPTA: Alcohol, pills and cocaine led Joe to heroin. In 2007, after several failed stints in rehab and two life-threatening overdoses, recovery final stuck.

PUTIGNANO: At 27 years old, I hadn't been -- I hadn't done a hand stand in almost 10 years. And I started to do hand stands and splits. And the more sobriety I maintained, the more this like light, I call it. I don't know what else to say. It kind of pulled me in a better direction.

GUPTA: Joe honed his body and his mind and he started to work on Broadway as a dancer, but it was a chance meeting with a Cirque du Soleil producer that changed his life forever.

PUTIGNANO: He saw something in me that was sort of inspiring and brought hope.

GUPTA: Today, three years after that chance encounter, five years of sobriety, Joe is starring as the "Crystal Man" in the Cirque du Soleil touring show "Totem."

PUTIGNANO: "Crystal Man" is the spark of change. It's like some of the darkest of men who carry the brightest of light. And here I was the darkest of men and now I get to come down and shine.

GUPTA: And while he says his addiction will never disappear, he's now living a life he thought he'd lost forever. (END VIDEO CLIP)

GUPTA: It is amazing to watch. And Joe -- in case you're curious -- Joe says all the acrobatics have taken a toll. In fact, he needs a shoulder operation. But his big fear remains having to take pain killers after surgery. We're going to follow Joe through that process in the months to come right here on SGMD.

Now, still ahead, meatless Mondays. I'm going to tell you why foregoing meat on this one particular day of the week could help you chase life to a hundred.


GUPTA: Chase life to hundred by following this one simple rule: go meatless on Mondays. Now, you may ask why Monday? Well, for most people, that's going to be the start of the week. And the research shows this, people are more likely to stick the changes if they make it on Monday.

And there's other research that shows that going meatless, even for just one day a week, can reduce your chance of developing all the major killers -- cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes.

In fact, there was this recent Harvard study found that limiting meat in your diet lowers your heart disease risk by 19 percent, not that hard to do. It's all about moderation. You can still eat lasagna, and chili, quesadilla stir fry, just leave out the meat at least one day a week. You're not even going to miss it.

You know, another way to be healthy -- we talk about this all the time -- exercise.

And there is a reminder in here: you still have a chance to be a part of our Fit Nation triathlon team. It's the Triathlon Challenge, as we call it. Now, just like last year, we're going to hook up all the winners with bikes and wet suits and trainers, all-expense paid training trips, as well.

So if you're looking to hit the reset button on your life as I call it, go our Web site, do it now, Send in a video. I'm going to watch it, with our producers, and figure out who our next team is gong to be.

That's going to wrap things up for SGMD. But I want you to stay connected with me all week long at Let's keep that conversation going on Twitter as well, @SanjayGuptaCNN.

Time now, though, to get a check of your top stories in the "CNN NEWSROOM".