With $2 million raised, MAPS-Israel looks to use psychedelics to treat post-Oct. 7 wave of PTSD

The Israeli affiliate of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies plans to use MDMA, more commonly known as ecstasy, to combat post-traumatic stress disorder among Nova festival partygoers, residents of the Gaza border region and Israeli soldiers

Like most Israelis, psychologist Keren Tzarfaty has her own Oct. 7 story: Her cousin’s brother-in-law, Ofer Calderon, was kidnapped by Hamas, along with his two children, ages 12 and 15. (The children were returned to Israel in the November 2023 hostage release but Ofer remains in Hamas captivity.) 

After the attacks, as soon as she could, Tzarfaty — the co-founder and CEO of MAPS-Israel, which promotes research and education about psychedelics and their safe, effective use in medicine — joined a team of psychotherapists in the southern resort town of Eilat, where hotels have become temporary housing for Israeli evacuees. There, they opened clinics offering therapy in an effort to prevent post-traumatic stress disorder among the survivors of the Oct. 7 attacks. 

Almost eight months after the massacre, MAPS-Israel — an affiliate of the U.S.-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies — has raised $2 million (out of a projected goal of $2.3 million) for HealingOct7, a new multi-site study offering group therapy to treat the PTSD of three specific groups: Nova festival partygoers; residents of the Gaza border region; and Israeli soldiers who served in the area. The therapy program centers on the use of MDMA, a psychedelic drug more commonly known as “ecstasy.”

“We’re going to have a half a million people [in Israel] with PTSD next year,” Tzarfaty told eJewishPhilanthropy, referring to an estimate reached by a team of Israeli and American researchers in late February. (This study’s methodology has been questioned by other researchers, some of whom have put the number of people expected to be diagnosed with PTSD at 30,000.)

In any case, the number of PTSD cases in Israel is expected to rise dramatically in the coming months and years. Conducting MDMA therapy in groups “can be much more cost-effective and create much more access” to treatment for trauma victims of the Oct. 7 attacks, Tzarfaty added. 

With such therapy costing about $10,000 for individuals, a study showing its efficacy in groups would be valuable, said David Roth, a MAPS supporter and member of its philanthropic advisory board.

“I believe in the power of these substances to allow people to remember the trauma that they’ve experienced without re-traumatizing them,” Roth told eJP. “The experience was enough, and it shouldn’t ruin people’s lives forever. So, if this is something that helps people deal with the experience that they’ve had,” he added, “to process in a way that otherwise is very difficult, and […] incorporate it in a way that it doesn’t ruin the rest of their life, it’s a huge, huge value.” 

The treatments would likely consist of six participants and two co-therapists working together over the course of 4.5 months in Sheba Tel Hashomer, Haemek, Beersheva, Lev HaSharon, and Beer Yaakov medical centers; only two of the sessions would use MDMA, Tzarfaty said, and the rest would be based in mindfulness-based group psychotherapy. 

She noted that MAPS-Israel also intends to include Bedouins who were injured on Oct. 7. 

Mapping MAPS

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) was founded in 1986, as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit research and educational organization. In 2014, as research into psychedelics progressed, MAPS birthed MAPS PBC, a pharmaceutical public benefit company owned by the nonprofit, that could take a drug to market. In January, MAPS PBC rebranded to Lykos Therapeutics, receiving $100 million in series A funds. 

MAPS-Israel, an Israeli nonprofit, is one of two affiliate organizations that use the MAPS name (the other is MAPS Canada). Both have missions aligned with the original MAPS organization, but are separate entities. 

Donors to MAPS and MAPS-Israel hail from many countries and give in varying amounts, with many supporters listed on the MAPS website — some major supporters include the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation, which gave MAPS $5 million of support in 2023. The Joe and Sandy Samberg Foundation, the Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld Foundation and others have also donated to MAPS or its affiliates.  

Among the supporters of MAPS-Israel’s HealingOct7 project is chairman/CEO at XT Holdings Ltd/Israel, Udi Angel, who recently supported the organization with a $200,000 matching grant. 

Healing PTSD: Why MDMA?

People who suffer from PTSD would, generally speaking, have a hard time connecting to their experience of a traumatic event, Tzarfaty explained.

“It’s too much: the horror, the sadness, the grief, the pain. So it’s also hard to have a clear narrative, because you’re not so much present because it’s too scary or too painful,” she said. Because the pharmacological profile of MDMA contains dopamine and serotonin and feeds oxytocin, she added, it “creates a sense of safety and connection and empathy, regulating the nervous system and enabling the patient to stay present.”

MDMA’s temporary high helps patients “experience themselves in a different way,” which can help them cope with PTSD, said Tzarfaty. 

“Their thoughts, emotions, body sensations, energy and perception is different,” she said. “There is a lot of flexibility and openness, so new information,  new learning, new insights and new experiences can come in.”

Studies on psychedelics are showing promise, Tzarfaty told eJP.  For example, Stanford University found that ibogaine, a plant-based psychoactive compound, led to “improvements in depression, anxiety and functioning among veterans with traumatic brain injuries”; and Johns Hopkins University studies indicate that psilocybin (a chemical found in so-called “magic mushrooms”) can ease anxiety in cancer patients, help people to stop smoking and, Tzarfaty added, treat depression.

There are also researchers — such as Michiel van Elk and Eiko I. Fried, both associate professors at Leiden University in The Netherlands — who warn against the “hype” of psychedelics, citing concerns about lack of evidence due to insufficient sample sizes and lack of longer-term follow-up with patients post-treatment. 

In the journal Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, the researchers suggest “guidelines to address common problems in psychedelic science,” including more participants, better follow-up measurements and more transparency, adding that “strong caution is warranted regarding the hype around psychedelics as treatments: there is not enough robust evidence to draw any firm conclusions about the safety and efficacy of psychedelic therapy. Our hope is that new studies may find credible evidence that psychedelic therapy can be a useful tool for the treatment of specific groups of patients. Until that time, we urge caution repeating the history of so many hyped treatments in clinical psychology and psychiatry in the last century.” 

Both a stimulant and a psychedelic, MDMA is currently illegal in the U.S.; however, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to render a decision in August about approving MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD.

While many cultures see psychedelics as medicine, Tzarfaty says that many Westerners fear such treatments because they don’t know enough about the field. MAPS-Israel wants to fix that — using studies conducted in governmental hospitals in Israel with the Ministry of Health to inform medical professionals and help them “discover how we can work with those substances in a safe, efficient, respectful, ethical way,” to help people who are suffering. “That’s our goal: to reduce suffering and to help people live better lives — I think that’s what we all want in the world,” she said.


According to a study by University of Haifa professors Roy Salomon, a cognitive neuroscientist, and Roee Admon, a global trauma expert,  approximately two-thirds of the 657 survivors of the Nova Festival “were under the influence of psychoactive substances” during the attack, and that “individuals who experienced the trauma while under the influence of MDMA demonstrated significantly improved intermediate outcomes compared to those who were under the influence of other substances or no substances at all.”

While Tzarfaty wasn’t involved in the Haifa University study, she did work with many survivors who told her psychedelics made them “more focused and alert, and they felt like their intuition was very good, so they could run or hide in places or in ways that supported their survival.”

People being treated with psychedelics also told their stories in a more organized way than with traditional therapies, with a clear narrative, Tzarfaty said.

“[Psychedelics] create a sense of safety, connection and empathy,” Tzarfaty said. “My guess is that they went through the event feeling less scared and more connected to themselves and to others around them.”

MAPS’s global impact officer, Natalie Lyla Ginsberg, who co-founded the Jewish Psychedelic Summit, added that she and Tzarfaty are hoping that HealingOct7 will yield applications beyond this specific trauma, establishing models and practices that could apply in other emergency traumatic situations, such as other wars and natural disasters.

Both MAPS and MAPS-Israel have, since their inception, also worked to increase access to MDMA-assisted therapy for Palestinians, Ginsberg added. MAPS-Israel also recently trained 17 Palestinian facilitators, two of whom will lead an upcoming MAPS-Israel study hopeful to recruit Palestinian participants who are citizens of Israel. 

“Since Oct. 7, MAPS has deepened its commitment to creating more educational and training opportunities for prospective Palestinian therapists, as well as supported the development of MAPS-Israel’s groundbreaking group MDMA therapy study for Israeli survivors of Oct. 7,”: said Ginsberg, who also co-developed and co-authored a study of Palestinians and Israelis who drink another psychedelic, ayahuasca, together. 

After FDA approval, the team of practitioners can start the approval process in the Ministry of Health, which could take about another year, Tzarfaty estimated. MAPS-Israel is “getting ready for legality,” she added, planning the interdisciplinary Psychedelic Medicine Israel conference in Tel Aviv on July 28-31, training new practitioners and creating infrastructure for MDMA programs, so they can start treatment as soon as possible.

“We don’t want people with PTSD to wait much longer. They suffer a lot,” Tzarfaty said.