• Shawn Wilson, Ph.D.

Ecstasy as a Treatment for PTSD

Photo source: U.S. National Library of Medicine

Treating posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is no easy feat. Even with the gold standard for therapy, which is exposure-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), there are individuals who continue to experience PTSD symptoms post-treatment. In addition, it is often difficult to convince people that the best treatment is for them to directly confront painful memories of past traumas. As such, new treatments are always being tested to find other ways to treat those with PTSD.

One innovative treatment for PTSD comes from an unlikely source known as 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), which is better known as the illegal drug ecstasy. Per the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which is a nonprofit based in Santa Cruz, California, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently labeled ecstasy as a 'breakthrough therapy' for PTSD. This will allow more research to be conducted on the effectiveness of ecstasy for treating PTSD.

As reported by Science, it appears that ecstasy helps with PTSD symptoms by reducing emotional responses to trauma reminders, which allow individuals to relive their traumatic experiences and work through them in therapy. MDMA-treatment consists of several therapy sessions, some of which are done while the client is under the influence of ecstasy.

Preliminary research indicates that about 60 percent of individuals who have experienced PTSD for many years, did not have PTSD one year after receiving the MDMA-treatment. These numbers seem promising, although more research is needed for well-controlled studies that include quality control conditions.

This news regarding ecstasy comes as it many different drugs, not traditionally associated with mental health treatment, are being examined. For example, ketamine, which is a type of anesthetic drug has been examined for its ability to potentially treat severe depression. It will be interesting to see which of these alternative medical interventions continue to be supported as additional research is conducted.

For now, MAPS is attempting to raise money for a multi-year trial so that the long-term benefits of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy can be tested. Given how debilitating PTSD can be and that PTSD symptoms can often serve as a trigger for suicidal behavior, hopefully quality research can be conducted soon to determine whether or not ecstasy is a supported treatment for individuals with resistant PTSD.

Science article: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/08/all-clear-decisive-trial-ecstasy-ptsd-patients

MAPS press release: http://www.maps.org/news/media/6786-press-release-fda-grants-breakthrough-therapy-designation-for-mdma-assisted-psychotherapy-for-ptsd,-agrees-on-special-protocol-assessment-for-phase-3-trials

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© 2020 by Shawn Wilson