Can MDMA Treat Posttraumatic Stress?

Can a psychoactive substance be used to treat posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? A research study released at the recent Psychedelic Science 2017 conference in California suggests that it can.

Gaining notoriety as a "party" drug commonly seen at raves, 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA for short) is a synthetic agent chemically similar to amphetamines and hallucinogenics and belongs to the substituted methylenedioxyphenethylamine and substituted amphetamine classes of drugs.  It's popularity as a recreational drug is largely due to powerful short-term effects such as euphoria, increased self-confidence, increased feelings of empathy or emotional closeness, mild hallucinations, tranquility, an altered time sense, as well as enhanced sexuality.  Unfortunately, MDMA also has numerous adverse effects including increased autonomic activity, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, and potentially severe withdrawal effects after prolonged use.   Numerous overdose deaths have been reported, especially when MDMA is cut with caffeine which can boost its toxic effects.  

But research has also shown positive benefits for the treatment of PTSD even though nobody is quite sure why it works in relieving trauma symptoms.   Previous studies conducted at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)  have already that as many as 83 percent of PTSD sufferers treated with MDMA showed no signs of trauma symptoms after only two months of use in conjunction with psychotherapy.   These benefits appear to persist for as long as four years after treatment is discontinued.

In the latest trial, 67 percent of patients showed no signs of posttraumatic stress when followed for a year after just two or three sessions of MDMA-assisted therapy.  Only 23 percent of a control group receiving a placebo with therapy showed similar gains.   "The results I've seen so far with MDMA are so much better than anything I've seen so far," said lead researcher Michael Mithoefer, a  Charleston, South Carolina-based psychiatrist.  "MDMA provides a sweet spot where therapeutic change can happen.   It affects neural networks so that people's experiences are not hijacked by fear.",, 

Based on these findings,  the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already approved MDMA for PTSD research and researchers are planning for a larger sample for Phase III trials across North America and Israel.   If results continue to be positive, legislation may be proposed allowing for psychiatrists to prescribe MDMA for patients under controlled circumstances.   Given the political battle over medical use of cannabis, gaining approval for the  medical use of MDMA will certainly become a new battleground for politicians in years to come.    How it will unfold in the current political climate is anybody's guess.


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