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A form of “ecstasy” could be a new treatment for post-traumatic stress

A form of ecstasy, the illegal club drug known for its euphoric high, might be a new treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Researchers claim that the pure chemical form of the drug, known as MDMA, is showing potential for therapy.

Most patients with PTSD improve with standard therapy such as anti-depressant medication and talk therapy over time. However, there are always some who are unable to improve to a healthy state. Some will continually have nightmares or flashbacks and relapse. These patients often suffer symptoms so severe that it triggers bad anxiety or depression, interfering with sleep and concentration. So they live their day to day lives with constant changes in mood and behavior.

Ecstasy treatment for PTSD

Researchers question if MDMA can help?


Results of a Phase 2 FDA trial were published Tuesday in The Lancet Psychiatry. The study looked at patients with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder who were dosed with MDMA for therapy. Phase 2 means that this is a pilot study and there will be more studies needed to conclude that MDMA is an effective treatment for PTSD.

What is MDMA? How does it work as treatment?

The main ingredient in “ecstasy” or commonly referred to as “molly” is MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine). It became popular among wide-spread use in the 1970s and 1980s. Party-goers would consume it for a euphoric high that could last 8 hours at a normal dosage. In 1985, MDMA was labeled as “Schedule 1”, meaning it was classified as having no accepted medical use and high potential for abuse by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, so it was illegal and heavily checked for.

MDMA alters mood and perception by working with brain cells that secrete serotonin (the feel-good chemical). Those with many mental disorders, most commonly depression, have low levels of serotonin. Many therapies for depression aim to increase serotonin levels to lift the mood and increase emotional well-being. MDMA vastly increases serotonin levels, making you feel so good – so happy. So researchers now think it can have therapeutic potential. MDMA can be described as chemically similar to both stimulants and hallucinogens.

Dr. Micheal Mitheofer, M.D., a psychiatrist in Charleston, South Carolina who conducts research on MDMA-assisted psychotherapy describes MDMA as “unique among drugs that decrease anxiety in that it isn’t sedating and doesn’t impair memory.

“People have clear recall of trauma without being overwhelmed by emotions or dissociating and being emotionally numb,” he stated. “Our model is that MDMA is acting as a catalyst to the psychotherapeutic process, not as a stand-alone drug.”

MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) states that MDMA should be considered separately from ecstasy or molly, the often impure street formulations. Ecstasy or molly is known to contain other substances than just MDMA. They can be made with a mixture of substances such as LSD, cocaine, heroin, amphetamine, methamphetamine, caffeine, speed, and even rat poison.


Who could MDMA treat?

The FDA has approved clinical trials only for the conditions of chronic PTSD, severe anxiety related to autism and terminal illness among them. However, more of the studies are surrounding PTSD.

Mithoefer claims that MDMA may be an effective choice in PTSD treatment because “PTSD involves prominent fear responses and the fact that MDMA decreases fear by decreasing activity in the amygdala and increasing activity in prefrontal cortex.”

PTSD treatment ecstasy

Apparently, the initial results from Phase 1 and Phase 2 are promising. Phase 3 will begin this summer in 16 sites to learn more about the effectiveness of MDMA treatment for PTSD. European trials are expected in the next year as well. Positive results in Phase 3 could lead to MDMA being approved for doctors to prescribe.


My Opinion

I honestly don’t think MDMA will be prescribed for PTSD or any mental disorder anytime soon. It seems like the negatives vastly outweigh the positives. MDMA is an illegal street drug with such an intense, feel-good high that when those who take it start to come-down from it (the high starts to wear off), then you feel terrible (majorly depressed) because all that serotonin is depleted. So would you have to constantly be on it?

Also, overdosing is a huge issue. You can overdose on MDMA very easily. Doctors already prescribe other opioids very easily, so this could lead to an even bigger crisis if they started to hand-out MDMA to patients. Moreover, would people abuse this? They could just try to get a prescription for it without even being mentally ill and then sell it to others for recreational purposes or take it themselves for that matter.

MDMA also has a vast array of side effects such as sweating intensely, muscle cramping, tremors, increased muscle tension, hyperthermia, increased heart rate, increase in blood pressure, serious dehydration, and loss of perception of time and reality.

I just don’t think it’s a feasible option and is a lot more risky than beneficial. If Phase 3 is successful in proving that it is effective in treating PTSD and other mental illnesses, then I think many strict regulations should be put in place from prescribing it to consuming it.

What do you all think? Will this be an effective future treatment option for PTSD patients?

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Robert Sherwood

4 Comments

  1. Very thought provoking! I am all about people trying anything that could work for things like PTSD and end-of-life situations (have read about similar clinical trials for these conditions with psylocibim). I guess I’m all about the whole trip being part of the treatment under a supervised setting, rather than sending a patient home with a bottle of MDMA that they could flip for a huge profit on the street. Perhaps specialized treatment centers need to open up that offer supervision and talk therapy through the whole 8 hours…which sounds awesome but possible only somewhere very progressive.

    • I thought this was very interesting also. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. I do wonder if MDMA will end up being used as a PTSD treatment…more than hearing of any benefits, i only knew of all the side effects it has.
    There is already a big problem with people becoming dependant on “legal” drugs, i can’t imagine what problems this one could cause…but of course, people continue to look for ways to battle mental illnesses…i have mixed feelings about it.
    Thank you for sharing more insight on it! Now i understand better what it is.

    • We will have to wait and see. Still, I see more negative than positive here, but researchers are trying to find treatment options that work so I am giving them credit there.

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