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Ecstasy for PTSD
What if taking ecstasy was actually good for you? Studies have shown that ecstasy for the treatment of PTSD offers promising results—so promising it is being called a "breakthrough treatment." For people who often do not show improvement by traditional means of treatment, this method could have life-changing implications.
Challenges of Modern Day Treatment of PTSD
Psychotherapy is typically the first thing recommended when a person is diagnosed with PTSD, however, like everything, psychotherapy has limitations.
Comorbidities may exist, for example, complicating the diagnosis. "Comorbidity" means more than one condition exists at the same time. Depression and post-traumatic stress disorder can occur at the same time, and the response from doctors is to prescribe psychiatric medication. Since there is no hard and fast way to treat multiple ailments at once, survivors and prescribers alike are looking outside of tradition for another way to treat PTSD.
There are several psychedelics presently being tested for their ability to help treat PTSD.
Common Solutions for PTSD
Due to the fact that PTSD is a complicated disorder that comes with multiple neurobiological alterations, the use of the drugs Paroxetine and Sertraline, along with exposure-based psychotherapy, are commonly used to treat it.
Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is another common method for treating PTSD. This is when mental health professionals try to get the patient to relive the trauma and have a cognitive framework for change.
However, 40% to 60% of people do not respond to these types of traditional treatment. Some people have problems with emotional detachment, remembering fragments of traumatic events, and cutting the session short due to not having the emotional capacity to re-experience traumatic events. It is especially hard for those who associate guilt or shame with these emotions.
The Benefit of Psychedelic Drugs
It is strongly suggested by studies that psychedelic drugs could help people who are suffering from problems with therapy and drugs to treat PTSD. Psychedelic drugs facilitate therapy by diminishing fear and arousal and allowing the patient to relive these traumatic events without negative emotions like shame, guilt, fear, and hyperarousal. MDMA, our focus here, is commonly known as ecstasy, or compound 3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, often abbreviated as MDMA. MDMA-assisted therapy has been shown to:
- Reduce the fear response to stimuli that causes anxiety
- Enhance introspection
- Increase personal trust
- facilitate imaginal exposure, cognitive restructuring, and corrective attachment
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But these properties do not fully explain the sense of empathy towards self and openness to engage in self-reflection. People taking MDMA report feelings of energy, well-being, empathy, transcendence, and sensory pleasure, and these are optimal conditions for engaging or processing of difficult or traumatic material."
— Dr. Rachel Yehuda, Ph.D. Director of Mount Sinais Traumatic Studies Division
When Was MDMA First Considered for Clinical Use?
MDMA first received attention in the 1970s when psychologists started using it alongside psychotherapy to enhance communication. It wasn't until 1988 that it gained its reputation as a party drug, which led to its designation as a schedule 1 drug via the Controlled Substances Act by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. This made it an illegal substance.
In 2010, testing MDMA for the treatment of PTSD was revived. It was tested for helping alcohol dependency and for social anxiety in autistic adults in 2019. It was in 2017 that the FDA claimed that the designated MDMA-assisted therapy psychotherapy was a "breakthrough therapy" for the treatment of PTSD. There are presently several sites in the U.S., Canada, and Israel with phase 3 trials. In several European countries, phase 2 trials are occurring. The FDA may approve MDMA-assisted therapy as soon as 2022.
History of Trials
- In Spain, from 2000 to 2002 the very first clinical trial for the use of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy was done involving six women who were suffering from chronic PTSD due to sexual assault. It was shown that PTSD was diminished in these women. However, due to the group being small, it did not allow for statistical analysis. The main conclusion that was derived was that the MDMA-assisted therapy was both physically and psychologically safe.
- In 2010, another study was done that showed that 83% of patients who were given MDMA-assisted therapy showed that they no longer met the criteria to be diagnosed with PTSD. Only 25% of the placebo group had these results. Following these people three to five years later, the results were still the same.
- In 2018, a study showed similar results and that the MDMA patients had an increase in post-traumatic growth.
- In 2019, another study was done that revealed after two sessions, the MDMA group had a percentage of 54.2% that no longer met the diagnosis of PTSD, while the placebo group had 22.6%.
- Military veteran Virgil Huston was prescribed antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication by the V.A. for years after deploying in the Iraq war. Nothing helped. He heard of MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies) and decided to give MDMA a try. He figured out it allowed him to process difficult memories and then have them go back to a part of the brain where they no longer bothered him anymore. MAPS was founded in 1986 and is a 501(c)3 research and educational organization.
In conclusion, there is a lot of potential for MDMA-assisted therapy in the field of PTSD treatment. This groundbreaking research should continue as it is having promising results and providing much hope for devastating illnesses.
Bhandari, Smitha. What Are the Treatments for PTSD? WebMD.
Erwin Krediet, Tijmen Bostoen, Joost Breeksema, Annette van Schagen, Torsten Passie, Eric Vermetten, Reviewing the Potential of Psychedelics for the Treatment of PTSD, International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, Volume 23, Issue 6, June 2020, Pages 385–400, https://doi.org/10.1093/ijnp/pyaa018
Huston, Virgil. Psychedelics for PTSD: What a Long Strange Trip It's Been. MAPS.
Morgan L. (2020). MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for people diagnosed with treatment-resistant PTSD: what it is and what it isn't. Annals of general psychiatry, 19, 33. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12991-020-00283-6
Yehuda, Rachel. Five Things to Know About MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy for PTSD. Mount Sinai Physician's Channel.