Most people associate MDMA (which is also known as Ecstasy or Molly) as a party drug–one used at raves and clubs. It’s not surprising, as this drug has been immensely popularized over the last decade for recreational use. However, MDMA has shown promise for treating in treating PTSD and trauma in ways unlike any other drug.
MDMA has been used since the 70s, and, at first, it wasn’t used for recreational purposes. It started out in a network of underground therapists who were treating their patients with MDMA. The results were very promising. Some of these psychiatrists even referred to MDMA as “penicillin for the soul” because of the way it opened up communication in struggling couples and how it encouraged insight into patient’s problems.
Clinical MDMA Trials
It’s no wonder MDMA made it to the streets and quickly became one of the most popular drugs of modern times. Because of this, the DEA took notice, and MDMA was banned in 1985–becoming a Schedule I substance and deemed as dangerous as cocaine and heroin. In the year 2000, however, the FDA approved the first clinical trial on the benefits of MDMA. What they found proved what we already knew–it worked very well for people suffering with PTSD and trauma.
Since the first trials of MDMA, the FDA has since approved phase two trials of the substance which are being conducted in four different locations. These recent trials have confirmed that MDMA works exceptionally for patients suffering from trauma. One study showed that 83% of people with PTSD who participated in the trial overcame their PTSD, while only 25% showed success with talk therapy alone.
PTSD is a multifaceted emotional problem that is historically very difficult to treat. MDMA, though, works well even where commonly prescribed medications for PTSD fall short. Although more studies are needed to prove this, it’s believed that MDMA works so well for those who have suffered serious trauma because of the way it works in the brain.
MDMA in the Brain
Because of the huge release of some very important “feel good” neurological chemicals in the brain, MDMA allows patients to not only experience elevated feelings of wellbeing, but opens up their feelings of trust. And this, many believe, is the window to healing those who suffer from PTSD. Oxytocin, which is released in the brain when one takes MDMA, is especially adept at building the trust needed to bond with therapists and revisit old wounds. The journal of Neuropsychopharmacology published a report earlier this year that highlights a single dose (40IUs) of oxytocin helped to reduce anxiety and nervousness more than a placebo amongst police officers who suffer from PTSD.
The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has been conducting research on MDMA and PTSD for years. With the promising results they’ve found in the first two trial phases with MDMA, they hope to soon move into Phase 3 trials that are backed by the FDA. The plan for future trials will include several different therapists and hundreds of subjects who suffer from PTSD around the world. They believe that, with proper funding of these Phase 3 trials, MDMA-assisted psychotherapy will be legally available as a treatment option for those who suffer from trauma and PTSD.
According to MAPS, if all goes according to plan, MDMA should be available for use in psychotherapy by 2021. This is of course if everything goes as planned. Phase 3 is expected to start in 2017 and will take at least four or five years to complete according to MAPS communication director Brad Burge. Funding for the project is the biggest issue, and is expected to cost millions of dollars.
For those who have seen the results MDMA offers to people suffering from PTSD, the possibility that MDMA will soon be a (legally) viable option can’t come fast enough. The medications currently used to treat PTSD can come with a host of negative side effects and have the potential to be extremely addictive. And while these medications might help alleviate symptoms for a bit, they do so at the expense of the person taking them. What’s more is they don’t help those that suffer from PTSD actually heal, but instead just mask the difficult emotions many people associate with their trauma.
As one of the most debilitating mental conditions known, those that suffer from PTSD deserve every option that works. And MDMA has proven in case after case to do just that, and in a way that no other approved treatment comes close. As outdated policies slowly begin to crumble and more research is approved by the FDA on banned substances such as MDMA and other substances–like marijuana, ayahuasca, and Ibogaine–that have shown to have medical benefit, perhaps the day is soon approaching where we will see medicines given a fair chance. Many of these medicines were judged too quickly based on their use in counter-culture and been deemed dangerous by the government without any actual studies into their efficacy and safety–a huge hurdle that we hope to overcome in the next decade.