A new study published in the most recent online issue of the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that MDMA, often referred to as ‘ecstasy,’ can make traditional psychotherapy more successful for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The current research follows up on a 2010 study which found that 83 percent of participants (with an average of 19 years suffering from post-traumatic stress) no longer qualified for a PTSD diagnosis after just two sessions using psychotherapy combined with MDMA. The long-term follow-up, conducted an average of 3.5 years after MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, showed that these remarkable benefits weren’t just a coincidence.
There have been multiple studies suggesting the therapeutic use of MDMA conducted in the past. This study is different because it’s the first to demonstrate that MDMA only needs a short time to generate long term benefits. Advocates hope the encouraging results will finally remove lingering concerns about the risks of MDMA-assisted therapy. “With such encouraging data, including evidence of long-term effectiveness after only two or three MDMA-assisted psychotherapy sessions, there is now no doubt that this research should be expanded to larger clinical trials,” said Dr. Michael Mithoefer, the study’s principal investigator.
In the past, MDMA’s reputation as a recreational drug blocked efforts to verify its therapeutic value. Now, those sterotypes are evaporating as doctors and PTSD patients become more desperate for solutions. In some ways, this marginalization is a blessing in disguise, as it means Big Pharma has been uninterested in developing it as a drug. Since pure MDMA is technically a generic pharmaceutical, non-profit research organizations like Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) have a chance to test and develop it for public use.
“These long-term results were primarily in women who suffered from chronic PTSD as a result of sexual assault and abuse,” explained Brad Burge, Director of Communications for MAPS. “Our ongoing study in South Carolina is now looking at whether we can achieve such dramatic improvements in veterans and first responders who also suffer from PTSD as a result of service. Our initial results there are promising, suggesting that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy may also be a powerful future treatment option for the growing number of men and women who suffer from PTSD as a result of war, terrorism, and natural disasters.”
For PTSD patients who have endured years of traditional therapy with little to no improvement, these results are likely to seem like a ray of hope in an unending tunnel of anxiety and depression. While optimism is encouraged, researchers are quick to point out that we’re still far from seeing MDMA adopted as a mainstream therapy. MAPS currently has nearly 300 patients on the waiting list for its study with veterans. “If researchers continue to see such strong results, the treatment could be available by 2020,” said Burge, “but that’s an unacceptably long time to wait for people with PTSD and their families, so we’re doing everything we can to accelerate the research.”