Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a severe psychological condition some individuals develop after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. Recent research has shown that using MDMA (also know as ecstasy) in conjunction with therapy can help reduce the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in those suffering from it.
Rick Doblin PhD., based in Massachusetts, Michael Mithoefer M.D., a South Carolina-based psychiatrist, and colleagues conducted a study with 20 participants who had suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) on average for over 19 years. Each participant in the study was required to have tried psychotherapy and psychopharmacology for his or her PTSD symptoms and both types of treatment must have failed to have worked to improve his or her symptoms significantly. It is important to note that the purpose of using MDMA was to temporarily increase trust while reducing fear and without inhibiting painful emotions, which allows individuals to process emotions that come up in psychotherapy for PTSD.
In the study, 12 participants were randomly assigned to receive MDMA and psychotherapy for the treatment of PTSD while eight participants received a placebo and psychotherapy. Each individual underwent two eight-hour psychotherapy sessions 3-5 weeks apart, with some receiving MDMA before each of these sessions occurred. Additionally, each participant in the study received weekly psychotherapy sessions both before and after each day-long therapy session.
An independent tester, who was not aware which participants received MDMA versus placebo measured each individual’s PTSD symptoms utilizing a PTSD scale. Each participant’s symptoms were assessed at baseline, four days after each day-long psychotherapy session, and two months after the second day-long therapy session occurred.
The researchers discovered that 10 of the 12 individuals who received MDMA in conjunction with therapy experienced significant improvement in their PTSD symptoms. In fact, the three individuals participating in the study who stated they could not work due to their PTSD symptoms at the beginning of the study were all working at the end of the study. On the other hand, only two of the participants who received the placebo experienced significant improvement in their symptoms.
Furthermore, after the two-month follow-up was completed, those who had initially received the placebo were offered therapy with MDMA. Seven out of the eight participants in the placebo group decided to try MDMA in conjunction with therapy, and attained similar improvements to those seen in individuals who initially received MDMA assisted psychotherapy.
It is also important to note that individuals who received MDMA during the study did not experience any severe adverse events from the drug. In addition, the researchers indicate the participants did not experience any clinically significant increases in temperature or blood pressure or experience any adverse neurocognitive effects.
This research may have clinical significance for individuals suffering from PTSD in the future. Individuals can develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, rape, car accident, war, and domestic violence. During the event, the individual felt intense helplessness, horror, or fear, and the event posed an actual or threatened serious injury, death, or physical harm to oneself or others.
According to the National Center for PTSD, individuals suffering from this condition may experience a number of symptoms that interfere with their lives. An individual may feel as if he or she is reliving the traumatic event through flashbacks or hallucinations, experience physiological and/or psychological reactions to internal or external stimuli that symbolize some part of the traumatic event, experience intrusive images, perceptions, and/or thoughts of the event, and/or have recurring nightmares or dreams of the trauma. Individuals who suffer with PTSD also experience avoidance symptoms, such as avoiding conversations, feelings, and thoughts associated with the event, diminished participation or interest in one’s usual activities, an inability to experience a variety of emotions, avoiding places, people, and/or activities that remind them of the trauma, feeling detached from other people, an inability to remember an important part of the trauma, and/or possesses a sense that they have a foreshortened future.
Hyperarousal symptoms are also seen in individuals suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. These symptoms include concentration difficulties, sleeping difficulties, an exaggerated startle response, outbursts of anger or irritability, and/or hypervigilance. An individual is diagnosed with PTSD when he or she exhibits symptoms for the duration of one month or longer. In addition, the symptoms significantly interfere with one’s work, academic, and/or social life.
PTSD can be a debilitating condition, which may affect those who have witnessed or experienced a traumatic event. While this study was quite small, it may lead to new research, which could further support using MDMA (ecstasy) in conjunction with psychotherapy for the treatment of PTSD.
Psych Central: MDMA May Have Role in Treatment of PTSD:
United States Department of Veterans Affairs: National Center for PTSD: DSM-IV-TR Criteria for PTSD: