Researchers have long believed psychedelic drugs like MDMA could be used to help treat severe mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, addiction, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Now, it seems they finally have some impressive data to back up their beliefs, taking it one step closer to FDA approval.
New results from phase 3 clinical trials published in Nature journal show that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy can have a significant impact as a PTSD treatment. Each of the 90 participants completed three separate 8-hour talk therapy sessions over a period of 18 weeks.
The double-blind study gave MDMA or a placebo to a variety of PTSD sufferers, including combat veterans and first responders, as well as survivors of mass shootings, sexual assaults, domestic violence, or childhood trauma. The trial was so effective that over 2/3 experienced so much loss of symptoms they no longer met minimum thresholds for PTSD diagnosis.
What Is MDMA & How Does It Work?
Short for 3, 4-Methylenedioxy-N-Methylamphetamine, MDMA is a currently illegal yet still popular psychoactive party drug known as Ecstasy, E, X, or Molly. People who take MDMA report increased feelings of empathy, happiness, compassion, transcendence, euphoria, trust, overall well-being, and sensory pleasure.
MDMA’s pharmacologic effects cause neurotransmitters to boost the release of “feel-good” chemicals into brain cells which change their activity. These chemicals include hormones like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, cortisol, oxytocin, prolactin, and vasopressin, which provide optimal conditions for people to engage with and process a wide variety of difficult or traumatic experiences.
What Is MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy?
Typical sessions of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy begin with a patient ingesting a 125 mg dose of MDMA, which takes around 45 minutes for the effects to kick in. An optional half-dose may be administered 2 hours after taking the initial dose if required to ensure the therapeutic effects will last the full session.
As MDMA affects the body and the brain for up to 8 hours, it provides each patient with plenty of time to deal with painful or traumatic events from their past. Patients usually receive 2 or 3 MDMA-assisted therapies over 12 weeks with two trained psychotherapists during each full session, as they can be quite emotionally and physically draining.
How Effective Is MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy?
Researchers are now saying that MDMA-assisted psychotherapies could be much more beneficial in treating severe PTSD than any currently used medication or therapy. The other good news with MDMA therapy is that it produced no serious adverse reactions or side effects, apart from temporary mild symptoms of nausea or appetite loss.
Further studies are still needed, as researchers are still unsure of the exact science behind the effects of MDMA as a tool for the treatment of PTSD. But despite not knowing the reasoning, these latest trial results certainly appear to highlight the positive effect MDMA can have in an assisted therapy setting.
The Future of MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy
While the FDA has yet to approve MDMA for clinical use, access expansion has been granted in both the United States as well as in Israel. A second late-stage Phase 3 clinical trial with 100 participants is also currently already in progress. If the results are also positive, we could see the FDA approve MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in the not-too-distant future.