MDMA, known to many around the world as the rave drug ecstasy, can be more effective at treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when paired with talking therapy than treatments that are currently available to patients, according to a study recently published in the medical journal Nature.  

The study was the last in a series designed and run by MAPS Public Benefit Corporation, a private enterprise that develops psychedelic medicines. Findings from the studies will be presented to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with the hope of changing US law to allow the use of MDMA alongside talking therapy to treat PTSD.

“If approved, MDMA-assisted therapy would be the first novel treatment for PTSD in over two decades… PTSD patients can feel some hope” Berra Yazar-Klosinski, senior author of the study said.

PTSD is a neuropsychiatric condition that affects approximately 5% of the US population each year. It can be characterised by symptoms including but not limited to; being easily startled, feeling tense, being on guard or on edge, having difficulty concentrating, having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, feeling irritable and having angry or aggressive outbursts, and engaging in risky, reckless, or destructive behaviour.

Current treatment options available to patients, including depression drugs and SSRIs, can sometimes leave patients feeling ‘emotionally blunted’, or are not successful at treating the patients’ symptoms. 

“Although the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) sertraline and paroxetine are FDA approved for treating PTSD, 35–47% of individuals do not respond to treatment. More effective, therapeutic interventions are needed to address the immense individual, societal and economic burdens of PTSD” the study authors wrote. 

To assess the efficacy of MDMA assisted therapy (MDMA-AT) for the treatment of PTSD, researchers designed a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study with a cohort of 104 participants who had been diagnosed with moderate to severe PTSD. 

Participants were split into two groups, one that received a placebo with talking therapy, and the other that received MDMA-AT. 

The results showed 86% of those who received MDMA-AT were found to have responded positively to treatment, identified by a ‘clinically meaningful improvement’ 18 weeks after treatment started, compared to 69% in the placebo group.

At the end of the study, 46% in the MDMA-AT group were assessed as having their PTSD in remission versus 21.5% of those who received the placebo.

Researchers commented on why they think MDMA helps treat PTSD. “MDMA simultaneously induces prosocial feelings and softens responses to emotionally challenging and fearful stimuli, potentially enhancing the ability of individuals with PTSD to benefit from psychotherapy by reducing sensations of fear, threat and negative emotionality.”

MDMA assisted therapy effective in reducing the symptoms of PTSD

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