A new study has found that MDMA, also known as ecstasy, may be helpful in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The study demonstrated substantial improvements in individuals who had not responded to prior treatments, according to University of British Columbia Associate Professor of Psychology Zach Walsh.
“PTSD symptoms decreased after one session of MDMA together with psychotherapy,” said Walsh, a study co-author.
He added that 54 percent of participants no longer met PTSD criteria after two sessions and that there was also improvement in their symptoms of depression.
During the study, the response to MDMA-assisted psychotherapy was compared to patients who received small doses of the drug or non-drug psychotherapy.
“These findings are promising and indicate the needed for larger studies,” Walsh said. “Too many people with PTSD struggle to find effective treatment, and use of MDMA in a supportive environment with trained mental health professionals could be an important addition to our treatment options.”
Nearly 4 percent of all people worldwide will suffer from PTSD during their lifetime. PTSD can be a debilitating disorder, with symptoms such as intrusive thoughts and memories, negative effects on thinking and mood, depression, hyperarousal and reactivity, and avoidance. People with PTSD can experience much lower quality of life and relationships, related mental health conditions and suicidal tendencies.
Ecstasy, also known as Molly, is the nickname for MDMA, a synthetic drug made from a combination of methylenedioxy-methamphetamine. It is a controlled, illegal drug in Canada classified as a stimulant with hallucinogenic properties.
For the study, Walsh, as well as researchers in the United States, Switzerland, and Israel, examined the results from six clinical trials involving 103 people. Trial participants included men and women with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD from a wide variety of causes.
Based on these results, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted breakthrough therapy designation to MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD, acknowledging that it “may demonstrate substantial improvement over existing therapies” and agreeing to expedite its development and review.
The first of two more in-depth clinical trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD began enrolling participants in November 2018, and aims to have 100 to 150 volunteers across 15 sites in the U.S., Canada, and Israel. The second trial will take place after an interim analysis of the data from the first trial, and will include an additional 100 to 150 participants. European trials are planned to start in the near future, the researchers report.
The study was published in Psychopharmacology.