A new study published in Nature Medicine has shown promising results for the use of MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy or molly, as a treatment for severe mental trauma such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), when used in conjunction with therapy. The study, led by the non-profit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), involved over 100 patients with PTSD and found that MDMA combined with therapy was far more effective at reducing PTSD symptoms compared to a placebo.
This study follows an earlier Phase 3 trial, in which twice as many people given MDMA recovered from their PTSD diagnosis compared to those given a placebo. The new study expands on these results by recruiting a more diverse population and demonstrating that the treatment is effective across different racial and ethnic groups. The trials specifically focus on MDMA-assisted therapy, with trained therapists using MDMA as a tool in the treatment process.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) typically requires two controlled trials before considering drug approval, and MAPS has now completed these trials. The organization plans to seek FDA approval in October of this year. However, MDMA’s classification as a Schedule 1 drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) presents a hurdle to widespread acceptance and use of the drug as a treatment for PTSD. Despite this, there is a growing recognition of the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics, including MDMA, in addressing mental health issues. Cannabis, psilocybin (from magic mushrooms), and LSD are other Schedule 1 drugs that are also gaining recognition for their potential therapeutic applications.
MDMA has a complex history, initially captivating psychiatrists after its development in 1912. However, its recreational use led to a ban in 1985, halting research into its therapeutic potential. MAPS, founded in 1986, has been at the forefront of efforts to reestablish MDMA as a valid candidate for PTSD and depression treatment. Recent studies have shown positive results, with significant reductions in PTSD symptoms observed in patients receiving MDMA-assisted therapy.
The study published in Nature Medicine further supports these findings, showing that regardless of ethnicity or race, 71% of participants who received MDMA and therapy were no longer diagnosed with PTSD, compared to 48% in the placebo group. The therapeutic effects of MDMA are thought to stem from its ability to increase levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine which are often associated with depression. The drug acts as a “communications lubricant,” enabling participants to more readily open up to their therapists without experiencing shame or trauma.
Despite the challenges of blinding psychedelic studies due to the noticeable effects of MDMA, the research team has developed a protocol to address this issue. This protocol involves independent psychologists measuring the participants’ symptoms after each treatment session, ensuring unbiased evaluation of the drug’s effectiveness.
This new study offers hope for the approval of MDMA as a treatment for PTSD and potentially paves the way for the rescheduling of other psychedelic substances to enable further research into their therapeutic potential.
Sources: Nature Medicine (study), Nature (interview), DEA