Those soldiers and veterans who are struggling with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD have some hope on the horizon. Research studies have shown that the drug 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine, better known as MDMA (or ecstasy), is having a remarkable effect on PTSD sufferers. The researchers and study participants say that they are finding relief from the gut wrenching anxiety and other symptoms associated with PTSD that have plagued them for years.
There is no doubt that PTSD is a huge problem among veterans. According to the Veterans Administration, 22 veteran suicides occur each day, though the rate is even higher among the nation’s younger veterans. It’s reasonable to conclude that PTSD does play a role in these tragic deaths, which makes the findings in these studies all the more exciting.
“With such encouraging data, including evidence of long-term effectiveness after only two or three MDMA-assisted psychotherapy sessions, there is now no doubt that this research should be expanded to larger clinical trials,” said Dr. Michael Mithoefer, the principle investigator of one of the studies.Another study, published in Biological Psychiatry, found that there is, in fact, a therapeutic use for MDMA, despite the government’s classification of the drug as a Schedule I narcotic, meaning that it has no medical value.
“We found that MDMA caused reduced blood flow in regions of the brain linked to emotion and memory. These effects may be related to the feelings of euphoria that people experience on the drug,” Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris of the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London told Psych Central.
Magnetic functional imaging scans found that communication was heightened between the amygdala and the hippocampus in those who used MDMA, something that doesn’t occur in those with PTSD.
“The findings suggest possible clinical uses of MDMA in treating anxiety and PTSD,” said Dr. David Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London and the project’s leader. However, he cautioned against drawing too many conclusions until further research can be done.
More research is something that the people at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) are actively doing. Currently, MAPS is running multiple studies on the use of MDMA within a clinical setting to help get past the barriers of anxiety that so often hinder a veteran’s recovery.
Contrary to popular belief, MDMA is not a new drug. It was synthesized over a century ago by Merck & Co., Inc.
Toxicity experiments were carried out in secret for the U.S. Army, according to some, to develop a chemical weapon or truth serum — possibly even the creation of a real life “Manchurian Candidate,” though there certainly is no evidence of this. However, declassified documents show that the military was interested in MDMA all the way back to the 1950s.
It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that the drug made its way into the world of psychotherapy, where it was well received. Some reports estimate that there were as many as 4,000 therapists across the country using it until it was banned in 1985. Psychiatrists who were using the drug in their practices say that the government took a major tool away from them, something that was highly effective with few side effects when used in the clinical setting.
“MDMA, when still legal, had openly been used to try to facilitate psychotherapy. Non-controlled, anecdotal reports indicated that it could be quite useful,” says Dr. David Reiss, a psychiatrist at Brattleboro Retreat in VT, within the Uniformed Services Program.
"MDMA, when still legal, had openly been used to try to facilitate psychotherapy. Non-controlled, anecdotal reports indicated that it could be quite useful."Dr. David Reiss
MAPS points out that the ecstasy available on the street does contain MDMA, but has been altered with other dangerous substances rendering it unsafe. Pure MDMA, they say, has been proven safe when used carefully under medical supervision and they are currently working toward making MDMA an FDA approved medication by 2021.
The most recent follow up studies on the use of MDMA in treating PTSD has found that patients who showed improvement in earlier studies continued to do well years later. Many no longer met the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis. The follow up also found that there was no evidence of harm and none of the study participants developed a substance abuse problem.
Still, with the mounting pile of evidence that pure MDMA is safe when used in a controlled setting, the government isn’t buying MDMA as medicine, at least not yet, something that Reiss says doesn’t always jive with good medicine.
“We are finally getting back to the point of consideration [sic] legitimate clinical uses for psychotropic agents that have, in essence, been “black-listed” – at times reasonably, often more for socio-political-economic reasons than good clinical judgment,” Reiss said in an email.
When asked, the VA was quick to dismiss the use of MDMA among veterans.
“Ecstasy is an illegal drug and [the] VA would not involve veterans in the use of such substances,” a spokesman said in an email to the Los Angeles Times.
The VA was reached for further comment on the matter, but has not answered these requests.
There are thousands of anecdotal reports of MDMA being a virtual miracle drug for PTSD sufferers who have tried various SSRIs, mood stabilizers, and anti-psychotic drugs, many of which are not intended to nor approved to treat PTSD. But because it is considered a dangerous narcotic, like marijuana, MDMA has forced desperate veterans and psychiatrists to obtain the drug illegally, something that could ruin the lives of everyone involved if caught.
Doctors could lose their licenses, veterans could lose their benefits, and all parties could end up in jail. That’s a huge price to pay for simply trying to treat a debilitating mental health condition, one that developed as a result of serving one’s country.
Photo Credit: Ross Land / Getty Images
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I see many comments about how this won't work because it isn't dealing with the trauma. But it's important to remember that, like the SSRIs and other medications currently used for treatment, the researchers are talking about using it within a clinical setting, meaning under the supervision of a psychiatrist and with counseling. In fact, the whole reason researchers are talking about using it is because it facilitates breakthroughs in therapy that otherwise would not have happened. In this particular situation (used clinically with therapy for a short period of time) researchers have seen no side effects, including addiction. I think that it's at least something that is worth trying for those who have tried everything else and have found no relief.
It will give veterans a easy income , from what i hear its worth a lot on the streets.. I am going to check with the V.A.Dr's and try to get me some..ha ha
It's pretty common knowledge that LSD was used for the same purposes...any effort to rework the brain in controlled situations (ie EMDT) may enjoy the same results...for consenting patients, what could be worse?
Marijuana is a better choice. Long term MDMA use causes a number of chemical imbalances which will only make matters worse.
Pure mbma does not show on drug tests...and exctasy and mdma are rarely one and the same. Most x is crap filled w heroin
a lot of these are now legal in new zealand.... its so funny how people still need all these academics to tell whats right?
HELL NO! Have you seen the kind of brain damage ecstasy does to it's users? The FDA is trying to help the Soetoro Regime neutralize military Veterans by finding new ways to sedate them, while still fulfilling their real function of being a rubber-stamp mill for the Pharmaceutical companies. The only problem with this scheme is there isn't enough 'patients' to make it profitable.
and I bet this gets approved before MMJ because this isn't natural and the government can just mass produce it
But I agree that in a free nation like ours, people should only be allowed to make decisions that other people agree is safe, healthy, and good for the common good.
Society can't allow unfettered use of substance run amuck and cause needless harm to innocents either. There has to be checks on the use of substances as there are in every country in the world.
Jamie Joy Throgmorton: yes. many people who are terminally ill or old and have a set time to live will feel great anxiety. in a recent study, LSD-assisted therapy was shown to significantly reduce end of life anxiety in 12 out of 12 subjects.
Same thing happened with Quaalude! Back in the 80's anything that shows promise quickly gets a damaging reputation. Wonder if it is the government or the Mafia that wants these drugs banned, the purity and control of pharmaceutical drugs can not be controlled on the black market and it cuts into sales of less clean drugs.
They say it worked wonders in couples counseling. All prohibition is banned by the ninth amendment anyways. Current prohibition laws are no more valid than the eighteenth never was.
I worry about the quality. People need to get "pharmaceutical grade," nothing less than that is safe.
@ptsddotorg What?? The drug? Omg.
Objective studies have shown that even the most notorious drugs have had their dangers exaggerated for political purposes. Many even have beneficial properties when used in moderation. Cocaine used to be the core ingredient in Coca-Cola. Bayer used to sell heroin. Drugs can be bad and abused, but making them illegal doesn't do a thing to change that. The war on drugs costs too much money, ruins more lives than the drugs themselves, and destroys our liberties.
MDMA and other drugs like LSD and psilocybin are great tools in psychotherapy. they can alleviate end of life syndrome, PTSD, addiction and many more. it's an absolute shame the drug war got in the way of treating the sick. schedule I should be abolished entirely. the federal government still has to approve them for use as medicine. there's no reason to not allow research.
With the music scene and pop culture taking so heavy to ecstasy, this thought is definitely scary--because of the "hype" and the need the street version is very often cut with other drugs, as the article mentions, the side affects of this will be misjudged. If controlled and held in its pure form, why not? Drawing too many conclusions, positive or negative, until further research can be done is irresponsible.
"Doctors could lose their licenses, veterans could lose their benefits, and all parties could end up in jail."
Not to mention the adverse effects street ecstasy would have on a PTSD patient because of the harmful substances that are added. It could end up making things worse for them, psychologically speaking.