Image Source: Flickr CC user jjacobs

The “P” in PTSD is certainly a misleading letter — for the people who struggle daily with this cruel mental disorder, there’s nothing “post” about their trauma. For combat vets, people who’ve been in accidents, and victims of the random and horrific violence that plagues our country, the trauma is a real, living thing, experienced over and over, in waking and in dreams, in visions and revisions.

An estimated 24 million people in the US suffer from PTSD to some degree or another. It’s true that with conventional therapy, time, and the support of loved ones, it’s possible for people to get past PTSD or at least limit its effects. However, new research has shown another tool for therapy: MDMA, long known as a club drug, shows overwhelming promise as a mental health tool to help heal these traumas. In fact, new psychedelic research by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) looks to be on track to making MDMA an FDA-approved prescription drug for the treatment of PTSD, offering a chance at a better life for the many people who resist conventional treatment.   

A Stunningly Effective Tool for PTSD Treatment

The power of MDMA (3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) to ease PTSD comes from the beneficial ways it interacts with brain chemistry in order to enhance therapy sessions. MDMA causes a release of oxytocin and prolactin in the brain, two chemicals that heighten feelings of trust and bonding. This same effect that makes ravers feel a sense of bliss and interconnection with friends acts as a powerful catalyst for PTSD sufferers when they are in a psychotherapeutic session with their therapist, allowing them to open up about the dark experiences they endured with a sense of trust and safety that is normally not accessible. Through this novel experience that MDMA provides, people are finally able to integrate, accept, and release their immense pain and move past the stress and dysfunction that the untreated trauma had created in their lives.

MAPS’s work with MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD sufferers has yielded incredible results. During their Phase 2 clinical trials, 83% of those who underwent MDMA treatment were completely cured of their PTSD within a few short months. MAPS is now in the process of gearing up for Phase 3 trials, and if the success remains as good as it has been, we will see it become legally available for this kind of therapeutic use in a little as 6 years, vindicating MDMA and its original status as a healing psychotherapeutic tool.

Easing End-of-Life Anxiety and Autism

While MDMA is quickly earning a name for itself in the world of PTSD treatment, other scientific studies have highlighted its uses for other people in need. An observational study by Dr. Alicia Danforth looked at over 100 autistic adults who had reported using MDMA at some point in their lives. Over 70% of the people interviewed said that after using MDMA, they felt more comfortable in social situations, a well-known struggle for many people with autism. In addition to the short-term benefits, roughly 15% of the adults also reported that the beneficial effects of their MDMA experience lasted far longer than the experience and immediate time after it, giving a promising glimpse of MDMA as a potential tool for treating social anxiety and helping autistic people to live more comfortable and functional lives.

Another recent study looked at how MDMA could ease end-of-life anxiety in adults facing terminal illness. Lead by Dr. Phil Wolfson and sponsored by MAPS, this FDA-approved study looked at the effects of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in 6 participants who were facing the end of their life and suffering from the depression and anxiety that often accompanies being confronted with one’s own mortality. Dr. Wolfson’s study showed that MDMA was both safe and highly effective in treating these subjects, with many of them having incredible breakthroughs that allowed them to arrive at a lasting sense of peace and acceptance through their cathartic and emotional MDMA therapy sessions.

A New Day for MDMA

As more psychedelic research brings forward the many benefits of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, the stigma once associated with it will fade and a set of best practices and science-based understanding of its uses will take its place. As the harm reduction organizations like DanceSafe point out, harmful substances like methamphetamines are often passed off as “molly” on the street which can lead to accidental deaths, highlighting the fact that legalization and regulation of this powerful substance cannot come too soon.