By Carey Wedler
The case for employing 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA, to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) grew stronger this week. A study published in the Lancet Journal of Psychiatry documented promising results when used in conjunction with psychotherapy, adding to previous similar findings.
A small study of 26 veterans and first responders suffering from PTSD conducted at the Medical University of South Carolina determined that participants who given substantial doses of the drug “had significantly greater decreases in PTSD symptom severity.” The participants were randomly assigned 30 mg, 75 mg, and 125 mg doses.Those given the two larger sizes showed significant improvement.
Though there were some adverse side effects, including anxiety, insomnia and some fleeting increases in suicidal thoughts, the researchers determined the treatment was overall safe, noting that of 85 adverse effects reported by 20 participants, “four (5%) were serious: three were deemed unrelated and one possibly related to study drug treatment.”
The recently published research is the latest of several studies to explore the possibilities of MDMA in treating psychological issues. It was funded by MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which for years has lobbied the government to allow research in into the therapeutic effects of MDMA and other prohibited substances. MAPS is currently sponsoring a collection of studies and facilitating FDA-approved Phase 3 trials on MDMA-assisted treatment for PTSD. They will begin this summer. Further, in August of last year, the agency designated MDMA a “breakthrough” therapy, which could lead to faster approval of the drug.
MDMA has a history of use in conjunction with psychotherapy. As journalist Don Lattin has explained:
Earlier, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a growing number of psychotherapists began quietly using MDMA, then called ‘ADAM,’ as a therapeutic tool for individuals and couples. After the 1985 ban, some of these therapists kept doing this work in a psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy underground, risking criminal action and the loss of their professional licenses.
He also pointed out that “couples have been using this drug, with or without a therapist, legally and illegally, for decades.”
This makes the recent study published Tuesday unsurprising but promising. As the researchers concluded:
“Active doses (75 mg and 125 mg) of MDMA with adjunctive psychotherapy in a controlled setting were effective and well tolerated in reducing PTSD symptoms in veterans and first responders.”