By Alle McMahon
MDMA — more commonly known as ecstasy — is one step closer to becoming a legal form of treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the United States.
Researchers have for years been looking at how the drug could be used in conjunction with therapy to help sufferers confront their trauma.
Now the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved it for use in a phase-three clinical trial — the final stage of research required before it can be considered for approval as a prescription drug.
So, what exactly is MDMA, what will the clinical trial involve and what implications might it have for sufferers in Australia?
What is MDMA?
MDMA — or 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine — is a psychoactive drug that reduces inhibitions and causes users to become more alert, affectionate and energetic.
It is the presumed main ingredient in the illicit party drug ecstasy.
Why do researchers believe it can help PTSD?
People with PTSD tend to avoid recollections of the experience that prompted their PTSD or situations that remind them of the trauma.
Exposure therapy is used to treat the disorder because it encourages sufferers to confront their trauma, either by remembering it or re-experiencing the event.
According to the president of Psychedelic Research in Science and Medicine (PRISM), Dr Martin Williams, MDMA can help facilitate that because it is an “empathogen”.
“It promotes a closeness between people, so it makes people feel a lot more open to others, enables them to communicate more effectively and more directly and it also reduces fear and anxiety,” he said.
“From that point of view, MDMA is very effective in psychotherapy in opening up the bonds [or] the sense of trust between the patient and the therapist.”
Give me the stats!
The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) was responsible for bringing the case for the phase-three clinical trial to the FDA.
Here’s what it says of its phase-two study results:
- 107 subjects treated with chronic PTSD
- 53 per cent of 74 participants no longer qualified for PTSD after two to three MDMA-assisted psychotherapy sessions
- That compared to 23 per cent who received a placebo
- Of 65 subjects interviewed one year after treatment, 66 per cent no longer had PTSD
How would MDMA be taken?
During a psychotherapy session, pure MDMA would be administered orally via a capsule or dissolved in juice under the supervision of a therapist.
“The therapy session would normally start at 8:00am in the morning and go through to 5:00pm in the afternoon,” Dr Williams said.
“That’s partly due to the fact that the effects of MDMA are reasonably long-lasting, usually last about five or six hours.”