DEC 02, 2016 02:35 PM PST

Legal Ecstasy May Become the New PTSD Drug

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects millions of people, but the disorder is notoriously difficult to treat. Even with our best treatment efforts, researchers say a significant portion of patients are still left behind.
 
But recently, the psychedelic MDMA, otherwise known colloquially as “ecstasy,” is gaining traction as an unconventional but effective treatment for PTSD. Furthermore, the FDA also saw the potential in this drug, and has approved it in a large-scale clinical trial for PTSD. The move could pave the way for legally prescribed “ecstasy” as a psychotherapy agent in the future.
 
Known on the street as “E,” “Molly,” and “millennial aspirin,” MDMA (3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) is a popular recreational psychedelic drug. The compound acts on the amygdala to induce feelings of euphoria, empathy, and otherwise heightened emotions.
 
Heavy abuse of the drug – leading to addiction, memory issues, paranoia, and other adverse symptoms – led the FDA to classify it as a Schedule 1 substance and its eventual ban. However, many researchers saw potential in MDMA as a psychotherapy drug, precisely because of how it affects the brain.
 

In a few early stage clinical trial of MDMA, patients reported working through their trauma in ways that could not be replicated with conventional treatments. One study found a 56 percent decrease in the severity of their PTSD symptoms with the use of MDMA. This shift led more than two-thirds of the patients to free themselves from the diagnosis of PTSD – a remarkable outcome considering the ineffectiveness rate of current therapies. Furthermore, the results seem to have a lasting effect, even after the drug was discontinued.
 
“The body of evidence that shows MDMA works is so strong and so encouraging,” said Rick Doblin, the founder and executive director of Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which is sponsoring the current Phase III clinical trial, involving over 200 participants.
 

In addition to obtaining the unprecedented OK from the FDA to use MDMA in the clinical trial, the team also applied for the “breakthrough therapy” status. This designation is typically reserved for drugs that can “treat a serious or life threatening disease or condition.” If granted and trial results prove promising, MDMA can be on the fast track for approval as a PTSD psychotherapy drug by as early as 2021.
 
Of note, researchers underscore that the trial is to expand the psychedelic’s medicinal uses, not its recreational potential. So to people who doubt the safety of legal ecstasy, Doblin says: “This is never going to be a take-home drug. It’ll only be prescribed by doctors with special training, for people with specific conditions.”

Additional sources: NY Times, Popular Science
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
NOV 28, 2018
Cardiology
NOV 28, 2018
Heart Attack or Cardiac Arrest?
  Understanding the distinction between a heart attack and cardiac arrest is paramount; rapid intervention must occur  in either case, but the be...
JUN 02, 2018
Immunology
JUN 02, 2018
New Test Predicts Lupus Onset
Based on several different factors, scientists have a new risk index for predicting who will develop lupus. From the Feinstein Institute for Medical Resear...
JUN 16, 2018
Videos
JUN 16, 2018
What is Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis?
All parents want a healthy baby, and for some people that carry genetic mutations, the decision to have children presents a challenge....
JUN 20, 2018
Genetics & Genomics
JUN 20, 2018
The Cause of a Rare Neurological Disease is Identified
In a recent study, scientists sequenced the genome to find the mutation behind a disorder that causes blindness and paralysis....
AUG 16, 2018
Clinical & Molecular DX
AUG 16, 2018
Bubbles and a blood test could detect brain tumors
Researchers have developed a proof-of-concept technique that allows them to detect brain tumor biomarkers with a simple blood test, rather than a complicat...
NOV 26, 2018
Health & Medicine
NOV 26, 2018
A New Test for Fibromyalgia
Anyone who has experienced severe, chronic pain knows the long process it takes to get a correct diagnosis. Many people see an average of 5-6 specialists b...
Loading Comments...