AUG 17, 2019 11:23 AM PDT

How Does Ecstasy Treat PTSD?

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Conventionally, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is treated via talk therapy, with the aim of getting patients to open up about their trauma and rewire how they associate to it. Although successful in many cases, certain varieties of the disorder are unresponsive to traditional therapy, and so require other treatments. Treatments involving ecstasy (or MDMA) have so far proven effective. But how? 

To treat PTSD, ecstasy is used as a facilitator for talk therapy. First synthesized in 1912, its therapeutic benefits were studied in the 1970’s until it designation as a Schedule 1 drug in 1985, due to its popularity as a recreational drug (Stone: 2019). In recent years however, clinical studies have demonstrated its utility in treating otherwise untreatable cases of PTSD. The first of such clinical studies was conducted in 2010, and had impressive results.

For the study, researchers randomly assigned 20 people with chronic PTSD (refractory to both psychotherapy and psychopharmacology) to psychotherapy either with an ecstasy component or an inactive placebo. Administered during two 8-hour sessions, both groups also received preparatory and follow-up non-drug talk therapy. 

At a two-month follow up after finishing treatment, the researchers found that 83% of those who had taken ecstasy saw significant improvements in their symptoms, whereas the same was only seen in 25% of the placebo group. In addition to this, neither group experienced serious drug-related events, negative neurocognitive effects, or significant increases in blood pressure. 

These results of course brought more interest into ecstasy’s potential to treat PTSD, with Phase 3 clinical trials currently underway to develop MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD into an FDA-approved prescription treatment by the end of 2021(MAPS: 2019). But, given the substance’s reputation for depressive come-downs due to its serotonin-depleting effects, how does it enhance therapeutic outcomes (Lennon: 2019)? 

MDMA causes large increases in several neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin, known to contribute to general feelings of wellbeing and happiness. It also increases the release of oxytocin, known to affect how people respond to facial expressions. Research has shown that those with higher levels of oxytocin are less likely to interpret facial expressions as angry and threatening (Miller: 2016). Coupled with the general feelings of wellbeing and connection that the substance induces, this means that people with PTSD, who tend to be hypervigilant for threats, are able to better relax and thus more easily trust their therapist, making them more susceptible to effective treatment.

What’s more, through brain imaging techniques, the substance has been shown to reduce blood flow to the amygdala and the hippocampus, lessening the emotional response people have when accessing traumatic memories, thus making them easier to confront and overcome with the aid of a therapist (Nutt: 2018). 

To conclude, ecstasy is used to treat PTSD as a part of talk therapy. Under the oversight of specially-trained therapists the substance works by allowing patients to feel more at ease accessing traumatic memories and discussing them with their therapists. Although still under research, MDMA-assisted therapy so far has seen much success, especially in treating those with otherwise untreatable trauma. 


 

Sources 

 

Stone, Will: NPR 

MAPS 

Lennon, Annie: Labroots 

Nutt, David: Psychopharmacology Institute 

Miller, Sara G.: Live Science 

About the Author
  • Annie Lennon is a writer whose work also appears in Medical News Today, Psych Central, Psychology Today, and other outlets. When she's not writing, she is COO of Xeurix, an HR startup that assesses jobfit from gamified workplace simulations.
You May Also Like
JUN 29, 2021
Microbiology
Gut Fungi May Be an Untapped Reservoir of Antibiotics
JUN 29, 2021
Gut Fungi May Be an Untapped Reservoir of Antibiotics
Viruses are not the only microbes that can cause serious public health problems. Researchers have been warning about a p ...
JUL 05, 2021
Neuroscience
People with Autism More Likely to Self-Medicate with Recreational Drugs
JUL 05, 2021
People with Autism More Likely to Self-Medicate with Recreational Drugs
Researchers from the University of Cambridge have found that people with autism are more likely than people without the ...
JUL 07, 2021
Cancer
Chemotherapy Disrupts Gut Bacteria in Cancer Patients
JUL 07, 2021
Chemotherapy Disrupts Gut Bacteria in Cancer Patients
Researchers from Australia have found that the conventional chemotherapy used to treat various cancers disrupts the comp ...
JUL 21, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
A diet rich in phytoestrogens can help combat inflammation in multiple sclerosis.
JUL 21, 2021
A diet rich in phytoestrogens can help combat inflammation in multiple sclerosis.
Close to one million people in the United States are living with multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is a chronic, neuroinflamma ...
AUG 13, 2021
Cancer
Ultrasound Triggers Immunotherapy to Destroy Tumors
AUG 13, 2021
Ultrasound Triggers Immunotherapy to Destroy Tumors
An immunotherapy engineered to be triggered by ultrasound beams significantly slows the growth of cancerous tumors in mi ...
SEP 23, 2021
Immunology
Enhanced Hamster Cells as Super Drug Factories
SEP 23, 2021
Enhanced Hamster Cells as Super Drug Factories
Antibodies are highly specialized proteins produced by the immune system that stick on to foreign invaders in the body w ...
Loading Comments...