MAY 08, 2018 9:01 PM PDT

Pure Form of An Illegal Euphoric Drug Treats PTSD

WRITTEN BY: Nouran Amin


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder where an individual has a difficult time recovering from a traumatic incident often caused by re-occurring memories of the situation leading to mental distress. According to the National co-morbidity published by Harvard Medical School, about 7% of people in the United States will suffer from PTSD during their lifetimes. Although many patients improve with therapy, anti-depressant medications and time, some will continue to have nightmares or flashbacks that persistently allow them to re-live a traumatic event. These patients will often experience severe symptoms that range from triggered anxiety attacks to depression, sleep disturbances, and dramatic changes in mood and behavior.


Now, an illegal euphoric drug may seek to treat individuals suffering from PTSD. The pure chemical form or active ingredient of this particular drug is MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine). MDMA is known to alter mood and perception by targeting brain cells to release the neurohormone serotonin which is a brain chemical that regulates mood, aggression, sexual activity, sleep patterns and pain sensitivity. MDMA is also chemically the same as stimulants and hallucinogens.

Mental health investigators were curious if the chemical proteins of MDMA could be therapeutic for a multitude of metal health disorders. Dr. Michael Mithoefer, M.D., a psychiatrist who studies MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, described MDMA as "unique among drugs that decrease anxiety in that it isn’t sedating and doesn’t impair memory."

"People have clear recall of trauma without being overwhelmed by emotions or dissociating and being emotionally numb," he continues. "Our model is that MDMA is acting as a catalyst to the psychotherapeutic process, not as a stand-along drug."

MDMA was approved by the FDA for classic studies in treating chronic PTSD, but only under certain conditions. Regardless, it was seen that MDMA is the effective choice. “PTSD involves prominent fear responses and the fact that MDMA decreases fear by decreasing activity in the amygdala and increasing activity in prefrontal cortex," explains Mithoefer.

About the Author
Doctorate (PhD)
Nouran is a scientist, educator, and life-long learner with a passion for making science more communicable. When not busy in the lab isolating blood macrophages, she enjoys writing on various STEM topics.
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