Ecstasy doubles success rate of therapy for PTSD, research claims

Giving MDMA to people with post-traumatic stress disorder doubles their chance of getting better through counseling, a study suggested today.

Two thirds of PTSD sufferers given a 40mg dose of the party drug before therapy no longer suffered with the condition after two months.

Whereas one in three of the control group who received standard counseling alone were cured over the same period of time.

The MDMA combination even worked on patients with the most severe PTSD and those with drug and alcohol abuse problems, experts said.

Researchers said the ‘feelings of trust and closeness’ caused by the drug helped them open up to psychiatrists and make better progress.

MDMA – also known as ecstasy or molly – is popular in rave culture, with people using the drug to boost their energy and feel more connected to the music and other ravers.

But there has been a movement in recent years to destigmatise the drug, with experts trialing psychedelics like MDMA and magic mushrooms as therapeutics for mental health illnesses.

University of California experts found two thirds of those receiving MDMA alongside regular PTSD therapy no longer had the condition after two months, compared to just one third of those not taking the drug

THE PSYCHEDELIC DRUGS BEING STUDIED FOR THEIR MENTAL HEALTH BENEFITS

In recent years, scientists have increasingly looked to psychedelic drugs as promising therapies for treatment-resistant mental illness.

Currently, such mind-altering drugs are largely illegal in the US.

But ongoing clinical trials suggest that drugs once beloved by hippies and club kids might have medical benefits, too.

Scientists are investigating:

KETAMINE

The club drug and tranquilizer has been in tests for treating depression for several years.

In March 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the first nasal spray version of the drug.

Ketamine works much more quickly than traditional antidepressants, and scientists believe it encourages new neural connections that can help overwrite unhealthy, depressive thought patterns.

PSILOCYBIN

The active ingredient in ‘magic mushrooms,’ psilocybin is a powerful hallucinogen.

It, too, acts far more quickly than traditional drugs and is being analyzed for use in patients with both depression and PTSD.

Psilocybin helps encourage neuroplasticity and is thought to quiet down the ‘default mode network’ in the brain, and activate the ‘salience network’ that is involved in medication.

In August, the FDA cleared the largest clinical trial for psilocybin to-date.

MDMA

The club drug MDMA – sometimes called ‘Molly’ – is currently in trials to treat PTSD.

MDMA appears to quiet activity in the amygdala and hippocampus, regions of the brain involved in emotional processing and fear responses, which are over-active in those with PTSD.

Patients participating in MDMA trials take a dose of the drug, and remain in an eight-hour session with two therapists who guide their experience.

LSD

The psychedelic compound LSD has a similar structure to the brain chemical, serotonin.

LSD’s discovery played a role in our discovery of how serotonin works in the brain and why imbalances of the neurochemical are involved in depression and anxiety.

Trials using LSD-assisted therapy to treat anxiety are ongoing and have shown early promise.

University of California experts followed 90 people in a Phase 3 clinical trial to study the effects of the psychedelic drug.

They gave people suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) a 40mg dose of the drug before an eight-hour therapy session three times over two months.

MDMA is currently a Class A drug in the UK, with people caught possessing it facing up to seven years in prison.

It is classed as a Schedule 1 drug in the US, designated for substances with no legitimate medical purpose.

PTSD symptoms are triggered by flashbacks, nightmares, or even sounds and smells that cause memories to come flooding back.

MDMA is thought to dampen this response and allow people to reflect on their trauma without being overwhelmed.

PTSD can trigger a host of other disorders including anxiety, depression, insomnia, substance abuse and eating disorders.

Sufferers include soldiers coming back from combat and people who have endured physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

Up to three per cent of people will develop PTSD at some point in life, data suggests.

The latest research, presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society today, confirmed results from a Phase 2 trial published last year.

Researchers gave half the 90 participants an 80mg dose of MDMA – in the form of a pill – before receiving a 40mg top up immediately before their eight-hour session.

Pills sold on the street can contain up to 280mg of MDMA.

The MDMA-assisted session was repeated twice, a month apart alongside weekly sit-downs with a psychotherapist.

They found twice as many people who received the drug no longer qualified as having PTSD after two months as those who only had regular therapy.

Even those with the most severe form of the condition saw benefits from taking the drug, the researchers said.

Experts said the psychedelic drug helped improve PTSD outcomes because it helped patients trust their therapists more during sessions.

They also noted side effects including jaw clenching and nausea were minimal, with no signs of addiction in patients.

Professor Jennifer Mitchell, a neurologist at the San Francisco university who led the research, said: ‘MDMA is really interesting because it’s an empathogen.

‘It causes the release of oxytocin in the brain, which creates feelings of trust and closeness that can really help in a therapeutic setting.’

But she warned people currently experiencing PSTD should not self-medicate with the drug, because illegal pills available on the street can be cut with other substances and may not be at healthy doses.

Professor Mitchell said: ‘If MDMA is decriminalized, that doesn’t mean it’s safe.

‘It can be a very powerful tool, but it needs to have the right dose in the right context with the right support system.’

Patients in the Phase 2 trial of 50 people last year have been tracked for more than a year, with those cured by treatment with MDMA still feeling the benefits today.

Professor Mitchell said: ‘People in the phase 2 trial were better for years. [They seemed to have a new perspective on life and engaged more. 

‘As their social skill set built up, they were happier over time.’

But she said those in the Phase 3 trial had worse cases of PTSD and therefore may not see as long-lasting results.

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