Researchers have reported results from a phase 3 clinical trial for treating PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, with a combination of psychotherapy and MDMA, a psychedelic drug referred to on the street as “molly,” or “ecstasy”.
The preliminary results indicate that the treatment works even in hard-to-treat patients, such as individuals with alcohol or drug use disorders. MDMA is an empathogen, which triggers the release of oxytocin that produces feelings of closeness and trust that could help in a therapeutic setting. Animal research has also indicated that MDMA can help with the processing of fear memories in a brain area known as the amygdala.
The researchers wanted to know if MDMA could increase the efficacy of psychotherapy for treating PTSD, a condition characterized by nightmares, amnesia, and flashbacks associated with a traumatic event. PTSD affects countless individuals every year, usually witnesses and survivors of shocking or terrifying events, such as disasters, assaults, or warfare.
Individuals with PTSD have a higher risk of substance use disorders, anxiety, depression, and suicide. SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, are the first-line medications usually used for PTSD but are only effective in approximately 50% of sufferers. And many individuals with PTSD either fail to respond or stop attending psychotherapy sessions.
For the study, 90 individuals with severe PTSD were enrolled in the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study for therapy combined with MDMA for treating this disorder. The researchers had already determined the ideal oral MDMA dosage in earlier phase 2 studies, which consisted of a full dose, then a half dose sixty minutes later. The individuals went to an 8-hour therapy session following the half dose in the phase 3 trial. This process was repeated twice, a month apart each time, together with weekly therapy sessions.
Approximately 60% of individuals who received the MDMA and therapy combination no longer met the diagnostic conditions for PTSD 2 months following the final session, in comparison to a third of individuals who received therapy plus placebo. MDMA side effects such as nausea jaw and clenching were minimal, without any indication of addiction.
Despite these encouraging outcomes, the researchers emphasize that individuals with PTSD shouldn’t try to self-medicate with MDMA.
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