New findings from a number of studies suggest that MDMA (3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) — the active ingredient in the street drug Ecstasy — can be incredibly helpful in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and a United States nonprofit is set to undertake many studies to explore this.
American researchers in South Carolina tested 20 people, mostly women suffering from childhood abuse and rape, who received a combination of the drug and psychotherapy. Their findings show that 10 out of 12 — or 83 percent — of the patients who were given MDMA were cured in two months.
The surprising results, coupled with a rising demand for PTSD treatment in the U.S. and the United Kingdom, is reviving research into how mental illnesses can be treated with the hallucinogens that were criminalized by Western governments only after the war on drugs gained momentum in the 1960s and 1970s.
Leading the cutting-edge — and controversial — research is a Santa Cruz, California-based group called the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).
The nonprofit research institution is currently in the middle of implementing a 10-year, US$10 million plan to make MDMA into an FDA-approved prescription medicine for PTSD. It was this group that supported the South Carolina trial that came out with astonishing results.
Disabling mental illness
PTSD, the disabling anxiety disorder afflicts survivors of child abuse and rape as well as war veterans and other people who see or live through violence, dangerous and life-threatening events.
Most often, people who suffer from PTSD are psychologically incapacitated by flashbacks, intrusive memories, nightmares, and overwhelming feelings of fear, anger, sadness, guilt and pain.
Daily life for a PTSD sufferer is an uphill struggle, disrupted by these strong emotions, as well as mental problems like trouble concentrating and memory problems. They are burdened by overall feelings of hopelessness over the future. PTSD sufferers have difficulty maintaining close relationships. Some of them even end up seeing and hearing things that are not there.
Up to 100 percent of children who have endured sexual assault or abuse, or have seen a parent killed, tend to develop PTSD, psychiatrists say. More than one-third of youths who are exposed to a shooting, stabbing, or other assault will suffer from the disorder.
Also at risk are combat veterans: As of 2005, more than 200,000 U.S. veterans were receiving disability compensation for this illness, costing taxpayers US$4.3 billion in disability pay, the defense department says.
PTSD is “an extraordinarily disabling condition (but) we don’t have any really effective treatments,” says controversial British psychopharmacologist Dr. David Nutt, who headed the U.K. government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs up until the former health minister sacked him in 2009 for objecting in public to stricter laws against marijuana.
“In order to deal with trauma, (victims) have to be able to re-engage with the memory and then deal with it. For many people, as soon as the memory comes into consciousness, so does the fear and disgust,” he points out.
10 years, US$10 million
Under its 10-year, US$10 million-plan, MAPS is exploring whether MDMA-assisted psychotherapy has the potential to heal the psychological and emotional damage caused by child abuse, sexual assault, war, violent crime and other traumas.
“Our highest priority project is funding clinical trials of MDMA as a therapeutic tool to assist psychotherapy for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD),” the activist nonprofit said in its website.
“Preliminary studies have shown that MDMA in conjunction with psychotherapy can help people overcome PTSD, and possibly other disorders as well,” it said. “MDMA—known to scientists as 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine has ‘empathogenic’ effects—meaning that it increases feelings of trust and compassion towards others,” the group said.