Approximately 18 percent of U.S. soldiers returning from the Iraq and Afghan wars in the first decade of the 21st century have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition characterized by debilitating anxiety. New research published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology investigated the safety and efficacy of MDMA, a controlled substance known on the street as “ecstasy,” for treatment of PTSD. The researchers found 58 percent of subjects experienced improved symptoms compared to placebo.
This double-blind pilot study involved 20 test subjects. To be eligible, they had to meet all the criteria for crime or war-related chronic PTSD. Their symptoms had to be moderate to severe, as well as resistant to at least three months of prior treatment with traditional PTSD drugs. The researchers split the test subjects into two groups. In the experimental group, 12 subjects underwent two 8-hour psychotherapy sessions while dosed with MDMA. In the control group, 8 subjects underwent two eight-hour psychotherapy sessions while dosed with a placebo.
To measure the outcomes, the researchers used the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS) test to assess the subjects’ symptoms before treatment, four days after treatment, and two months after treatment. At all three measured points in time, 10 of the 12 MDMA-treated patients (83 percent) showed a clinical response to the treatment, whereas only two of the eight placebo-treated patients (25 percent) did.
Furthermore, those in the placebo group were offered to be treated with MDMA after they completed the first trial and 100 percent no longer met the criteria for PTSD. An unexpected result of the study was the return of three participants to work, who were previously unable due to PTSD symptoms. Treatment with MDMA was safe, though subjects showed elevated blood pressure and body temperature while on the drug, these effects did not last.
PTSD poses a significant risk to those afflicted with it. Traditional drug therapy for PTSD effectively treats about 45 to 47 percent of the patients. Victims of the condition tend to experience much higher incidences of disability, emotional suffering, drug abuse, and suicide. The researchers suspected that MDMA might help PTSD patients because the drug is known to “decrease feelings of fear while maintaining a clear-headed, alert state of consciousness.”
This pilot study had a small sample size, so more research is required to confirm its findings. Do not, under any circumstances, self-medicate with MDMA. Effective treatment with the drug requires administration by professionals in a controlled therapeutic environment.
There are many accessible routes to treating PTSD, including medication, psychotherapy, and EMDR.