Ecstasy for PTSD?
The FDA approves clinical trials for medical use of MDMA
Americans suffering from PTSD could soon get treatment from ecstasy
By Tess Owen on Nov 30, 2016
Americans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, may soon be
able to alleviate their symptoms with MDMA, also known as ecstasy.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration green-lighted Phase 3
clinical trials of the otherwise illegal party drug, which is the final step
before potentially approving it for medical use, the New York Times reported.
Researchers have found that the euphoria, decreased inhibition, and contentment
that often come with use of the drug may be beneficial to those who suffer with
PTSD, including military veterans, conflict journalists, and trauma survivors.
Potential psychiatric uses of MDMA have been studied for decades.
In the 1970s, Leo Zeff, a psychologist and former Army colonel, advocated
ecstasy’s benefits within the psychotherapeutic community in California. He
nicknamed the drug “Adam” because he believed it stripped away neuroses and
returned patients to their primordial states.
A 2012 study led by David Nutt, the Edmond J. Safra Professor of
Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College of London, used a brain scan to
show how ecstasy consumption affects emotions. Healthy volunteers were asked to
recall their most painful and favorite memories while undergoing a brain scan.
Activity in the limbic system — which controls the part of the brain involved
in emotional response — decreased among volunteers who had taken ecstasy,
rather than a placebo, when recalling negative, scary, or unhappy memories. In
contrast, joyful memories were experienced more intensely and vividly by the
volunteers who had taken ecstasy.
Nutt cautioned against “drawing too many conclusions from a study in healthy
This study followed another in the U.S. that same year, conducted by the
Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.
Ecstasy is classified as a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency,
meaning it is viewed as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high
potential for abuse.”
Abuse can be lethal. One U.K. study examined all 202 ecstasy-related deaths in
the country between 1996 and 2002. Of those, three out of four victims were
under the age of 29. In 17 percent of those deaths, ecstasy was the only drug
implicated; the remainders were situations where the victim had combined
ecstasy consumption with another drug, such as cocaine or opiates.
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