Clinical trials have been underway to see if MDMA, commonly known as Ecstasy, might be effective in providing effective psychotherapy for PTSD sufferers whose conditions have been otherwise treatment-resistant. The use of MDMA in therapy-related settings is not unprecedented. In fact, it was regularly used in psychotherapy before becoming a recreational street drug and being subsequently outlawed in many countries. The results of this most recent study, which was conducted in the UK, have just been published in The Journal of Psychopharmacology. Researchers are planning subsequent work in the United States, Switzerland, Israel, Canada, Spain, and Jordan.
Both in the contemporary study and in past application, MDMA has been effective as a “catalyst” to psychotherapy. Especially in people with severe, treatment-resistant PTSD, the emotional window where treatment can be effective is very difficult to open. Effective psychotherapy involves revisiting the traumatic events, and some patients have numbed themselves, so the therapy doesn’t take hold, while others experience strong flashbacks and other severe reactions when revisiting these memories in a therapeutic setting. MDMA does not inhibit emotions, but does “temporarily reduce fear and increase trust,” which allows the individual to work with the psychiatrist or psychotherapist in a way that had not previously been possible.
The results were consistent and significant. The average length of PTSD affliction for participants was 19 years, and all had tried both therapy and medication, to no avail. By the end of the study, over 80% of the participants did not even meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD, even after years of dealing with the condition. The MDMA was administered in an environment of “concentrated periods of patient-therapist contact,” and patients were thoroughly prepared for, and followed up with after, the treatment. This is just an emerging study, and much more work needs to be done, but so far, no health risks or negative side effects have been documented, which could mean relief from years of struggle for some people living with the most therapy-resistant cases of PTSD.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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