Once known as a club drug, MDMA – commonly referred to as Ecstasy or Molly – is being studied as a potential treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that results from a traumatic experience, like experiencing or witnessing an especially life-threatening, horrifying, or dangerous event.
In addition to combat veterans, there are several other groups (for example, rape victims and emergency responders) who are at higher risk for this condition. PTSD can be characterized by flashbacks to the traumatic event, frightening thoughts, angry outbursts, and exaggerated feelings of guilt or blame, among other symptoms.
According to an article in The Buzz, published by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), it is estimated that eight million adult Americans suffer from PTSD. Around 37 percent of all cases of PTSD are considered severe, which means they are typically resistant to traditional therapy and medications, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and antidepressants.
In November 2016, as a response to treatment-resistant cases of PTSD, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved large-scale Phase 3 clinical trials with MDMA – the last step before a drug can be approved by the FDA for medical use. This represented a major move by the FDA to test the effectiveness of a substance that had been deemed illicit for over 30 years as a pharmaceutical therapy for a very difficult condition to treat.
There are now four FDA-approved studies underway to explore MDMA’s effectiveness in treating severe PTSD. When administered, MDMA is taken in a quiet, secure room, with therapists present. Patients are guided through the experience, and asked to explore issues surrounding their PTSD.
Experts and health officials suggest caution with this new approach, as more data is needed to better understand the effectiveness and long-term side effects of MDMA for treating PTSD. Although the FDA is working towards making MDMA an accessible medication, this move has drawn concern about normalizing its use and reigniting the popularity of a drug with known risks and abuse potential.