Why Use MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy For PTSD?

 
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by Owen Poindexter

on April 6, 2015

Recently, Dr. Mark Haden, adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia School of Population and Public Health, compiled a summary of the research that exists on MDMA-assisted therapy as a potential treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While studies have been limited due to extreme restrictions imposed by the United States federal government, the evidence we have points to MDMA’s ability to help reset minds that have been negatively impacted by trauma.

PTSD causes awful experiences to last long after the traumatizing event. Essentially, PTSD sufferers are unable to fully process their trauma, and so the event replays, largely undigested, whenever a person happens to be reminded of their trauma. This robs people of control over their mental stability and wellbeing. Studies have shown that people with PTSD are much more likely to develop other psychiatric issues and are significantly more likely than average to commit suicide. Military veterans are one of the largest groups of PTSD sufferers, and according to statistics gathered by the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs, an average of 22 veterans take their own lives each day in this country.

Widely used pharmaceutical treatments, such as Zoloft and Paxil, do not work for everyone, and many patients report that the prescription options cause feelings of numbness and detachment that can worsen their depression and feelings of isolation (which are both leading reasons people commit suicide). Many patients also develop a tolerance to the more common medications, making them less effective.

With this as backdrop, MDMA offers a promising option for many sufferers for whom the current options are not effective.

Dr. Hayden’s review found that the combination of MDMA and psychotherapy is significantly more effective than therapy alone. He wrote:

“The first research studying MDMA-assisted psychotherapy results demonstrated that there were extremely positive effects on PTSD symptoms (Mithoefer et al., 2011). In this study, an astounding 82% of the participants who received MDMA had a significant reduction of symptoms while only 25% of the participants receiving only psychotherapy achieved this result.”

The report goes on to note that 10 patients in the MDMA group no longer met the criteria for PTSD after the study, whereas only two patients who received psychotherapy alone met this benchmark.

Why would this work? While this area needs more study, the current consensus is that MDMA allows for better processing of difficult emotions and memories, both at a conscious and an unconscious level. Rather than feeling victimized by one’s own psyche, MDMA produces feelings of empowerment and control, allowing one to examine the hurtful memory in a calm state. This gives the person with PTSD the tools to process their trauma, reducing or even ending the cycle of triggering and replaying the memory.

With tens of thousands of veterans traumatized by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, plus countless sufferers of sexual abuse and other traumas, MDMA holds great potential as an answer to this common, debilitating condition. The compound, which is currently consigned to Schedule I status by the U.S. federal government (which by definition means it’s supposed to have no known medical uses), deserves further examination as a medicine. To this end, the second phase of studies looking at MDMA-assisted psychotherapy has been approved, and research is ongoing.

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to advancing research of psychedelics and cannabis, predicts that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy could be a legal, prescription medication within the next six or seven years.