MDMA has been used in PTSD treatment research since 2017, with promising results. While generally known as a rave drug, MDMA was first developed for psychotherapy before being banned due to limited medical usage and its reputation as a party drug. However, emerging research shows that psychedelics like MDMA can help people with post-traumatic stress better recover from their experiences and heal emotionally.
Post-traumatic stress disorder has a lifetime prevalence of roughly 3.6 percent, meaning about one in thirty people will develop PTSD at some point in their lives. Meanwhile, roughly every other person experiences a traumatic or harrowing event. Individual susceptibility to PTSD can be a question of context, aftercare, support, and personality.
Learning to manage and treat that stress is important. Long-term PTSD can cause wear-and-tear on the body and mind alike, straining a person’s fight-or-flight response, and their resilience against other mental and physical health conditions.
Unlike anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication, there are no medications specifically targeting the effects of PTSD. The first line of treatment for PTSD is an individualized talk therapy program.
MDMA was originally developed for psychotherapy in the 1970s before becoming a staple in the rave scene. While unsupervised use of MDMA can be dangerous, it sees medical usage in multiple countries and is currently undergoing trials for clinical use in the US.
Although primarily a stimulant, MDMA is also mildly psychedelic and is described as an empathogen – meaning, it boosts a person’s sense of empathy, connectedness, or even oneness. Its psychedelic and entactogenic effects are largely why it has been found effective in studies for the treatment of post-traumatic stress.
MDMA is not a miracle drug by any means. Although its addictive potential is low, the drug is dangerous in part because of how widespread it is as a party drug, and because of the common practice of “cutting” designer drugs with other substances to cut costs or increase potency, often with no regard for how different compounds might mix or cause adverse reactions.
MDMA is not being explored as a one-pill solution to PTSD, either, but as a treatment aid within a structured talk therapy plan due to its mild psychedelic and empathogenic effects. But how strong is the foundation of research for MDMA as a PTSD treatment?
MDMA Therapy for PTSD
Modern-day drug testing consists of an extreme array of hoops for research and development teams to jump through. For a drug to be approved by the FDA requires not just high-quality data, but a lot of funding. Thankfully, MDMA’s potential in the treatment of PTSD is serious enough to warrant the highest standard: a series of randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies.
The results are impressive. MDMA has been described as a potential breakthrough in the treatment of PTSD. Other research papers and articles point out that MDMA is inching closer towards FDA approval.
Does that mean that taking MDMA can cure your PTSD? No.
MDMA’s use in the treatment of PTSD focuses on its effects on patient agreeability and connectedness in a dyadic patient-therapist setting. Meaning, MDMA shows great potential as a tool to help people achieve better progress and much better outcomes while undergoing psychotherapy for their stress disorder.
It does not mean that MDMA itself “cures” PTSD. Rather, its usage resulted in better outcomes than therapy without MDMA, or a placebo.
However, until the FDA approves a scheduled drug for the treatment of PTSD, it remains an unapproved and unsanctioned treatment option. This means that no doctor can prescribe MDMA for psychotherapy in the treatment of PTSD, and no health insurance policy will cover the drug.
While that may change soon, it’s important to point out that all research into the potential for psychedelics in the treatment of PTSD and other mental health issues relied on controlled environments and the expertise and supervision of medical professionals.
In other words – if you’re interested in seeking treatment for PTSD or other treatment-resistant mental health issues with potential psychedelic therapies, do so only through the services of a trained and certified medical practitioner in a country or territory where it is legal, with the approval of your own doctor. Or, more practically, wait for the FDA to make its move.
Safety and Efficacy
MDMA was first developed for use in psychotherapy but became popular in the rave scene during the 1980s. Because the drug was still new (only about a decade old), it had not received FDA approval, and its popularity as a party drug saw it banned as a scheduled substance soon thereafter. Other countries followed suit, and MDMA remained mostly sold in the form of a colorful pill amid loud music and plenty of alcohol.
Since then, we have had ample time to dissect the short- and long-term effects of MDMA on the mind and body. Emergency room statistics show that about one in 20,000 to one in 50,000 instances of MDMA use result in death. Most deaths reportedly caused by MDMA involved dehydration and increased body temperature.
However, MDMA use has a low to moderate risk of addiction. Chemically, MDMA is structured similarly to endogenous neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine (noradrenaline), as well as the drug methamphetamine.
This is an important consideration for people who struggle with PTSD in addition to a substance use disorder. A history of addiction is a risk factor for future substance use issues, so even a moderate liability can make MDMA a risky substance to include in PTSD treatments for certain patients.
MDMA as a tool for therapy in PTSD cases shows that certain psychedelic substances have great potential as a supplemental element in talk therapy. But for people with a history of drug use issues, the inclusion of MDMA in a PTSD treatment plan may be counterproductive. If the drug becomes FDA-approved, it’s important to discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor.
A comprehensive treatment plan should incorporate the benefits of a variety of treatment options, including psychedelics for certain therapy methods. We at the Ho Tai Way provide different recovery programs for women and offer psychedelic integration – through FDA-approved medication – wherever appropriate. We focus on delivering compassionate care. Give us a call today to begin your healing journey.