New Studies: Could MDMA Therapy Be A Viable PTSD Treatment?
There is still plenty to learn about MDMA therapy, but psychedelic drugs are showing tremendous potential for helping to treat a range of mental health issues. What that means for the future of psychedelics is still unknown, however.
One of the more common mental health issues is undoubtedly PTSD, which became a medically recognized disorder as recently as the 1970’s but affects an inordinate number of people around the world. Once thought of as an issue for soldiers following war and combat traumas, it is now a major concern for millions and often presents itself after experiencing a major traumatic event.
The current treatment option costs can easily climb to high numbers, especially if a patient’s insurance isn’t covering most of the expenses. That’s where recent research involving psychedelic drugs comes into play, proving itself to be potentially cheaper, and a less invasive alternative.
What Is PTSD?
PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a serious mental health condition that people develop after experiencing or witnessing major trauma such as a life-threatening event, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.
Not every traumatic event will develop into PTSD, and the causes of the condition can be more convoluted than first imagined. Indeed, many people experience post-traumatic consequences from issues related to work or relationships. The severity and length of the trauma, previous traumatic exposure, age, gender, and even genetics all play a huge role in developing PTSD. These variables also factor into how to approach treatment.
People who suffer from PTSD all report very similar symptoms. These include the following:
- Feeling unsafe
- Problems with sleep
- Disturbing dreams and nightmares
- Upsetting memories and triggered flashbacks
- Indescribable fear of social events, or people in general
- Extremely negative emotions and feelings
- Random feelings of anger and expressing violence
All of the above symptoms may not be present. Only when a certain pattern of symptoms are present can a proper PTSD diagnosis occur.
The Symptoms To Look For
There are four major types of symptoms relating to PTSD, which can be seen below.
- Re-experiencing or re-living the event
- Avoiding situations that remind you of the event
- Feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal)
- Negative changes in beliefs and feelings
All of the aforementioned PTSD symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event, but they may not even appear until months or years later. If the symptoms last longer than four weeks, cause severe sleeping issues, or interfere with work or home life and a person feels overwhelmed by them, PTSD might be a potential candidate for diagnosis.
Recognizing and acknowledging the symptoms as early as possible is the only way to tackle PTSD, as the longer the person is suffering, the harder it is to get out of the vicious cycle. That’s why it’s not uncommon to develop addictions or other forms of self-medication that, inevitably, only make things worse long-term. Could MDMA therapy be a solution?
Current Treatment Methods
Existing PTSD treatments include different types of trauma psychotherapy (talk therapy) or medication. But MDMA therapy, along with other alternatives like ketamine therapy for PTSD, have shown early signs of potential as well.
Trauma-focused psychotherapies with the best-known results are the following.
- Prolonged Exposure (PE) – Gradual approach to traumatic feelings and experiences.
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) – Teaching approach that uses evaluation of traumatic memories, feelings, and experiences to change the upsetting thoughts and sensations.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) – Back-and-forth movement or sound. The patient recalls upsetting memories until a shift occurs in processing the experience.
On the other hand, current medications include antidepressants, such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors). The most common ones are the following:
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor)
Depending on the insurance provider, these treatments can be expensive. Therefore, they can be hard to choose from and stick to — especially as PTSD symptoms go in and out of remission, coming back after months or years. Alternative, cheaper options often aren’t readily available, which is why MDMA therapy began gaining traction.
PTSD and MDMA Therapy
MDMA is a psychedelic classified as an empathogen, as it causes the release of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. Its history in helping treat PTSD goes back to the 1970s, when psychiatrists experimented with microdosing psychedelics to those suffering from severe trauma. They reported that MDMA therapy decreases defensiveness and anxiety, increases relaxation, and improves mood, all which drastically increases the efficiency of psychotherapy itself.
In the 1980s, research suddenly ceased when the drug became illegal. It wasn’t until 2010 that clinical trials once again began. Early results have been extremely positive, leading to worldwide recognition and easing of restrictions.
Many privatized organizations around the world started recognizing psychedelics treatment as a potential alternative option for treating common mental health issues, including PTSD. Trials eventually started advancing from Phase 1 to Phase 2, and, finally, into Phase 3, where they currently sit.
MDMA Therapy And PTSD Today
The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), received a grant from the FDA in 2019 to advance into Phase 3 trials, and has designated MDMA therapy for PTSD as a Breakthrough Therapy. The two organizations came to an agreement on Phase 3 protocol designs following a rigorous Special Protocol Assessment (SPA) process.
Phase 3 trials should be complete by the end of 2022, and MAPS is undertaking a plan to make MDMA therapy an FDA-approved prescription treatment by 2023.
With positive results from clinical trials, the outlook is strong that some sort of MDMA treatment will be legal in the USA and beyond within the next few years. MDMA therapy is also a cheaper option than current treatment sessions and medications. Therefore, making it accessible to those looking to treat PTSD, but simply cannot afford the existing treatment, is critical.
Current PTSD treatment has not changed drastically in recent years. With MDMA clinical trials showing positive results, it would be hard to imagine it does not become an alternative treatment in the near future.