Naturally, when people are seeking out new treatments, one of the first questions is going to be whether or not the treatment is going to be effective. MDMA is a hot topic right now in the psychotherapy realm because it is being studied as a potential new solution for the ongoing battle against PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. As professionals begin to understand the need for a more holistic approach, the efforts are ramping up to find the best answer.
Part of those efforts includes the ongoing studies that involve the use of MDMA in treating PTSD symptoms and assisting with the therapeutic process. These studies are ongoing but there is enough research at present to be taken to the FDA for approval, which is being done. Although no one can speculate as to whether or when the Food and Drug Administration will approve this treatment, we can say that it seems to offer promise as a solution, based on the research.
Read on to learn all about MDMA for PTSD and how it works, as well as the fact that MDMA is not ecstasy, and is actually a quite useful psychoactive medication that has shown little to no adverse effect thus far. First up, let’s talk a little more about PTSD, and then we’ll get into the details of how MDMA is being used for PTSD treatment.
Understanding PTSD: A Brief Overview
PTSD is a very complex condition and there is still much research ongoing as to how it affects people and what potential solutions are available. Still, the basics are fairly well-understood and they’re pretty simple to grasp. Albeit complex, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is just a combination of mental, emotional, and physical symptoms caused by experiencing a seriously traumatic, life-altering event.
The problem in classifying the “events” that can cause this is that some people might have different thresholds or respond differently to situations. Thus, what results in severe PTSD for one person may only be a mild trauma for someone else. This condition can occur in soldiers returning from war, which is one of the more extreme examples. It can occur on a much smaller scale in a mother who experienced a miscarriage, a spouse who lost their partner unexpectedly, and so forth.
What constitutes the diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder isn’t the situation or event that it stems from, but the symptoms that are being experienced and that are interfering with people’s daily lives. In most cases, symptoms are bothersome and anxiety-inducing. In extreme cases, some people may be physically affected or even unable to function because they are so affected by the condition or the event that occurred to them. Common symptoms of PTSD include:
- Intense distress or anxiety at certain triggers or reminders
- Physical pain, sweating, nausea, and tremors
- Flashbacks and intrusive thoughts
- Insomnia or trouble sleeping
- Depression and anxiety (or an increase in them)
- Irritability and being on edge
- Explosive or angry episodes
- Self-destructive behavior
- Easily startled or jumpy
- Lack of focus or inability to function in day-to-day activities
As you can see, this condition can have a huge impact on your life in a variety of ways.
PTSD Compounds Other Conditions
It probably goes without saying, for most, that when you already have mental health issues or addiction concerns, for example, that PTSD is only going to add to the struggle. This condition is often described as being “chronically panicked and on edge”, so someone who has this alongside depression can also feel overwhelmed by all of the stress and emotions, compounding both conditions and requiring a very specific solution to get results.
Because of the stronghold that this condition can have on the mind and body, solutions like MDMA were considered by experts in the hope to help loosen the grip of PTSD on patients so that they could start to heal. So far, the studies are showing promise.
How Can MDMA Help?
To understand the use of MDMA for PTSD treatment and support, you first have to understand how MDMA works. This “drug” is not what you think– most people associate it with ecstasy and other club drugs, but the reality is quite different. First of all, the street versions often have very little, if any, 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) and are instead made with various adulterants and other ingredients.
While street drugs like ecstasy have shown to have serious and often damaging effects on the neurological system, MDMA has proven itself to be a safe, non-addictive solution in some clinical studies that have been done thus far. Furthermore, studies are beginning to show that when combined with psychotherapy, MDMA might just provide the results people are looking for.
MDMA was initially created to assist with bleeding control in the early 1900s. It is classified as an “empathogen” and is a psychoactive substance that is not the same as ecstasy, as mentioned above. By the 1980s, the drug was starting to see use for assistance in treating PTSD7, a severe disorder specifically focused on fearing for your life or safety, or that of those around them.
When combined with therapy and other approaches, MDMA may prove to be effective because it is capable of decreasing anxiety and defensiveness, improving mood, and increasing relaxation when taken in appropriate doses. It has shown to allow patients to establish stronger relationships with therapists and others, too, since it allows them to “let their guard down” a little.
People suffering from this condition are in a constantly-heightened state of anxiety and awareness. It’s about time someone realized the first step should be to find a way to bring them back down a little. MDMA is the best contender for that at the moment.
The Potential Benefits of MDMA
The reason that this medication is proving to be a leading choice is that it offers many different benefits. Studies have a lot yet to show, but the discoveries so far have been quite promising. For starters, this drug or its use in the creation of another medication will increase empathy in the patient/therapist relationship, allowing patients to better connect with their therapists and be less detached.
Being detached and emotionally shut down is a serious side effect of PTSD and one that often causes the healing process to take that much longer. Finding the way to get through to people used to be the main focus of treatment, but now it seems that breaking that barrier can be the launching point for a better recovery, thanks to the potential of MDMA treatment for PTSD.
MDMA works uniquely, affecting the dopamine, serotonin, and alpha-2 receptors in the brain. It also helps increase the release of oxytocin in the body, which is the part that is believed to assist with bonding and establishing empathy.
MDMA-assisted treatment for PTSD can offer:
- Quicker recovery from emotional traumas
- Better therapy sessions and a better patient/therapist relationship
- Relief from chronic and ongoing stress as a result of PTSD
- Less risk and potential danger than some antipsychotic and psychoactive medications currently used for anxiety, PTSD, and their related symptoms
Again, this is still a relatively new option, but the fact that it’s ready for FDA consideration and approval should tell you that it’s well on its way to becoming a useful tool in the PTSD treatment arsenal.
The Total Treatment Approach
Too often, recovery plans and therapeutic treatment goals only focus on one or two areas of the issue. For example, psychoactive medications might be able to alleviate the physical symptoms of PTSD, but they aren’t going to help resolve the emotional trauma. Part of the problem in the PTSD crisis is just this– people are only treating part of the condition or they are treating it in pieces and parts, rather than as a collective whole.
Using MDMA therapy along with counseling and other PTSD therapies and treatments can help embrace the concept of a total solution to provide management of the condition as a whole. Studies with MDMA didn’t start as a means to simply cure the physical and psychological symptoms of PTSD. It was about creating the perfect holistic treatment management for people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to give them a better chance at recovery once and for all.
When treating a complex condition like this, a plan needs to be created that addresses all of the major issues, symptoms, and impacts that are being had on the individual’s life and wellbeing. Rather than just taking medication for anxiety or to assist with sleep, we believe a total approach is the better option, focusing on things like:
- A dynamic treatment plan that includes psychotherapy, medications, and treatments (if necessary), aftercare, learning resources and support, and other tools.
- Providing people with a foundation for healing and taking back control of their mind and emotions for total wellness, not just PTSD relief.
- Innovative options and solutions that can help enhance the brain’s own ability to process trauma and heal for better, quicker outcomes.
- A consultation that allows people to sit down and discuss their situation and be involved in creating the best treatment plan for their situation.
Whether or not MDMA will become a routine part of this treatment remains to be seen. However, it has shown promise and many people are looking forward to adding this option to their services and helping people in a new way.
Faster Treatment and Better Outcomes
In one study, as many as 85% of people who were using MDMA-assisted psychotherapy reported that they no longer had a PTSD diagnosis after three sessions. For people who have spent years trying to resolve their traumas, three sessions is nothing. Of course, this study was small and limited, so it may not be indicative of the overall potential.
Still, even if this treatment can help people find relief in a handful of sessions or get them further along in the healing process faster, it’s going to be a big game-changer. Some studies have shown minimal success, but again like anything, further testing needs to be done and we need to bear in mind that every person will respond differently to this and other therapies for PTSD.
There Has to Be a Better Way
Currently, people are suggested to attend at least 6-12 weeks of talk therapy, but the fact of the matter is that there are people who spend years battling this condition. Family and friends can be a valuable asset to recovery, but again you run into the issue that emotions are blocked off and people find it hard to reconnect. This can cause either the sufferer or their family members to disengage and that can exacerbate the situation.
The ongoing crisis with figuring out how to treat this condition can be seen all over in the world around us:
- Spouses getting divorced because of the loss of a child
- Veterans ending up homeless because they can’t control or get the right help for their PTSD symptoms
- Spouses getting divorced because only one experienced the trauma
- Families and friendships breaking up because the individual isolates themselves or people feel helpless
- Increased drug use, including opioid and heroin addictions and alcoholism, as a result of trying to “deal” with PTSD
- Increased suicide rates in those diagnosed with PTSD or who have experienced a traumatic event
It’s clear that the biggest problem here is that these people feel cut off from the rest of the world. Their experience has put them in a unique position where they are disconnected (or so they think) from everyone, living in a different world entirely at times. This can be taxing enough, but when you compound it with the already-present PTSD symptoms, it only gets worse.
If people don’t feel like help is out there and waiting with open arms, they aren’t going to seek it out, in most cases. With the addition of MDMA, people can have assistance in breaking down that barrier and letting others back inside to assist them in the healing process. It’s not a perfect science, by any means, but it sure is a promising start.
What to Expect
Although MDMA for PTSD treatment is not yet readily available, it is waiting for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which means that it’s almost there. Studies are continuing with plenty of variables factored in, and the industry’s best are watching to see what happens with this unique drug. We should also reiterate that the clinical use of MDMA is completely separate from the recreational use of drugs like ecstasy, and illicit drug use is never recommended as a solution.
MDMA used for short-term psychotherapy sessions, in limited doses, shows promise. It may never be given its full potential until the ban is lifted and it becomes approved by the FDA, but the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter. Currently, MDMA is banned in the US and the UK, and that makes it difficult to procure for testing. This is part of what has taken so long, and perhaps the biggest hindrance in getting sweeping FDA approval for the use of MDMA for PTSD treatment.
Getting to the Root of the Problem
With MDMA, it will be possible for patients to open up and discover the biggest parts of the trauma that are affecting them. Then, they will be able to work through and process these issues so that they can move forward with their life. This is the pretense of the studies and the implication of use in psychotherapy, and it proves to be a valid claim, thus far, in most cases.
People who suffer from PTSD feel like they cannot do anything about their beliefs, feelings, emotions, or physical and mental symptoms. They are exhausted from never feeling “at peace” and living in a constant state of anxiety and being overwhelmed. It can be stressful living in a world where you are constantly blaming yourself and questioning everything. When you also question the treatment options available to you, it can become dangerous.
This is where the experts hope that MDMA can come in and provide relief. As you’ve seen throughout this article, there is a lot of promise in this therapy and it is well on its way to FDA approval, which is hopeful for everyone who has yet to find a better way. By treating each person individually and coming up with a comprehensive treatment plan that starts with helping them break down barriers, the outcomes of PTSD treatment are showing a much better future.
If you’re interested in a comprehensive approach to the treatment of PTSD and similar conditions with innovative therapies, you can rest assured that there is a better way. Contact us today to learn more about PTSD treatment options and how our team of specialists can help.