PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a condition that affects billions of people around the world. To date, there is little in the way of effective treatment that doesn’t require years of medications, therapies, and other possible methods to help alleviate the symptoms and resolve the root trauma. Due to the insurgence of PTSD cases in light of recent international conflicts and general traumas in the world around us, new research and studies have been ongoing.
One of those, and one of significant interest because of its potential, is the study of MDMA for PTSD treatment. MDMA is not what you think, probably– most people hear “MDMA” and think of ecstasy and other club drugs. We’ll get into the details in a little bit, but for now, just know that they are not the same.
First, let’s look at MDMA and what it is, as well as what it can do for PTSD treatment. Then, we’ll look at the potential benefits and the reasons that PTSD sufferers need better options, as well as what the future holds. Innovative therapies are changing the landscape every day, and it’s important to stay informed so that you know all of your options.
What Is MDMA?
MDMA, or 3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, is attributed to success in use for PTSD because it works to affect the release of oxytocin in the brain, as well as affecting the serotonin and dopamine receptors. This allows the body to release more “happy” chemicals, and specifically, when the oxytocin is released, the brain may be more capable of facilitating empathy and bonding.
MDMA is a psychoactive medication that is known as an empathogen. The details of how it works exactly are still ongoing, but by stimulating these areas of the brain, it is believed to help remove the panic and stress that comes with PTSD, as well as to allow people to set aside the feeling that they can’t trust anyone or anything. This is perhaps the biggest hindrance to treating the condition and it’s a giant paradox:
People need support from family, friends, and professionals, but often don’t feel like they can trust even their closest connections. This causes them to isolate themselves and even when they try to seek help, they may not be successful because they are unable to connect with people and break down that communication barrier. Being able to address this one issue could change the landscape for PTSD treatment and the future for millions.
Of course, MDMA is banned in the US and the UK, based on historic issues, so the testing is a slow process and one that is getting mixed reviews across the board. Part of the issue is that there is so much misinformation about this drug and its connection to illicit drugs, but as you’re about to learn, the two are not the same, in any capacity.
Find out how MDMA differs from these drugs and what it can do to assist with PTSD treatment below.
MDMA Is NOT Ecstasy
It’s important to reiterate this fact. Because MDMA is banned in the US and UK, there is a lot of misinformation out there that studies are being done on “ecstasy for PTSD treatment”. That’s not the case at all. Club drugs like ecstasy and Molly are mostly adulterants of this and other ingredients, and they are not going to work in the same way to assist with PTSD relief. In fact, you should never use illicit drugs to treat any medical condition. They are illegal for a reason.
If you find the right treatment partner, you will be able to find a solution that provides you with great results without even needing to consider other potentially dangerous methods. The illicit drugs on the market today are in no way related to actual MDMA– after all, the substance is banned. It’s impossibly hard to get a hold of. Today’s ecstasy and other similar club drugs are made from a variety of other amphetamines and psychoactive drugs to produce a euphoric high.
MDMA is used in limited instances, during a controlled talk therapy session, to allow people to let down their boundaries and let their therapist make a better connection. No one is “getting high” and there are no illegal drugs involved in the process. People need to understand this because otherwise, it will never be accepted as a possible alternative therapy for PTSD treatment.
The Case for MDMA Assisted Psychotherapy
While many studies still need to be done and more research is ongoing, there is still a growing case that is proving this may be an effective treatment. After all, if it is on its way to FDA approval, it’s sure to have something to offer.
The NIMH publication on MDMA for PTSD treatment is skeptical, at best, awaiting the results of further studies and approval, but noting that since the substance is banned, it may take longer to procure samples for testing and be able to prove this to be a value-added treatment. It’s a long, complex process that involves a lot of red tape and healthcare hurdles, but it’s not one that you really need to worry about.
Your focus needs to be on the studies out there and the results that they have shown thus far. What we’re seeing is that when used in limited doses during talk therapy sessions, MDMA is showing promise as an assistive aid to improve the healing process of PTSD. This unique substance works by altering the state of alertness in the brain– releasing more positive chemicals allows the brain to let down its guard for a little while so that people can actually work through the issues that are plaguing them.
Studies are new and ongoing, but the results do show promise. In most studies, patients saw good results with this therapy when done in a controlled setting and combined with a total treatment plan for PTSD. When people are plagued by the fear and feelings of isolation that come from this condition, it can be hard to even fathom that there is help out there, let alone that it will provide relief without years of work and stress on the part of the patient.
Because of public opinion and government guidelines, it could be difficult to see MDMA fully-realized as a treatment for PTSD. However, as the studies continue to show promise, it is likely that the ban may be reconsidered and that a specific treatment regimen using MDMA for PTSD will be established by the FDA and other regulating authorities to provide people with a solution that works for them.
The FDA Approval Process: What’s Next?
This drug began being studied for use in psychotherapy and PTSD treatment as far back as the 1980s. However, it wasn’t until recently that a genuine commitment to the study of this solution was made. Between the difficulty of procuring MDMA in the first place, along with the fact that testing is so strict because of the substance being banned, the process was slow-going and many thought they would never be able to realize their efforts.
Nonetheless, they kept on, and now they have finally reached a point where there have been enough studies done and enough information gathered that they agreed to expand the program for more trials and studies done under the FDA program directly. On December 20, 2019, the FDA agreed to the expanded access program that can provide further testing for investigational therapies using MDMA for PTSD treatment.
Expanded access refers to the programs through the U.S. FDA that allow the use of certain investigational drugs under strict Treatment Protocols. It is designed to assist with life-threatening and urgent conditions for those who don’t have promising options available for treatment. The studies will be set up and completed per the FDA guidelines and then the information will be gathered for review.
While the existing studies help set the stage for this new testing, they are not enough to warrant approval. Only after the FDA sees complete studies done under its own parameters will they consider adding this therapy to the approved treatment list for PTSD.
The Benefits of MDMA for PTSD Treatment
Using MDMA for the treatment of PTSD has several potential advantages, some of which we’ve briefly covered above. Primarily, this drug reacts with the body in a way that allows it to produce or “unblock” the empathy emotion, which can help people establish better relationships in therapy and sort through their traumas more effectively since they have their “walls down”, so to speak. Some studies have shown that people see significant improvement and complete resolution in some cases, in as little as three to six sessions.
For those who have spent years struggling with PTSD and trying to find the right solution, this can be a huge benefit. It’s a battle that no one wants to fight alone, but they often don’t know how to ask for help. People feel isolated and cut off as it is and find it hard to connect with those who didn’t go through the trauma with them. In some cases, even sharing that trauma isn’t enough to keep people connected.
Take, for example, the case of spouses who lose a young child– in many instances, the PTSD and trauma go undealt with and the couples end up having some type of marital distress, if not divorcing and moving on with entirely separate lives. The use of MDMA assisted psychotherapy is designed to help people restore those connections, both within themselves and with others, to process and resolve the trauma so they can move forward with their lives.
MDMA will basically “take the edge off” so that people can give themselves the chance to heal. It’s not a perfect science, yet, but the studies are showing that it allows people to build empathy and establish better relationships with their therapist. Having this kind of trust and vulnerability is essential to helping PTSD sufferers realize that they can overcome this and that people are there to help them every step of the way.
The Serious Consequences of Untreated PTSD
Some people spend their whole lives trying to figure out how to resolve their PTSD issues. They may spend years in therapy, try tons of medications, and consider alternative routes that get minimal results if any. This can be discouraging, but people need to know that they aren’t alone. The biggest problem with PTSD treatment is that there isn’t enough known about it, but the medical industry is starting to take notice and do something about it.
PTSD has plagued the world for decades, and centuries even, and because of its complexities it has been hard to nail down an effective solution. This approach with MDMA is taking a new angle, which is changing the conversation. In short order, the only remaining hindrance to successful PTSD recovery will be people’s willingness to get treatment in the first place. After all, that’s the paradox of this fear-based condition. People need help, but they feel too isolated or guilty to ask for it.
Think about all of the big consequences from the PTSD stories that you’ve heard over the years:
- Homelessness due to an inability to work and function normally
- Loss of family and other relationships due to an inability to connect
- Loss of jobs, homes, and livelihoods
- Domestic disputes and serious crimes of passion as a result of PTSD
- Crimes committed by those in the dissociative state of PTSD
This isn’t just another condition that makes people anxious and sad. PTSD is very serious and it needs to be addressed as such. Now that the community is aware of that, the future is getting brighter. However, until recently, there was just as much stigma about treating PTSD as there was about not treating it, so it’s been hard to find the right path. That has resulted in way worse consequences for many people that could have been avoided if only they felt like there was someone that could help them.
By combining something like MDMA with other therapies for PTSD treatment to create a comprehensive treatment plan, many people may see increased success in their recovery, shortened recovery times, and a better chance to get their lives back on track without creating too much damage in the meantime. No longer will people have to struggle to get help or even feel like they deserve it, and they can get that jump start on reconnecting with the world around them to help them heal.
MDMA offers the potential for a treatment plan that is:
- Quicker and less time-consuming
- More direct at addressing the issues
- Designed to be customized to individual needs
- Going to break down barriers sooner
- Going to offer a better outcome by addressing the issues rather than treating the symptoms
At best, leaving PTSD untreated can make life difficult. Sad days, anxious days, and struggles with trust will continue for many years. At worst, people can lose everything to PTSD, including their homes, their families, and even their lives. The suicide rates for PTSD are a lot more alarming than many people might realize. Fortunately, people are paying attention and there is a lot more hope than ever before.
The Future Is Bright
Even if MDMA approval is a ways off, the fact that the spotlight is now on PTSD treatment and helping people find relief is enough for some. After all, for decades, people have been struggling to maintain life, winding up homeless or facing a lifelong battle with mental health, and trying to figure out how to fix something when they don’t trust anyone to help them. Breaking down that “nothing is safe” mentality is the first step to helping people get the relief that they need.
If people can be shown, even in small instances, that they can trust someone to assist them in working through the trauma, the results are sure to be much better for the future of treating PTSD, with or without MDMA. Using MDMA in psychotherapy, however, will break down that empathy barrier and give people the tools that they need, it seems, according to early studies and results.
Moreover, the risks and side effects are minimal, at best, in most of the studies that have been done. The use of this drug is considered an assistive therapy, and not a cure, which is important to differentiate. With the right approval and in the right implications, this may prove to change the future of PTSD treatment for those who are struggling to find relief through traditional methods. Plus, it can save people from a lifetime of medications and unnecessary struggles, so what’s to lose?
Although MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is not yet approved, we do work with a variety of assistive and innovative therapies for PTSD and other conditions. Contact us now to discuss your needs and how we can help you take back control of your life and get the support that you deserve.