The only people who know how utterly exhausting and overwhelmingly difficult it is to heal from PTSD are the ones who have it. Intensely severe anxiety barely scratches the surface when trying to describe what PTSD is like. From panic attacks while awake and nightmares when asleep, PTSD can be seriously debilitating.
PTSD develops in some people after they’ve been exposed to extreme psychological trauma. Things like sexual abuse, physical abuse, rape, torture, being kidnapped, plane crashes, natural disasters, and car accidents can all trigger the disorder, but it’s people who’ve engaged in war and active combat that have really brought the subject to light.
It’s believed that 1 in 8 soldiers who return from war will experience some sort of PTSD. For some symptoms go away in a few months, but for others life can become a horrendous experience. The VA’s answer to fixing the trauma so many soldiers experience is usually antidepressants, but for most these do little but numb the pain.
A New Solution
There is hope, however, and it’s coming from a drug that the FDA has labelled as “having no medicinal value.” It’s called MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, and is scheduled to soon start Phase 3 FDA clinical trials. If these trials go well (which many people are sure they will), MDMA may soon be available at your local pharmacy sold as prescription medication.
This new decision springs from previous trials conducted with MDMA, as well as the most recent studies performed in Charleston, SC. These two trials concentrated on patients who had suffered from PTSD symptoms for an average of 17 years. It included those that didn’t respond to traditional post-traumatic treatments. Participants included firefighters, combat vets, assault victims, and police officers.
According to Dr. Michael Mithoefer who performed the study with his wife Alice, the “remarkable improvement” that was seen in participants is “sometimes” seen in traditional therapy, but it takes years (if it happens at all). He believes that MDMA “works as a catalyst that speeds up the natural healing process.”
The results of the study showed that after three doses of MDMA, participants in the study reported a 56 percent decrease in symptoms. When the study was over, two-thirds of patients no longer had PTSD, with these results lasting over a year. Because the outcomes of these trials have exemplified such excellent results in the treatment of PTSD, in November the FDA announced they would be moving forward with trials that will be the deciding factor.
According to Dr. Charles R. Marmar, a leading PTSD researcher and head of psychiatry at New York University’s Langone School of Medicine, even the best treatments currently available don’t work for 30-40 percent of the people. He says he is “cautious, but hopeful” about the results of the recent studies that prompted the FDA to take action. But he also makes it clear that MDMA does hold the possibility for abuse.
Speculation from Others
Other scientist hold similar beliefs. There are those that are concerned if MDMA is legalized for PTSD therapy, it will incite more illegal use. Andrew Parrott, who has studied the effects of ecstasy on the brain believes that “it sends the message that this drug will help solve your problems, when it often just creates problems.” Parrott, who is a psychologist at Swansea University in Wales, believes that approval by the FDA could lead to abuse similar with what we’re currently seeing with opioids.
While these speculations are certainly warranted, MDMA is showing to be almost miraculous when it comes to treating PTSD. And for those that suffer from this often unbearable condition, nothing could provide more hope. The proposed approval sent to the FDA by researchers, MDMA would be used as part of a larger therapy program. It would be administered by a trained psychotherapist and used only a certain number of times during the course of treatment.
How MDMA Works
MDMA floods the brain with hormones and neurotransmitters that make people feel good. It offers the feelings of wellbeing that many people with PTSD have lost and shows them that there is a way out of the darkness. Not only does the drug invoke positive feelings of love and trust, but also helps to silence the negative memories, fear, and panic that are all common is post-traumatic stress sufferers.
One patient that took part in the study said it “changed his life.” Before treatment he had tried more or less every treatment available, including a dozen various medications. Nothing worked, and he eventually found himself as a divorced alcoholic living out in the backwoods of North Carolina. He gave up…until he participated in this recent study. It’s because the drug allowed him to “see (his) trauma without fear or hesitation” that he could “process things and move forward.”
Although MDMA was originally used for treating patients with anxiety (including PTSD), it quickly made it into clubs and became known as a party drug that made people feel euphoric. As we move into a time where more people are seeking new drug treatments that work, MDMA certainly isn’t just the party drug it once was. Instead, it’s offering hope to those that need it most.