MDMA 'cures' sufferers' post-traumatic stress disorder in a few weeks during study

Those on higher doses experience greater decreases in PTSD symptoms, finds pilot

Wednesday 02 May 2018 16:25
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MDMA, or ecstasy, is the second most popular drug in the UK, with 23 per cent of survey respondents using it in the previous year
MDMA, or ecstasy, is the second most popular drug in the UK, with 23 per cent of survey respondents using it in the previous year

Party drug MDMA may help people recover from psychologically traumatic experiences, according to a new clinical trial.

Scientists in California gave varying doses of the substance to 22 military veterans, three firefighters and a police officer, who had all been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Participants were given doses of the drug ranging from 30mg to 125mg alongside psychotherapy.

Those on higher doses on average experienced greater decreases in the severity of their PTSD symptoms than those on the lower doses, the pilot study found.

After two treatment sessions, 86 per cent of participants taking 75mg, 58 per cent of those taking 125mg, and 29 per on 30mg no longer met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD.

MDMA is the main active constituent of ecstasy, a recreational drug that induces feelings of euphoria and enhances sensory perception.

Both are classified as illegal Class A drugs in the UK, possession of which carries a maximum penalty of up to seven years in jail.

Lead researcher Dr Allison Feduccia, from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in Santa Cruz, California, said: “Our study suggests that MDMA might help augment the psychotherapeutic experiences and may have a role to play in the future treatment of PTSD. However, we would certainly not recommend that individuals try these drugs for the treatment of psychiatric disorders without the support from trained psychotherapists.”

The MDMA was administered to the study participants during eight-hour long specially adapted psychotherapy sessions.

These were followed by an overnight stay in a clinic, seven days of telephone contact, and three further 90-minute sessions of psychotherapy.

Side effects of the treatment included anxiety, headache, fatigue, muscle tension and insomnia, according to the study, which was published in The Lancet Psychiatry.

Temporary increases in suicidal thoughts were also reported. One participant with a history of suicide attempts had to be admitted to hospital, but later completed the study.

During the trial, neither the participants nor the clinicians knew how the doses of MDMA were being distributed.

Later participants were offered additional MDMA treatment and psychotherapy and this time were told what they were receiving.

A year after the end of the study 16 of the 26 participants were no longer classified as suffering from PTSD, while two had a renewed diagnosis.

Commenting on the research in the journal, professors Andrea Cipriani and Philip Cowen, from Oxford University, said recreational use of ecstasy raised numerous safety concerns including fatal toxicity, long-term mental impairment and brain damage.

But they added: “With rigorous sourcing of MDMA and close medical and psychological supervision, its short-term use in carefully selected patients with PTSD seems safe.”

Dr Michael Bloomfield, clinical lecturer in general psychiatry at University College London, who described PTSD as a “potentially devastating condition”, said: “This new, well-conducted study adds to fascinating research which suggests that MDMA may be a candidate drug in a future era of medicine-assisted psychotherapy.”

However, he said more research was needed to “tease out” the beneficial effects of MDMA.

He warned: “Survivors of trauma who are experiencing PTSD should not try this on themselves because of the risks associated with street ecstasy and the need for good quality psychiatric care including psychotherapy in recovering from PTSD.”

Press Association contributed to this report

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