Ecstasy could soon make its way from the dance floor into therapists’ offices.
Once a staple of rave culture and late-night dance parties, the illegal drug MDMA, Ecstasy or Molly, could soon be approved to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A new study, published Thursday in Nature Medicinefound that MDMA plus psychotherapy can treat PTSD so well that people no longer have symptoms of the disorder.
“It is an important study,” Matthias Liechti, a psychopharmacologist at the University of Basel in Switzerland, said in a press release. “It confirms that MDMA works.”
The Food and Drug Administration typically requires two placebo-controlled studies before approving a drug for use — and this latest study is the second to find that MDMA is safe and effective in treating PTSD.
The stimulant – currently a Schedule 1 drug with “high potential for abuse” and no accepted medical use, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency – could be approved by the FDA to treat PTSD as early as next year.
However, Australians got there first: In July this year, Australia became the first country to allow the use of MDMA (as well as psilocybin mushrooms) to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
Each of the 104 participants in the latest study worked with a team of two therapists and received three 90-minute talk therapy sessions, followed by three MDMA (or placebo) treatment sessions spaced one month apart.
The results showed that over 86% of people in the MDMA group had a significant reduction in PTSD symptoms, and about 71% improved to the point where they no longer even met the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis.
But only 48% of those who took the placebo no longer qualified for a PTSD diagnosis.
Importantly, a significant percentage of participants in the latest study were Hispanic, Latino or non-white, said lead author Dr. Jennifer Mitchell, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco.
“We have worked long and hard to obtain a study population that is more consistent with the general population with PTSD.” Mitchell told the New York Times. “These are not just privileged people with a lot of time and resources.”
PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that occurs after a traumatic event or series of traumatic circumstances American Psychiatric Associationsuch as natural disasters, serious accidents, terrorist attacks, war or combat, rape/sexual assault, violence or bullying.
The condition affects up to 5% of adults in the U.S. each year and is notoriously difficult to treat. Conventional therapies and medications only help around half of patients.
A constant challenge in psychedelic trials is the nature of the drugs themselves: People can usually guess within minutes whether they have received a psychedelic drug or an inactive placebo, which can skew the results of the trial.
Nonetheless, the possibility that a new, safe and effective treatment for PTSD would be nothing short of a breakthrough: “MDMA-assisted therapy would be the first novel treatment for PTSD in over two decades,” Dr. Berra Yazar-Klosinski, lead author of the study, told The New York Times.
“PTSD patients may feel some hope,” Yazar-Klosinski added.