Better known to nightclubbers as ecstasy, the euphoria-inducing drug MDMA appears to alleviate Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in war veterans, firefighters, and police officers, researchers said Wednesday.
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".
Ecstasy has always been a favorite at trance parties and raves because of its "warming" feeling, flooding users with intense feelings of euphoria. Mithoefer said that it also gives users an "increased awareness of inner experience". Drug regulators say MDMA, administered with psychological supervision, represents a "breakthrough therapy". The scientists further conveyed that the use of the MDMA ingredient must be combined with the talking therapies to combat the signs more swiftly. Many times, PTSD does not even become noticeable for several months to even years after a traumatic event.
About eight million Americans are annually affected by PTSD.
But drop-out rates are as high as 40 percent along with the use of pills prescribed for a different condition - underlining the need for new therapies.
PTSD is common among soldiers and other service personnel who experience trauma in the line of duty. Neither they nor their psychotherapists were told about the size of the dose. Both were published online May 1 in The Lancet Psychiatry journal.
The participants were given doses of 30mg, 75mg or 125mg of MDMA, and on average people in the higher dose groups experienced a greater decrease in PTSD symptom severity than those in the low-dose group.
After a year, 16 participants still did not suffer from PTSD, but two had a new diagnosis of PTSD.
Dr Feduccia said: 'Key elements that contribute to the safety and efficacy of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy include careful medical and psychological screening, preparing participants for the MDMA experience and treatment, close support by trained psychotherapists during the sessions as well as professional follow-up support.
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While many from the medical community have supported MDMA-assisted psychotherapy as a "breakthrough" form of treatment, other experts are still apprehensive about the therapeutic potential as there are "definitely some issues that should be addressed before it is to be used as a co-drug for psychotherapy", as stated by Psychology professor Andrew C. Parrott of Swansea University in the United Kingdom. This part of the trial was "open-label" meaning participants and clinicians knew what doses they were given. Twenty participants reported 85 adverse events, of which 5 percent were serious and one was possibly related to study drug treatment.
According to researchers, side effects also includes anxiety, headache, fatigue, muscle tension and insomnia.
Greenberg, who was not involved in the study, noted that 22 of the 26 participants had been recruited from the internet, "and one has to assume they were interested in taking a psychedelic drug". However, the generalisability of the benefit of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to more mainstream psychiatry remains to be established.
The findings build on two earlier studies by MAPS that came up with encouraging results.
However, side effects were seen in the trial that included suicidal thoughts in some patients, and one psychiatrist expressed concern that taking MDMA long-term might trigger an addiction to the drug. However, in a recent scientific survey, the innovative minds concluded that the MDMA ingredient of the drug named ecstasy could be useful in preventing the awful symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorders.
Such a side-effect would be of "particular concern in individuals vulnerable to depression and suicidal feelings", the duo wrote in a comment also published by The Lancet. When tried with 26 veterans and first responders with PTSD, it helped many of them, investigators found.
If the results find MDMA to be a safe and effective treatment for PTSD, he expects FDA approval by 2021 - but only with use in combination with therapy sessions and not as a "daily drug".
This is especially worrying because people with PTSD are already at risk for addiction and suicide, he said.
Experts estimate if blights the lives of up to one in five soldiers who served in Iraq or Afghanistan.