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Illicit Drug Ecstasy Controversial Way to Treat PTSD

KC Kelly Ph.D.'s picture

Many anti-drug campaigners cannot be pleased about the extremely controversial new way of treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with the illegal, recreational, street or club drug, ecstasy or MDMA (its chemical acronym). However, a smaller sized study is claiming that the illicit drug, ecstasy, may make psychotherapy more "effective" for those who suffer with PTSD.

The study involved using 20 patients who'd had PTSD for an average of 19 years and were never able to seek relief from the disorder by using traditional forms of psychotherapy. All medications prescribed also failed to provide relief from the often torturous effects of PTSD.

The study has been disclaimed to be preliminary. The researchers are saying that "safety issues must be resolved before any recommendations can be made."

The study's lead researcher Dr. Michael Mithoefer, a psychiatrist in private practice in Charleston, S.C. stated, "PTSD treatment involves revisiting the trauma in a therapeutic setting, but many patients become overwhelmed by anxiety or numb themselves emotionally, and so they can't really successfully engage. But what we found is that the MDMA seemed to temporarily decrease fear without blunting emotions, and so it helped patients better process their grief."

How does ecstasy work to treat PTSD? The drug seems to help patients by helping to ease the trauma associated with the common flashbacks that people with PTSD experience. The ecstasy drug also helps by soothing the hyper-vigilance that PTSD patients suffer from in regards to every day loud sounds. It also helps ease other emotional health issues that usually accompany PTSD symptoms. These include depression, anxiety disorder, adjustment disorder and alcohol and substance abuse.

In the study, the participants participated in two eight-hour psychotherapy sessions scheduled about a month apart. Twelve patients took the ecstasy drug and the eight took a placebo. The patients were given psychotherapy sessions on a weekly basis before and after each experimental session.

The patients were evaluated by an independent psychologist before and after the study and the psychologist found that those who were treated with both ecstasy and psychotherapy (80 percent of the patients) no longer met the DSM diagnostic criteria for PTSD. Those who were only treated with psychotherapy and not the drug ecstasy, did not fair as well.

The study was sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a Belmont, Mass.-based nonprofit group that focuses on the medicinal uses of psychedelic drugs. Although the study was extremely small, the group does realize that much more work needs to be done before ecstasy can truly be called a therapeutic technique. It may just be another way of using illicit drugs to numb pain and not the most advantageous way to treat emotional or mental disorders.

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