Research Points to Clear Benefits of MDMA for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Originally appearing here. Careful long-term studies are moving MDMA from being banned as a rave drug to being legal as prescription medicine. New follow-up research shows its effectiveness, as an adjunct to psychotherapy, in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that have been resistant to other treatments.
The finding is not that feeling good for a day is a cure, but rather that the state induced by MDMA can help a person suffering from PTSD be open to psychotherapy. Why? The molecule lowers defenses and helps the patient face what would otherwise be overwhelming memories.
Specifically, a small-scale but long-term study of 16 “subjects” shows definite improvement and no drawbacks. The average length of time since treatment was 45 months. None of the participants had developed a drug dependency and none had suffered cognitive impairment, which were two of the fears associated with earlier reporting about MDMA.
Supported by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the research was conducted by scientists in South Carolina, including principal investigator Michael Mithoefer. MAPS seeks to restore MDMA to the medicine chest of psychiatrists, a use it once had before being banned in the U.S. 27 years ago.
Pharmaceutical drugs, which are legal and profitable to the firms that develop and market them, don’t work in some cases. The Mithoefer study focuses not on a random sample of PTSD patients, but on people who were resistant to other treatments, in other words, on some of the hardest cases.
People with PTSD include victims of rape and soldiers who have been the victims of “improvised explosive devices” or other attacks. The Mithoefer study included both categories. Some of the sufferers had “flashbacks” of the distressing episode for years, a condition that could be not only unpleasant but debilitating. The average length of time from the traumatic incident to the treatment was 19 years.
MDMA has been experienced by millions of users, both before and after Federal officials made it illegal. However, after July 1, 1985, psychiatrists could not continue to use the molecule without risking their license to practice.
In sponsoring this research, MAPS examined the argument not that the drug can enhance life for “normals,” but that it can act as a medicine to help restore damaged people to normality. In short, the MAPS campaign does not rely on a critique of “normality,” which has been offensive to folks who had never experienced anything else. Rather, the investigators decided to focus on people who were the victims of a crime (rape) or a battlefield (IEDs) and who, with their long-suffering partners, just wanted to be freed from nightmares and other flashbacks.
The paper appears as an on-line preprint in The Journal of Psychopharmacology. Alternet describes the results of MAPS’ long-term follow-up research into treating PTSD with MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, highlighting that the 16 participants maintained improvements an average of 45 months after treatment.