Study: Ecstasy Treats PTSD
July 16, 2010
Military.com|by Bryant Jordan
Originally found at: http://www.military.com/news/article/study-ecstasy-treats-ptsd.html
The drug Ecstasy shows positive results in the majority of patients when used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a report coming out Monday in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.
The study, which focuses on 20 patients for whom previous drug and psychotherapy treatments were unsuccessful, is the first of its kind and a stepping stone for a follow-up that will focus entirely on U.S. military veterans, said Rick Doblin, who founded the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies – a group that analyzes the use of psychedelic drugs in mental health treatment.
“We want most of the veterans [in the next study] to come from Iraq and Afghanistan,” Doblin told Military.com in an exclusive interview July 15. “But we want some Vietnam veterans as well because we want to see if we can help people who have had these [PTSD] patterns for decades.”
The current study group was mostly female victims of child sexual abuse and rape who suffered from PTSD for an average of about 19 years, said Dr. Michael Mithoefer, a South Carolina psychiatrist who oversaw the testing.
When the association got initial approval for its study from the Food and Drug Administration in 2001, the U.S. was not engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq, so the application specifically asked to test victims of crime. The same application went to the Drug Enforcement Agency, which only approved it in 2004.
The study was completed in late 2008 and Military.com first reported on the positive findings in March 2009. The study’s publication in the British Journal of Psychopharmacology marks the end of nearly 10 years of paperwork and bureaucratic delays, as well as the research itself. The study will be available for free download starting Monday at http://jop.sagepub.com/pap.dtl.
In the study, 12 of the 20 registered patients were treated with a combination of MDMA and psychotherapy; the other eight were given a placebo and psychotherapy.
According to Mithoefer, 10 of the patients in the MDMA trial group saw clinically and statistically significant improvements in their PTSD, compared to just two of the eight people in the control group.
Those in the trial group who responded well to the MDMA treatments “no longer met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD,” according to Mithoefer. This included three patients who reported prior to the treatments that they were unable to work. But after the treatments, they returned to the job.
The study also found no evidence patents who took the Ecstasy experienced any ill effects from the drug, Mithoefer said.
While the current study focused on women who were not exposed to combat, Mithoefer said the largest symptom groups [of PTSD] are the same regardless of the cause.
“But you can have differences,” he said.
“As far as we know, the present research suggests the same basic approach works for people with any kind of PTSD, but there are some obvious important differences,” he explained. “It is always individualized, so working with veterans is going to have some different qualities than, say, working with people with childhood sexual abuse. … The veterans experience does have some particular aspects to it that are different from other trauma and that has to be taken into account.”
Doblin established the Psychedelic Studies Association in the mid-1980s, just as MDMA was being criminalized in the United States and the pressure was on nationally and internationally to halt research into the use of psychedelics for medical purposes. Once possession or use of MDMA became a criminal violation, Doblin realized the only way to work with it would be to go through the FDA.
Although the DEA remains a tough sell in terms of supporting the use of an illegal drug as part of a therapy regimen, Doblin has the approvals from the FDA and has the follow-on project approved by an independent institutional review board – a requirement when doing a human research study.
Meanwhile, MAPS already has been getting queries from veterans interested in taking part.
For Doblin, working to help combat veterans brings him along an unorthodox path back to how he got involved in studying psychedelics for medical and mental health uses.
Coming of age in the 1960s, he was not a pacifist but he opposed the Vietnam War and said he was prepared to go to jail rather than serve in it or flee to Canada. At 18, he didn’t even bother to register and kept waiting to be arrested; the reality was, he said, that tens of thousands of men didn’t bother to register and the government never came after them.
He began to wonder how he could contribute to creating an alternative to war, he said, and began studying about how people were motivated to fight and how others were used – “scapegoated” – to legitimatize war.
“When I first tried LSD, it was very powerful,” he recalled. It gave him a sense of the connectedness of everything, he said, and he came to believe that “if people understood how connected they are, that they’re part of the human family, and that goes deeper than country, race, religion, gender and class – if they had a sense of that, it would be harder to kill.”
Now Doblin is frustrated by federal agencies (such as the DEA) that delay testing drugs that could help veterans dealing with the psychological wounds of combat.
“They’re putting the drug war over the health of the veterans,” he said. Officials argue that you don’t give drugs to people who have a high incidence of drug abuse, he said, but the reason they abuse drugs is because of the PTSD, and if you can treat that they have less reason for doing drugs at all.
“And it’s not about giving it to them for the rest of their lives,” he said, “but two or three times in a controlled setting with a therapist present.”
"That’s the profound power of MDMA when used in a therapeutic setting," he added.
The leading online news source for the military reported about the results of our U.S. MDMA/PTSD study. “The drug Ecstasy shows positive results in the majority of patients when used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a report coming out Monday in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.”