U.S. approves Ecstasy testing on vets

Originally appeared at: http://www.winnipegsun.com/news/world/2010/07/18/14750481.html U.S. researchers say the outlawed drug Ecstasy can help victims of post-traumatic stress recover. The testing by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in California was limited both in size and duration, but the results were significant enough for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to recently order a much larger study involving U.S. war veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The initial test determined Ecstasy (formally called MDMA) had a dramatic effect on previously untreatable PTSD patients , some who had suffered from the disorder for up to 19 years. Dr Rick Doblin, president of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in Santa Cruz, Cal., said his researchers administered medical MDMA to a test group of 12 patients, while a control group of eight patients did not receive the drug. Patients in both groups went through two eight-hour psychotherapy sessions three to five weeks apart. Two months later, 10 of the 12 treated with MDMA no longer had symptoms that met the medical definition of PTSD, Doblin said. In contrast, just two out of eight patients offered a “dummy” placebo showed an improvement, he said. Three individuals so badly affected by their condition that they could not hold down a job were able to return to work, the Irish Examiner reported Sunday.. Writing in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, the researchers said: “This pilot study demonstrates that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy with close follow-up monitoring and support can be used with acceptable and short-lived side effects in a carefully screened group of subjects with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD. “In this group, MDMA-assisted psychotherapy … produced clinically and statistically significant improvements in PTSD symptoms.” The second, larger study will look at the effect of different doses of MDMA on ex-soldiers traumatized by their experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a severe anxiety syndrome characterized by exaggerated and uncontrolled fear triggered by memories of a traumatic event. It can affect people who have gone through major traumas like accidents, natural disasters, violent crime or war, sometimes not arising until months or even years after the event. Sufferers experience nightmares, flashbacks, and high levels of anxiety. The aim of the study was to see if ecstasy, or MDMA, could be used to help patients revisit their traumatic experiences without being overcome by terror.. MDMA, which induces feelings of euphoria, well-being, sociability and self-confidence, appears to reduce this numbing effect giving the therapy a chance to work. The scientists wrote: “Patients with PTSD are prone to extremes of emotional numbing or extreme anxiety, and often have a narrow window between thresholds of under and over-arousal. “MDMA may exert its therapeutic effect by widening this window. If MDMA allows patients to stay emotionally engaged without being overwhelmed by anxiety while revisiting traumatic experiences, it may thereby catalyze effective exposure therapy.” MDMA is a controlled substance in Canada and the U.S. with punishment for possession ranging from fines to jail. It’s widely used as a recreational drug in the milieu of nightclubs and dance partying. MDMA boosts levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which influences mood, and various hormones. One of those affected is oxytocin, the “love” hormone that increases feelings of trust and bonding. The drug was patented in 1914 by the German drug company Merck KGaA as a compound for use in the manufacture of other medicines. An article discussing the results of the recent MDMA-PTSD pilot study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology and the implications for further studies. The article also briefly touches on the potential mechanisms of action through which MDMA might assist in the treatment of PTSD patients.