MDMA is another name for ecstasy. It can help people with PTSD. MDMA directly helps therapy work and acts rapidly. PTSD is common for people who experience traumatic events. 8% of the population has PTSD. Military personnel, firefighters, and police officers experience traumatic events doing their jobs. They have much higher rates of PTSD.
PTSD has many symptoms including nightmares and flashbacks. It is associated with health, work, and relationship problems. People with PTSD are less happy and less satisfied with their lives. They are more likely to become suicidal. PTSD is treated with medication and trauma-focused psychotherapy. Both do not work super well. People often drop out of therapy. Therapy takes a lot of time and people can become discouraged. Drugs like MDMA can help the therapy process be faster.
Two other studies showed that MDMA-assisted therapy is effective. It had low dropout rates and long-lasting effects. However, most of the patients in these studies had crime-related PTSD. They experienced sexual abuse, rape, and/or assault.
This study included adults who have had PTSD for more than 6 months. They had to score a high enough score on the CAPS-IV PTSD test to participate. The CAPS-IV test was used as the main measure in the study.
This study was a randomized double-blind dose response trial. Double blind means that nobody was told what dose of MDMA each participant received. Dose response means that they took different doses of the drugs to figure out which dose would work best. Participants either took 30 mg, 75 mg, or 125 mg of MDMA. The 30 mg dose was considered sub-therapeutic or too low of a dose to work. However, it may have had some effect.
The participants had 2 supervised MDMA sessions which were 3 to 5 weeks apart. Each one lasted 8 hours and included therapy. The participants took the CAPS PTSD test before the first session, a month after the second session, and a year after the second session. The researchers tested whether MDMA is safe and effective. They tracked adverse events, side effects, and psychological changes.
About two thirds of patients who took the therapeutic doses of MDMA did not meet the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis. This is much higher than the quarter of participants who took 30 mg. The 75 mg dose was better than the 125 mg dose. On average, people were severely depressed at the beginning of the study and mildly depressed at the end. Anxiety, tense muscles, and high blood pressure during the sessions happened sometimes. They went away afterwards and were usually mild.
Mithoefer, Michael C., et al. “3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-assisted psychotherapy for post-traumatic stress disorder in military veterans, firefighters, and police officers: a randomized, double-blind, dose-response, phase 2 clinical trial.” The Lancet Psychiatry 5.6 (2018): 486-497.