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Street Drug Ecstasy Shows Promise as a Treatment for PTSD

Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)
Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)
Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)

Recent clinical trials of the street drug Ecstasy show that a laboratory pure version of Ecstasy shows great promise as a treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The chemical name for Ecstasy is 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA).

The studies of MDMA as a treatment for PTSD began in 2001, and the results were published on November 20, 2012 in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

But an article last week in the Houston Chronicle put the spotlight on the use of Ecstasy to treat PTSD, because Houston and San Antonio, “have among the largest concentrations of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in the country.”

“Of the 130,000 veterans registered in the Houston area, 9,695 have been treated for PTSD, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

That’s about 7.5% of the Iraq and Afghan war veterans in the Houston area.

The Journal of Psychopharmacology article states unequivocally that, "People suffering from chronic, treatment-resistant posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experienced lasting benefits from MDMA-assisted psychotherapy."

The study was conducted by Dr. Michael Mithoefer under the auspices of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).

MAPS is a 501(c)(3) non-profit research and educational organization that develops medical, legal, and cultural contexts for people to benefit from the careful uses of psychedelics and marijuana.

The subjects of the original MAPS study included survivors of sexual assault and abuse, but the scope of the study has expanded to include firefighters, police officers, and veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghan.

All of the subjects have PTSD, and many of the veterans have attempted suicide in an attempt to escape the horrible flashbacks and nightmares associated with PTSD.

It is not fun reliving the worst moment of your life over and over again. It is not fun waking up in the middle of the night, and sitting bolt upright in bed, soaked with sweat, knowing you are going to die before you can take another breath.

It is so real, it is frightening. You are absolutely convinced it is happening all over again right now. It is a vicious cycle.that destroys lives and families.

The MAPS studies indicate that MDMA can break that vicious cycle. If so, that would be a miracle.

MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) causes the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitters neurotransmitter found in the digestive tract, the central nervous system, blood platelets and the pineal gland (deep at the center of the brain). It is also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT).

One of the hallmarks of MDMA is that it evokes openness and closeness in the people who take it. Although scientists don’t yet fully understand exactly how MDMA works, they do known a lot about MDMA.

MDMA causes the release of serotonin and other feel-good neurotransmitters and hormones.

According to the Houston Chronicle article, “Brain imaging shows that it decreases the activity of the amygdala, where fear arises, and increases activity in the prefrontal cortex, the site of higher functions.”

MDMA has been around for more than 100 years, but scientists are still investigating how it can best be used medically.

In 1912, the pharmaceutical company, Merck, filed for a patent and stated that MDMA would be used to control bleeding. That didn’t work out.

In 1965, research scientist Alexander Shulgin synthesized MDMA and by 1977 psychologists were using MDMA in treatments for couples counseling, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and pain.

Then MDMA became a party drug, known as Ecstasy or Molly, that made people want to laugh and dance, and the entire situation changed.

In 1985, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) placed MDMA, on a list of Schedule 1 drugs. Those are the drugs, such as Heroin, that have the highest penalties for use or possession.

The problem is that the consequences of long term use of MDMA can be very severe, so use of the drug must be carefully prescribed.

Ecstasy users have even died from hyperthermia as a result of overheating because of vigorous dancing in night clubs where the high ambient temperature combined with inadequate water intake led to the deaths.

From 1994 through 1999, 68 people died after taking MDMA.

But there are two significant differences between the street drug Ecstasy and the MDMA used to treat PTSD.

The MDMA used to treat PTSD is laboratory pure, while the street drug known as “Ecstasy" or "Molly" often contains unknown and/or dangerous adulterants including ephedrine, selegiline, ketamine, and who knows what else.

Drug dealers are not famous for the purity of the drugs they sell. They’re in it for the money.

You know I've seen a lot of people
Walking around with tombstones in their eyes
But the pusher don't care
Ah if you live or if you die

Steppenwolf, “The Pusher,” 1969

According to the MAPS study, “…pure MDMA has been proven sufficiently safe for human consumption when taken a limited number of times in moderate doses.”

The other significant difference between Ecstasy and the MDMA used to treat PTSD is that the MDMA use to treat PTSD will be given in small doses (1.5-1.7 mg/kg) for a very short period of time. The MDMA is administered orally once every two weeks over a four month period (8X).

The good news is, “The study found no evidence of harm associated with the administration of MDMA. Additionally, no subject developed a substance abuse problem with any illicit drug after MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.”

Now we have to wait to see whether further studies confirm the findings of the MAPS studies from 2001 to 2014.

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