Will MDMA Be Legalized for PTSD Treatment?

DECEMBER 02, 2016
Jennifer Barrett, Assistant Editor


MDMA, better known as ecstasy or “Molly” and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, is predominantly dismissed as an illicit street drug abused by raucous club-goers. Known for its stimulating and psychedelic effects that strengthen feelings of trust and empathy and reduce inhibitions, MDMA is typically illegally sought after as a popular party drug. However, MDMA-assisted therapy is becoming more closely examined in clinical trials, broaching the reality of the once dangerous street drug becoming a legal prescription medication.

This past Tuesday, the FDA approved the use of MDMA in large-scale clinical trials for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the New York Times reported. The approved phase 3 clinical trial catapults MDMA to the final stage of testing before submission for approval as a prescription drug.

Many small-scale studies have reported that MDMA therapy jumpstarts significant improvement in the conditions of patients with PTSD, and preliminary phase 1 and 2 trials have shown promise for the illegal drug’s therapeutic benefits. A medically pure version of the drug is used that, unlike what is illegally sold on the streets, is completely safe for use under guidance.

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) conducted an earlier study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology that found 83% of participants no longer showed signs of PTSD 2 months after psychedelic treatment was initiated. Volunteers were randomly assigned to receive either the drug or a placebo. All 20 participants of the study were treated with psychotherapy, 12 of which underwent MDMA-assisted therapy.

The drug’s indications could also be expanded beyond PTSD. Researchers are conducting efficacy research on MDMA therapy in treating social anxiety in adults with autism and anxiety-related disorders in individuals with life-threatening illnesses.

Still, experts voiced concerns over the drug’s potent effects, arguing that legalizing MDMA may encourage additional recreational use to an effect similar to the wave of opioid abuse prevalent in prescription drug abusers. Although medical MDMA would be prescribed as a purer, safer version of the street drug, MDMA still poses risk of long-term effects on the brain and the potential for overdose when taken in high quantities.

According to Business Insider, the clinical trials for MDMA will begin in 2017 and may last up to 4 years. How effective and safe it is to use MDMA in treating PTSD will not be known until the trials finish up, although proponents are optimistic that the drug can provide major relief to those affected by mental health disorders.



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