Can Ecstasy Help Treat PTSD? Researchers Say Yes

By David Jenison on August 15, 2017

The summer Ibiza crowd might be happy to learn their favorite hug drug might just have medical benefits. It clearly doesn't roll off the tongue like MMJ, but MMDMA (a.k.a. medical MDMA) might be legit in the right context.  

In July 2017, the Psychopharmacology journal published "Inhibition of serotonin transporters disrupts the enhancement of fear memory extinction by 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)," which is a clunky way of saying ecstasy might help individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Dr. Leonard Howell, Chief of the Division of Neuropharmacology and Neurologic Disease at Emory University, led the team of 10 researchers who co-authored the study. They tested MDMA and therapy on mice to measure for fear-memory extinction and reductions in conditioned freezing and fear-potentiated startle (FPS). 

"MDMA persistently improves symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when combined with psychotherapy," wrote the research team. "Studies in rodents suggest that these effects can be attributed to enhancement of fear memory extinction. Therefore, MDMA may improve the effects of exposure-based therapy for PTSD, particularly in treatment-resistant patients."

While the drug "enhanced the lasting extinction" of fear memories, the researchers also administered MDMA-inhibitors to see if muting the effects of the drug would alter the responses. Inhibiting the effects of MDMA did in fact disrupt the extinction of fear memories in the mice, reconfirming that the drug likely played a role in alleviating PTSD symptoms. 

Interestingly, Dr. Howell also co-authored a 2017 study in Drug and Alcohol Dependence that suggested MDMA "increases feelings of closeness towards others, empathy and gregariousness. There is also evidence of enduring therapeutic effects such as improved interpersonal functioning and significant symptom reduction in PTSD patients." 

Despite the findings, don't swap out your chamomile tea for E just yet. Taking MDMA involves risk, especially for those self-medicating mental health issues. Without medical supervision, taking any drug to reduce the symptoms of a mental health disorder is dangerous. Yes, the July study did conclude that MDMA might have medical benefits, but the drug's therapeutic value came from use in a clinical setting that involved concurrent comprehensive care. 

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