Before it was a club drug surrounded by stigma and urban legends of burning holes in the brain, MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, was used as a tool in psychotherapy. And, after nearly a century in existence, the drug is coming back around to its more noble purpose.
“MDMA is known for increasing feelings of trust and compassion towards others, which could make an ideal adjunct to psychotherapy for PTSD,” says the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a group dedicated to studying the medicinal uses of drugs such as LSD, Ibogaine, Psilocybin, and Marijuana.
South Carolina psychiatrist Dr. Michael Mithoefer has been studying the potential of MDMA, as a treatment for PTSD since 2004, with a new study approved by the DEA earlier this year.
More than 13 million Americans suffer from PTSD, which can be debilitating and is often treated ineffectively or not at all. There has been a recent increase in media coverage and societal interest in PTSD, since the United States has been at war for more than a decade and we’re seeing more and more veterans suffering from it. The prevalence of PTSD in returning soldiers poses a challenge for them as they attempt to return to civilian life, and a challenge for society as we attempt to welcome and assist them.
A staggering 28% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seen at the VA have been diagnosed with PTSD, according to the nonprofit advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), much higher than the 8% of all adults in this country, as estimated by the PTSD Alliance.
But, while veterans as a group are at higher risk for PTSD than civilians, women in the general are twice as likely to develop the disorder. Rape is the traumatic event most likely to cause PTSD, with an estimated 49% of victims developing symptoms, and happens most often to women. For this reason, as well as the recent onset of PTSD in many veterans as opposed to the availability of long-term cases in sufferers of sexual assault, Mithoefer is focusing his research on women for the time being.
One woman, who CNN profiled in their wonderful three-part series on Mithoefer’s research, said she had suffered from PTSD since childhood. Before she reached out to Mithoefer for help in 2005, she had been hospitalized six times because of PTSD symptoms, and had tried at least five different types of therapy, none of which had helped.
It’s yet to be seen whether the treatment is effective, but if so it could be a major step forward in helping rape victims, veterans, and everyone else who suffers from PTSD.
It’s important to note that the health risks often associated with ecstasy come from the other drugs mixed in with the MDMA, not from the MDMA itself. In its street drug form, MDMA is often mixed with amphetamines, valium, and/or any other substance that’s cheaper than MDMA to increase drug dealers’ profits. Studies have shown that in its unadulterated form, MDMA is safe for human consumption in moderation.