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MDMA is being trialled to treat post-traumatic stress disorder

A new study shows how MDMA can bring relief to those struggling with severe PTSD when paired with talk therapy

A new clinical trial has shown that MDMA is successful in treating symptoms of severe post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when paired with talk therapy.

The study, which is expected to be published later this month in science journal Nature Medicine, showed that 90 per cent of participants who received MDMA during therapy experienced a significantly greater reduction in the severity of their symptoms compared with those who received therapy and an inactive placebo.

After two months after treatment, 67 per cent of participants in the MDMA group no longer qualified for a diagnosis of PTSD, compared with 32 per cent in the placebo group. The study also found that MDMA produces no serious side effects, except mild symptoms like nausea and loss of appetite.

“This is about as excited as I can get about a clinical trial,” Gul Dolen, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told The New York Times. “There is nothing like this in clinical trial results for a neuropsychiatric disease.”

For MDMA-assisted therapy to be approved for therapeutic use, the Food and Drug Administration needs a second positive phase three trial, which is currently taking place with 100 participants. Approval could come as early as 2023.

The study is the first phase three trial conducted on psychedelic-assisted therapy and could suggest potential ways for MDMA to help other mental health conditions, such as substance abuse, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias, eating disorders, depression, and anxiety.

“This is a wonderful, fruitful time for discovery, because people are suddenly willing to consider these substances as therapeutics again, which hasn’t happened in 50 years,” said Jennifer Mitchell, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, and lead author of the new study.

According to Mitchell, the combination of MDMA and talking therapy allows the brain to process painful memories and heal itself, compared to traditional pharmaceuticals, which merely blunt symptoms of PTSD. But she warns that MDMA, without therapy, does not automatically create beneficial effects. 

“It’s not the drug – it’s the therapy enhanced by the drug,” said Rick Doblin, senior author of the study and director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a nonprofit research group that sponsored and financed the clinical trials.

Over the past few years, the benefits of psychedelics in treating mental health have become harder to ignore. Drugs like LSD, magic mushrooms, and MDMA have been proven to inspire positive life changes, including long-term reduction of depression and alleviation of social anxiety.

Last year, the first clinical trial of DMT to treat depression was given the go-ahead by UK regulators, while a new mail-order ketamine company in the UK is offering prescriptions over video call.