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MDMA Therapy Has Been Shown to Help People Heal from PTSD

Sep 14, 2020
Clinical Trials
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After participating in clinical trials for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, people who have chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experienced long-lasting symptom improvement—even complete remission—a new publication reports. 

The study examined the long-term benefits for all participants in six different Phase 2 clinical trials investigating MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD. After receiving treatment, most people continued to benefit months later—suggesting that MDMA, though unconventional, offers real promise for overcoming this debilitating condition.

Current PTSD Treatment Options Are Limited—and Ineffective

Nearly 4 percent (3.9 percent) of people worldwide suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during their lifetime, causing lower quality of life and relationships, mental health conditions, and increased chances of suicide. 

PTSD is a chronic condition that develops in response to traumatic events, such as a serious accident, a violent assault, or military combat. Symptoms include avoidance of activities or places associated with the trauma, general negative effects on mood or cognition, intrusive thoughts, or even intense flashbacks. 

While there are existing treatment options, including talk therapy or prescribed medications, they are often ineffective. They focus more on helping people manage their PTSD symptoms, rather than addressing the root cause. Patients often fail to respond or relapse after discontinuing treatment—especially in cases of severe trauma. 

"There's been nothing new in PTSD treatment for 18 years," Dr. Susan Sisley, psychiatrist and director of the Scottsdale Research Institute, noted in an interview in 2019. "They are really just for symptom control. And because they often don't work, they have to be augmented with other prescriptions."

MDMA-assisted psychotherapy has emerged as a viable potential alternative to standard treatment options for PTSD in recent years.

MDMA-Therapy Trials and Long-Term Results

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) published a report in 2019 detailing the combined results of six double-blind, placebo-controlled Phase 2 clinical trials of MDMA therapy for PTSD. 

Out of the 103 total trial subjects, 72 people received an "active" dose of MDMA before taking part in two 8-hour long therapy sessions spaced three to five weeks apart. The patients also participated in weekly, non-MDMA psychotherapy sessions. 

At the end of the trials, 54 percent of the active treatment group participants no longer qualified for a PTSD diagnosis, compared with 23 percent in the control group. 

Based on these results alone, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted a Breakthrough Therapy Designation to MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD, expediting its development and review. 

With Phase 3 trials already ongoing, MAPS has released a new report analyzing the long-term outcomes for the participants from the active treatment group in its Phase 2 trials. 

This new report followed up with roughly a hundred of the original participants who ultimately received active doses of MDMA during their treatment. 

During the two-month follow-up, 56 percent of participants no longer fulfilled the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis. Even more compelling, the beneficial effects of treatment seemed to increase over time. A year later, the number had risen to 67 percent. 

While the crossover study includes control group members, meaning MAPS researchers weren't able to compare to a placebo, the results are significant. If the Phase 3 trials prove to be statistically significant, MDMA therapy for PTSD could be approved as soon as 2022. 

"These long-term follow-up findings show that once people with PTSD learn that they can productively process traumatic memories instead of suppressing them," said co-author Rick Doblin, Ph.D., MAPS Founder and Executive Director in a press release

"They can continue to heal themselves even after they have stopped receiving MDMA-assisted psychotherapy."

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