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Ecstasy May Ease PTSD Symptoms

Designer Drug Ecstasy Combined With Therapy Successfully Treats Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Study Says

Safety Matters

The drug appeared safe in the new study. That said, the jury is still out on the risks of MDMA.

“Our research is aimed at establishing the risk/benefit ratio, which appears favorable in this early study, but further research is needed to establish this,” Mithoefer says. “MDMA elevates blood pressure and heart rate, which can be a risk to people with cardiovascular disease.” MDMA has also been linked to death from heat stroke or excessive fluid in the substance of the brain (cerebral edema).

“There can also be psychological risks, which is why our study used MDMA doses only under direct supervision of therapists with close follow-up in non-drug therapy sessions to help integrate the experience and process any emotions and insights that arose from the sessions,” he says.

The next step is to study this treatment on veterans with PTSD, using three different doses of MDMA rather than placebo.

Ecstasy's Role in Treating PTSD

“It is an interesting approach, and this is a well-conducted clinical trial showing positive effects,” says Charles R. Marmar, MD, chair of psychiatry at the New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City. “MDMA appears to be reasonably safe and effective and requires more trials."

Even if further research validates these findings, this treatment would not be for everyone with PTSD, he says. People with a history of addiction and people with a family or personal history of serious mental illness would not be candidates for this therapy. This drug increases risk of psychotic-like symptoms in people who are vulnerable.

But “the fact of the matter is that these are difficult-to-treat patients, so having another tool in the armamentarium would be helpful,” Marmar says. “Assuming it is done under highly professional conditions and patients didn't have history of abuse, there is no reason to believe it would be dangerous - yet.

“We need more work to find out what the risks are,” he says.

Still, Harriet deWit, PhD a professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago, says that “the results were quite dramatic and it is proof of concept and very good early evidence.”

But “we have to be careful that somebody doesn’t take this and say ‘we can use the drug at any time, in any circumstance in higher doses,’” she says.

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