Unconventional, Psychedelic Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects approximately 7.7 million Americans, including both adolescents and adults. The condition can occur at any age in individuals who survived physical or sexual assault, abuse, disasters, or other traumatic events such as the death of a loved one. The condition also tends to develop more commonly in women than men.1
A combination of psychotherapy (exposure therapy, cognitive restructuring, and stress inoculation training) and/or antidepressive and antianxiety medications (sertraline, paroxetine, fluoxetine, and citalopram) is commonly used to treat PTSD. In addition, other medications such as benzodiazepines and antipsychotics are also used.1 However, not all patients respond well to currently available psychotherapy approaches or medication, so ongoing research efforts are evaluating some unconventional approaches to treat this condition.
MDMA Potential Treatment Option for PTSD Sufferers
In a systemic review of the literature, C. Michael White, PharmD, of the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy in Hartford, evaluated published studies in which 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) was used in PTSD, examining each of the studies individually and then together to determine the strength of this body of literature. White assessed the strengths and weaknesses of these studies as well as what type of future studies would need to occur to determine if this therapy could be used more widely for patients with PTSD.2
Although the studies were preliminary, studied a small sample of people, and had strong input in design and analysis from an organization advocating the use of psychedelic drugs, the results were generally consistent and look very promising as an area for future research.
“The studies were done the same way – give [participants] several psychotherapy sessions and then put together a marathon psychedelic therapy session lasting most of the day. People would take MDMA in the morning, and in a new mental state would be more willing to share the feelings, emotions, and experiences that caused them to have PTSD,” said White. After the first MDMA session, the patient followed up with regular psychotherapy sessions reinforcing the gains made before a second marathon MDMA and psychotherapy session occurs.
“The reductions in PTSD severity were pretty large and seem greater than the reductions that might be seen with standard prescription therapy or psychotherapy alone,” said White.