MDMA Mechanisms of Action Effective for Reducing PTSD Symptoms

According to White, MDMA is a very complex drug.  It works similar to the SSRI drug, fluoxetine, increasing the amount of serotonin. It also has an amphetamine component increasing the level of energy, and a mescaline-like psychedelic effect where people see colors and feel sounds more intensively. It also increases oxytocin concentrations, which helps patients feel a trusting bond with their psychotherapist. This is a good effect if the person needs to share their innermost horrific experiences in order to get a breakthrough. “MDMA by itself will not alleviate PTSD symptoms, it helps the psychotherapy be more effective,” White said. “During the MDMA-psychotherapy sessions, the patients needed a lot of support, and the amphetamine component can be dangerous if it combined with physical activity so the procedures need to be tight and done by professionals.”   

Marijuana Currently Being Studied for Relief of PTSD Symptoms

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Other unconventional approaches, including marijuana use, are currently under investigation. One study being planned by the University of Arizona in Phoenix is currently enrolling patients to evaluate the use of marijuana in U.S. veterans.3 “This study is under way, we will have to see results – when I look at illicit products, marijuana has advantages, it is legally available in some states for medical or recreational use. And it is easier to use it for study purposes and general acceptability is higher, but if you look at effects that you think would be good for PTSD, only the psychedelic effect would be apparent. You wouldn’t have bonding component and won’t have the feeling of extra energy needed for longer psychotherapy session,” said White.

RELATED: Marijuana for Vets With PTSD Study Begins


Overall, patients with PTSD that is resistant and/or refractory to currently available psychotherapy approaches and medical interventions may benefit from the use of MDMA. However, the lack of acceptability, difficulty in acquiring an illicit drug, and lack of larger studies remain hindrances to long-term, widespread adoption.


1. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). What is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Available at: Accessed: May 18, 2014.

2. White, CM. 3,4 –Methylenedioxymethamphetamine’s (MDMA’s) impact on posttraumatic stress disorder. Annals of Pharmacotherapy. 2014: 1-8.

3. Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. Marijuana for Symptoms of PTSD in Veterans of War. Available at: Accessed: May 18, 2014.