Mostly known for being an illegal substance that is used often catastrophically on the party circuit, it seems the ingredients that comprise MDMA, if utilised correctly under strict medical supervision, can have therapeutic benefits for sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Police officers, former military personnel and victims of sexual abuse seem to suffer acutely from symptoms that include flashbacks of the traumatic experience, anxiety, or a feeling numbness towards or dissociation from current or unfolding events, Newsweek reported. It can also lead to unpredictable behaviour, substance abuse and suicide.
PTSD is triggered by experiencing an event so traumatic it cannot be fully processed, leaving parts of the brain in a state of hyperarousal and harming its elasticity. Approximately 12% of Australians experience PTSD symptoms at some point in their lives.
But trials are being run in Israel and the US on the use of MDMA to treat such symptoms in patients and are reporting encouraging results where other more conventional drugs such as antidepressants and psychotherapy have not been successful.
According to a report from Scientific American on the research being conducted, scientists are testing how pharmaceutical-grade MDMA can be used in combination with psychotherapy to help patients with a severe form of PTSD that has not responded to other treatments. Unlike street drugs, which may be adulterated and unsafe, researchers use a pure, precisely dosed form of the drug.
How MDMA works in the brain is not completely understood, although it does seem to create feelings of euphoria that can last for hours.
According to the Scientific American report, the psychoactive drug boosts chemicals like serotonin and oxytocin. It also tamps down activity in the amygdala, a part of the brain that processes fear. This may lead to a state characterized by heightened feelings of safety and social connection. The article cites the account of Lori Tipton who suffered severe PTSD after several extremely traumatic events and who described her involvement in the MDMA trial as “transformative.”
In a story on Yahoo News, PTSD Nachum Pachenick said the effects of the treatment on him were dramatic, having lived a nightmare for nearly two decades after being sexually abused and developing post-traumatic stress disorder, until MDMA therapy came to his rescue.
"The process put me back on track, but in a more profound way brought me home, to myself," he said. "I'm a much calmer person today. I have a family that's very dear to me -- all these things were very unstable beforehand."