A new study has found that three doses of MDMA given alongside psychotherapy over the course of 18 weeks results in a “significant and robust” reduction of PTSD symptoms.
Functional impairment and depressive symptoms were also greatly reduced in the study subjects.
Compared with current treatments, MDMA-assisted therapy has the potential to dramatically transform treatment for PTSD.
Published in the journal Nature and sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the study builds on previous promising research and will help MDMA get approved as a prescription drug by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the near future.
This randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase 3 study was aiming to test the efficacy and safety of MDMA-assisted therapy for the treatment of severe PTSD, including those with common comorbidities such as dissociation, depression, a history of alcohol and substance use disorders, and childhood trauma.
After discontinuing any medication they were using, 90 participants were randomly split into two groups – one of which received MDMA and one a placebo, along with three preparatory and nine integrative therapy sessions.
PTSD symptoms and functional impairment were assessed at the start and at two months after the last session. Adverse events and suicidality were also tracked throughout the study.
The results shoes that MDMA induced “significant and robust” reductions in both PTSD symptoms and functional impairment when compared to the placebo group.
Additionally, MDMA did not cause any adverse events or suicidal thoughts.
The study authors conclude that MDMA-assisted therapy is highly efficacious in individuals with severe PTSD, and treatment is safe and well-tolerated, even in those with comorbidities.
Outlawed in 1985, MDMA was recognised by the FDA as a “breakthrough therapy” in 2017.
The authors of the latest study describe MDMA-assisted therapy as “a potential breakthrough treatment that merits expedited clinical evaluation.”
Current treatments for PTSD
At present, the go-to treatments for PTSD include the use of SSRIs sertraline and paroxetine. However, an estimated 40–60% of patients do not respond to these compounds.
Similarly, psychotherapies such as exposure therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy, which are considered to be the gold standard treatments for PTSD, are not effective for many.
MDMA works by inducing serotonin release in the brain. This effect has been shown to enhance fear memory extinction, modulate fear memory reconsolidation, and boost social behaviour in animal models.