BY: MIROSLAV TOMOSKI
The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) out of Santa Cruz, California has been approved by the FDA to conduct a series of six studies into whether MDMA can help those with treatment-resistant PTSD.
Researchers believe that a combination of the effects brought on by the drug, commonly known as ecstasy, could work to enhance the effectiveness of traditional therapy. MDMA is believed to reduce activity in the parts of the brain associated with fear and increase activity in the areas associated with trust and bonding. This allows the patients to recall their traumatic experiences with reduced anxiety and build a greater connection with their therapist.
In their first completed study on individuals, MAPS researchers found that after just two sessions 83 percent of participants – mostly female victims of sexual assault – no longer qualified for PTSD. After living with treatment-resistant PTSD for an average of 19 years, the patients continued to show signs of improvement for nearly four years after their initial treatment.
The current test will be conducted over the course of one month in which ten couples – not necessarily in romantic relationships – will undergo therapy with the assistance of researchers Michael Mithoefer, M.D., and Candice Monson, Ph.D.
The pairs will include one participant who suffers from treatment-resistant PTSD and a partner who will help to facilitate the treatment. Both participants will receive a dose of MDMA during two eight-hour sessions with a series of drug-free sessions before and after the experimental treatments.
As a relatively new field of study, psychedelic science is attempting to reshape the way we perceive these illegal substances that are commonly associated with crime and drug abuse. Organisations like MAPS and the Beckley Foundation are currently conducting tests using LSD, magic mushrooms, DMT, and other psychedelics in order to reverse decades of misinformation brought on by the War on Drugs.
The anti-drug campaign, which was launched by president Richard Nixon, is something which MAPS Communications Director Brad Burge calls, “the result of scientific ignorance and political opportunism”. Even former members of the Nixon administration have acknowledged that the concept of a War on Drugs was politically charged and had little to do with public safety.
From a cultural perspective, the spirited folks who swear by psychedelics may have been forced underground, but have continued to trip. Despite the illegal status of these substances, psychedelic drug use remains at the same rate as it was in the ’60s before it was banned.
With the FDA and other government agencies now loosening their grip, Burge is hopeful for the future. “I think people in general are capable of understanding the difference between the careful use of MDMA in therapy and the bad reputation it has received due to its unsafe use.”
When asked if researchers at MAPS believe that drugs like MDMA could be taken seriously as a treatment option, Burge points out that we still take prescription drugs seriously even though they are also widely abused.
“The key ingredient,” He says, “is education and support: education for people who choose to use MDMA and other psychedelics about their risks and benefits, and support for people who need help through accident or misuse.”
Among the scientific community, MAPS’ first study with MDMA became the most cited paper in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2011 and their continued work is helping to create an evidence-based foundation for the way governments approach drugs.
“I think one reason for this broad support that we’re seeing for psychedelic science and therapy is because we are carefully acknowledging both the risks and the benefits of psychedelics,” Burge says, “rather than claiming that they will instantly heal the world or that everybody needs to take them.”
Their research has also come at a time when the medical benefits these drugs can offer are sorely needed. Approximately 8 percent or 24 million people in the United States suffer from PTSD with women being twice as likely as men to develop the disorder.
Medical agencies as well as support groups tend to advocate therapy as the most effective treatment for those suffering from PTSD. Known as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, these treatments often require the patient to focus on the traumatic events which caused their PTSD. Prescription drugs can be administered to help an individual face these horrific memories, but with a third of all patients showing resistance to these treatments very few have proven to be as effective as initial studies have shown psychedelics to be.
According to the Mayo Clinic’s recommendations, “You may need to try more than one or a combination of [traditional] medications,” turning treatment into a guessing game with side effects. So while more studies definitely need to be conducted before psychedelics can be called a silver bullet, there is both the potential and the need to offer a more effective alternative to the current system.
“We are now facing an unprecedented international challenge when it comes to treating PTSD,” Burge says, “especially resulting from war and sexual assault, which affects millions of people worldwide and for which more effective treatments are urgently needed.”