BY: MIROSLAV TOMOSKI
On Tuesday November 29, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) received approval from the FDA to begin Phase 3 clinical trials to treat over 200 patients for PTSD using the party drug commonly known as Molly. For over 30 years MAPS has been trying to change the way we look at psychedelics like MDMA, LSD and psilocybin (the chemical found in magic mushrooms). Researchers at MAPS, as well as other organizations pioneering in the field of psychedelic science, make the case that these drugs could have beneficial applications that go beyond their reputations as spiritual mind benders.
Where once these substances were thought to cause — or at least simulate — mental illness, they are now thought of as a potential treatment. Though some in the medical community are approaching the progress made by psychedelic science with a healthy bit of caution.
“It’s a feel-good drug, and we know people are prone to abuse it.” Dr. Charles R. Marmar of New York University’s Langone School of Medicine told the New York Times. But even Marmar agrees that the current system could be improved. “Our best therapies right now don’t help 30 to 40 percent of people. So we need more options.”
In previous FDA trials, MAPS researchers found that after just two sessions 83 percent of participants – mostly female victims of sexual assault – no longer displayed the symptoms that would qualify them for PTSD. In most recent trials, the Times also found that volunteers — who were skeptical about the drugs effects at first — considered MDMA to be the most effective treatment they have tried.
“It allowed me to see my trauma without fear or hesitation and finally process things and move forward.” said C. J. Hardin, a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghan wars.
Current treatments for PTSD include a series of exposure-based exercises administered by therapists and aimed at conditioning the patients to face their fears head on. The tests conducted by MAPS use similar exercises with the help of MDMA administered by professionals and within a controlled environment.
“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.” Brad Burge, a spokesman for MAPS told The Plaid Zebra in August. “We still take opiates and anti-anxiety medications seriously as medical tools even though they are also widely abused. The key ingredient 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.”
According to researchers at MAPS, MDMA is considered to be an effective treatment because of a combination of calming effects it has on the brain.
“Researchers believe that it might work by directly reducing activity in the amygdala, the brain region associated with conditioned fear, which may make it easier for subjects to talk about frightening memories.” Burge says of the organizations findings. “MDMA encourages the body to release natural hormones, such as Oxycontin, which are associated with feelings of trust and bonding, which may strengthen the relationship between subject and therapist, thereby helping the subject go deeper than they normally would.”
The results have shown that MDMA has been significantly better than those achieved in the clinical trials leading to the approval of the SSRIs Zoloft and Paxil, the two drugs currently approved by the FDA to treat PTSD. These more traditional treatments often come in daily doses and are rarely used to directly supplement therapy, as is the case with MDMA. According to Burge, the pace of their progress in clinical studies has the scientific community excited about the future. As a result, MAPS believes that we might be looking at an FDA approval for MDMA in the next five years.
“By and large, people who learn about psychedelic research through the media or at professional conferences like the American Psychiatric Association have been supportive of our work, and eager to find a way to help” Burge says.
MAPS is looking to raise $174,000 by the end of the year to fund its next phase of research. Due to the FDA’s guidelines they have not commented on the likelihood of MDMA’s approval as a treatment for PTSD.