The US Food and Drug administration just quietly approved a landmark study on MDMA as a possible treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. MDMA is more commonly found on the streets and in nightclubs as a popular party drug, called Molly or Ecstasy. The new study is a phase 3 clinical trial, which means that if it is successful, Ecstasy may soon be available as a prescription drug.
A need for effective medicines
At 37, C.J. Hardin has finally retired from military service after three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Like many veterans, Hardin returned home a changed man.
He has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Hardin went through the traditional treatments, psychotherapy, over 12 different medications, and group therapy initiatives. They didn’t work. In an interview with the New York Times, he explains,
Nothing worked for me, so I put aside the idea that I could get better. I just pretty much became a hermit in my cabin and never went out.
After exhausting all of the conventional options, Hardin took a chance on something new. In 2013, he signed up for an experimental trial of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. MDMA is sold as a common street drug under the names “molly” and “ecstasy”.
But, Hardin’s experience with the drug is a far cry from dropping a few hits before a rave or music festival. Hardin was given a pure, medical-quality MDMA and used the substance in a safe and controlled clinical setting. For Hardin, the experience was one he’ll never forget.
It changed my life. It allowed me to see my trauma without fear or hesitation and finally process things and move forward.
MDMA trials to begin
Hardin isn’t the only PTSD patient who has experienced a life-changing shift in perspective thanks to MDMA. Small trials have had extremely positive results thus far.
One study followed 12 patients with treatment-resistant PTSD. 83% of patients given MDMA had a positive clinical response during the trial. Only 25% of controls exhibited a response.
Successful preliminary research like the study above has given the FDA the evidence it needs to move forward with larger clinical trials. The Food and Drug Administration has just approved a large-scale phase 3 clinical trial of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for post-traumatic stress.
This trial would be the final step before potentially approving ecstasy as a prescription drug.
Dr. Charles R. Marmar, head of psychiatry at New York University’s Langone School of Medicine, told NYT,
If they can keep getting good results, [MDMA] will be of great use. PTSD can be very hard to treat. Our best therapies right now don’t help 30 to 40 percent of people. So we need more options.
PTSD can be debilitating. In Hardin’s case, the condition prevented him from engaging with the outside world. Post-traumatic stress is more common than one might think, affecting approximately seven or eight out of every 100 people.
Already, PTSD is a qualifying condition for a medical cannabis authorization in many states.
Current trials investigating the herb as an add-on treatment for the disorder are currently underway. After a several decades-long ban, psychiatrists and medical researchers are now expanding their horizons in terms of beneficial psychoactive medicines.