There has been a constant battle for people with PTSD and other anxiety disorders. PTSD was first discovered in the 1800s and has been an uphill battle ever since. PTSD is just one example of an anxiety disorder. Nonetheless, PTSD can have many anxiety-related symptoms that go along with the disorder itself. PTSD can result from any number of things and interferes with a person’s daily life. There have been many trials and errors of PTSD medications and treatments. Unfortunately, they still have not found a truly successful way to treat these patients, until MDMA.
MDMA is a Schedule I psychedelic drug also known as molly or ecstasy. Since it is a Schedule I drug, this means that it is illegal in all settings, clinical or not. In just recent years, they have allowed clinical studies to be done on the use of MDMA on PTSD patients. So far, they have been extremely successful and hope to legalize the drug by 2021. There are some drawbacks to this drug, since it is illegal and can be psychologically addictive. Yet, with controlled regulation and distribution of the drug in clinical settings, it can be a safe and effective way to not only reduce PTSD symptoms but also reduce substance abuse as a whole.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
In today’s society, Post-traumatic stress disorder is becoming a more common disorder not only in Wisconsin but throughout the whole nation. PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that typically results from a very traumatic event in one’s life. Within these traumatic events, no matter the person’s age, they experience a high amount of stress which then leads to multiple psycho-emotional and physiopathological symptoms. There are multiple types of events that can be considered a traumatic event, such as include, being assaulted, serious accidents, violent abuse or crime, military experience, or even terrorist attacks. A great example was 9/11 when the country underwent a heartbreaking terrorist attack. Many people who were physically or emotionally affected, whether they were firefighters, people within the towers, or even family members, still to this day suffer from PTSD. A study done in 2008 found that most cases of PTSD were actually abused children or assaulted women.
Typical symptoms of a person who has PTSD would be nightmares or flashbacks of their traumatic experience. They may also have trouble sleeping and can have “sleep walking” like incidents where they believe that they are reliving their traumatic experience. However, when they awake from the trance that they are in, they do not remember what they may have just done. An example of a PTSD trance is of a typical war veteran who has been diagnosed with PTSD from traumatic war experiences. He can simply hear the sound of a gunshot off in the distance and it can send him into a trance where he believes he is back in combat and will try to attack the people around him, even if it is his close family who he clearly loves. In this case, this is a severe case of PTSD. These type of patients also typically experience suicidal thoughts and may even try and succeed at ending their own lives. These are just a few examples of a typical daily life of a PTSD survivor. These type of people deal with their symptoms on a daily basis or even at a minute to minute basis.
PTSD was first noted back in the 1860s-1900s, during and after the Civil War. Doctors back then did not have the same resources and knowledge that we do today for obvious reasons. When they discovered these symptoms, they did not call it PTSD right away. The doctor who recorded these symptoms from a military hospital named the syndrome after himself, “Da Costa’s Syndrome.” These military patients who had the Da Costa’s Syndrome had similar symptoms as patients today who are diagnosed with PTSD.
Back then, they were not keeping statistics of patients at that point and just assumed that most military patients had some form of Da Costa’s Syndrome after combat. However, in the U.S. today, The National Center for PTSD have released estimates of men and women who have experienced PTSD at some point in their lives. In the mid-to-late 1990s, 5% of men and 10% of women had a lifetime of PTSD symptoms. In more recent studies, about 30% of men and women who have participated in some sort of war zone experience, have PTSD. This same organization has estimated that 14% of the U.S. population will at some time experience PTSD in their lifetime, making this at least 5-6 million U.S. adults with PTSD.
Women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD and reach as high 10.4% of the PTSD population. They continue to estimate that in the future, the PTSD population will increase dramatically and will eventually be one of the most significant public health issues in this country because of current events. This is not something to take lightly, considering that the symptoms of PTSD do not only put the patients at risk but also the others around them, such as their friends and family members. As these numbers increase, the risk of people forever living with PTSD continues to as well. There are current medications and treatments that are being used but have not been very successful.
Current medical treatments include medications that are antidepressants, antianxiety, and inhibitors. There are also situational treatments that focus more on the psychological factor instead of the biological factor like medications. These treatments include psychotherapeutic interventions, psychodynamic therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, hypnotherapy, eye desensitization and reprocessing, and many others. The major issue that the current PTSD specialists have right now are comorbid symptoms. Co-morbidities are phobias, major depression, panic and anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and other psychotic disorders.
These are separate diagnoses that a patient with PTSD may also have, whether they result as a symptom of PTSD or not. They have found that they have had the most success by treating all of these symptoms at once instead of dealing with each of them individually in order. Not all of these medications and treatments have been proven to work. The only ones that have shown significant help with PTSD patients are the cognitive behavior therapy and eye desensitization and reprocessing. These type of therapies focus on exposure therapy and helping the person to control their emotional processes in their mind when they are experiencing PTSD symptoms.
These therapies are proven to work best with a medication; however, by the time that the medication actually begins to work their system, it is months later, and the patient has already developed chronic PTSD. Overall, even when they use these combined treatments, there still has not been a consistent systematic process of treatment for PTSD. Every person and their symptoms of PTSD can be different which makes it very difficult to treat. When they have to start from square one for every single patient, they are wasting precious time, and people are likely to develop chronic PTSD by the time they find a treatment that is finally beginning to work. This is where the new study of psychedelic drugs has come in.
In today’s society, psychedelic drugs are considered illegal and taboo to do; yet, many do not know that they were originally used for medical purposes in the 70s and 80s. The drug, 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, is also known as molly or ecstasy and used for recreational use. MDMA was leaked into the streets, and the DEA made it illegal in 1988. Even though there were current psychotherapeutic studies being done, MDMA was banned completely and patients were refused their treatment.
MDMA is specifically a member of the phenethylamines and considered an amphetamine which is a stimulant, hallucinogen, and entactogen. It is a stimulant because it has energizing effects and can cause the user misinterpret time and perception. It is considered a hallucinogen because it can cause hallucinations and increased sensory system. Lastly, it is also an entactogen because it increases one’s self-awareness, happiness, and empathy. MDMA can come in tablets or capsules and recreational users aren’t usually aware that the synthetically made drug can actually have lots of other drugs within it. There is always the possibility of street drugs not containing the pure form of the drug. In fact, most street drugs are synthetically made and mixed with many other dangerous drugs.
MDMA made correctly and in pure form does not have any harmful effects on the body if used properly. In the 1970s, when they were studying the effect of MDMA on different patients with psychological disorders, they realized that MDMA could actually be a practical solution. The negative of MDMA is that it can cause high blood pressure, faintness, panic attacks, and in severe overdose cases, can cause seizures. Studies have found that MDMA is typically taken by young adults ages 18-21 and taken at events where they are increasing their heart rates and temperatures are already high.
Most people take it when they are at concerts and will be jumping up and down while the indoor temperatures are dangerously high. This combination of physical activity, heat, and then a possible overdose of MDMA can cause people to lose consciousness and have a very high blood pressure, which can be life-threatening. These are really the only physical effects MDMA can have on the human body. The drug is not physically addictive but does have addictive properties where people can become psychologically dependent on it.
Psychedelics and PTSD Together
Past studies and current studies are proving to show that MDMA is not all bad, as it is considered now. In 1984, the DEA proposed to criminalize MDMA in all settings, recreational and medical. This caused the EMDL to sue the DEA for trying to completely criminalize the drug. It was currently being used for psychotherapy treatment for a wide range of reasons such as PTSD, relationship issues, neuroses, and cancer. People who were dealing with these issues had positive results from the psychotherapy use of MDMA. Although there were so many reasons why MDMA was needed in the medical field, the DEA ended up winning the lawsuit with many different rationales against MDMA.
Ever since then, MDMA has struggled to work its way back into the medical system. A man named Rick Doblin specifically began the non-profit pharmaceutical company called MAPS since no pharmaceutical industry would profit the illegal drug studies. Rick specifically chose to profit for research on MDMA because unlike any other psychedelic drugs such as LSD, it was the only drug that had minimal effects to one’s self-control and perception.
It took quite a few years before MDMA was allowed once again in clinical research. In 1994, MAPS funded for more studies on MDMA and proposed to the FDA that they conduct studies on cancer patients. FDA required a Phase-1 dose response safety test first, so they could find the safe amount of dosages and what the side effects were. Through this test, they found that MDMA increased body temperature and made it harder for the body to regulate temperature; however, with healthy patients, the increase of body temperature was not medically significant enough to be considered dangerous.
This meant that MAPS had permission to continue with their studies on MDMA, and they decided to observe twenty patients who suffered from acute PTSD for over 19 years. Most of these patients had developed PTSD from sexual assault and all past treatments had failed to improve their symptoms. To avoid bias, the study was double-blind so neither the patient, nor the researcher knew whether the subjects were receiving MDMA or a placebo pill.
The subjects who received the MDMA were given a small dosage of 50-75 mg of pure MDMA. Twelve out of twenty of the patients received the drug and then had a therapy session immediately after ingestion. Within only three days, ten out of the twelve subjects who received MDMA no longer had relevant PTSD symptoms. This meant that the subjects were essentially “cured” and no longer were considered PTSD sufferers. Years later, another retrospective study was done on these same patients who once participated in the first study, and they found that seven out of the ten subjects, who no longer had PTSD, never developed PTSD symptoms ever again.
MAPS continued to build off their pilot studies and have gained permission to test MDMA in many different ways, so they could find the ideal dosage and follow up treatment that best reduced PTSD symptoms. Unlike other medications that are taken daily, MDMA is only administered every few times in a three to four month period. It is also given to patients with direct supervision of psychiatrists and therapists. After each study, they were able to minimize the toxicity threat of MDMA, making it safe for humans. They also figured out that by combining pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy at the same time, they are able to increase the success rate of patients going symptom free or close to. This meant that the subjects are given a certain dosage of MDMA and then have a psychotherapy right afterwards. As soon as their session ends, they are given another half-dosage of MDMA to extend the therapeutic effects. Through this process, the success rates speak for themselves.
People who have participated in these studies swear by the process and have completely different lives. Here are a few quotes of past PTSD sufferers who were cured of their symptoms because of MDMA:
“My symptoms of PTSD became “treatment-resistant” after the medication and psychotherapy that the Veterans Affairs provided was ineffective. I began to search for alternative treatment methods, and that’s when I heard about the trial of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to treat PTSD. After being accepted as a participant and receiving the treatment, I am proud to say that I am no longer on medications, I am able to more fully live my life, and my relationship with PTSD has changed completely.”
“I was prescribed many medications to treat my PTSD symptoms, but none of the treatments helped me I was accepted to the study and I saw a profound difference in my symptoms after the first treatment. After only 3 sessions of therapy with MDMA, I no longer qualified for a diagnosis of PTSD. Now that I have recovered from PTSD, I am able to lead a happy and productive life again.”
There are many more success stories of people who once used to suffer from this terrible disorder. The studies have proven to be statistically significant and MDMA is on its way of being clinically accepted.
Conclusion and Recommendations
It is very obvious that throughout these past 25 years, there has been enough research done to prove that in a controlled, clinical setting, a safe dosage of pure MDMA has helped patients not only suffering from PTSD but many others with psychological disorders. Currently, MDMA is in the process of being legalized by the FDA. It is predicted that by 2021, MDMA will be strictly allowed as a therapeutic drug.
The biggest issue that any legislative system would have is legalizing a drug and then an increase in recreational use. MDMA was originally criminalized because it slipped out to the public and became an abuse issue. Although, with the current system that studies have developed, the only people who would have access to these drugs are trained psychiatrists and therapists. Just as any Schedule II drug, MDMA has risks as well, but they are minimized by the type of treatment given. Patients who would receive this drug would have to be within a clinical setting and in the presence of a MDMA-trained therapist.
Through this process, the patient would be observed the entire process and the therapist would confirm ingestion by checking the patient’s mouth. Then the patient would undergo a psychotherapy session and given a second dosage of MDMA, again being observed swallowing the pill. Even if one were to hold the pill in their mouth, the pill dissolves almost instantly with contact of saliva. Once the pill enters the patient’s mouth, there is no chance of it being released into the public.
If this drug were to be accepted for medical, therapeutic use, it would help improve so many people’s way of life. PTSD not only can completely interfere with a person’s everyday life, but it can also affect the people around them. Current treatments have shown hardly any statistical proof that they are helping PTSD patients. If there is already a safe and controlled drug that can cure such a horrific disorder, then why wouldn’t it be allowed for medical use?
MDMA is also still being used recreationally and still will be whether this Schedule I drug is legalized or not. In fact, the recreational use of MDMA has gone up drastically ever since it was originally banned. If MDMA were to be legalized in a safe setting, then the recreational use would hopefully drop. Most users are taking the drug to cope with psychological and emotional problems they have in the first place. Most drug abusers have some sort of psychological problem that needs medical attention. Legalizing MDMA in the healthcare system would encourage these drug abusers to seek medical attention instead and be treated properly for their underlying mental diseases. Most MDMA users also use many other illegal drugs to try to cope with their disease. So not only would it encourage just MDMA abusers to find treatment, it would also lower other illicit drug usage.
MDMA could be such powerful leverage in substance abuse throughout the country. In order to start this process, we need to start small and what better state than Wisconsin to do so. Through extensive research in the past two decades, MDMA has been proven to completely heal people of their disorders. The people in this world who are innocent had something awful happen to them and have to deal with it the rest of their lives. They did not deserve to ever go through such traumatic experiences, but they do deserve to be healed from them. No single person should ever have to constantly relive the most distressing points of their life. There is a treatment that has been proven to work, so now we just need to provide it for these people in need.