The US Food and Drug Administration will be asked to approve MDMA to treat post-traumatic stress disorder in October, opening the door to the use of hallucinogenic drugs to treat mental illness.
If approved, the drug will be available in hospitals before the second half of next year, according to new research.
MDMA, also known as ecstasy or molly, is a popular drug in rave culture, and people take it to connect with music and dance the night away.
However, a 2021 clinical trial for the non-profit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies showed that of 90 people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, those who took MDMA along with psychotherapy were twice as likely to recover compared to those who did psychotherapy with a placebo, according to the journal Nature.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, is a mental health condition brought on by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
It is often associated with combat veterans, and even went by different names in the past based on correlation, such as “war shock” during World War I and “combat fatigue” after World War II.
However, PTSD is not exclusive to vets.
The condition affects approximately 3.5% of adults in the US each year, and the American Psychiatric Association estimates that one in 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD once in their lifetime. Women are twice as likely to have PTSD as men, and three ethnic groups (US Latinos, Blacks, and Native Americans/Alaska Natives) have higher rates of PTSD.
Since the 2021 trial, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, also known as MAPS, has conducted and completed a second, larger trial with positive results, and that study will be published in the coming months.
After publication, MAPS will apply for FDA approval, and the scientists believe it will be a smooth process until approval.
“I don’t think there are any trick questions or anything, the results are great,” said Rick Doblin, founder and president of MAPS.
Doctors currently try to treat PTSD with psychotherapy and medications such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications or prazosin to help improve symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic.
However, these medications are not extremely effective for patients with severe PTSD, as the results may be short-lived and wear off over time.
MDMA is believed to dampen the flight or fight response, allowing people to cope with their trauma. While PTSD therapies ask people to recount a traumatizing event, which could re-traumatize them, MDMA should elicit positive emotions and allow patients to make connections that might not otherwise be obvious.
In February, Australia approved the use of MDMA as a treatment for PTSD, although it will be heavily restricted.
Scientists hope that the shift to psychedelic therapy will open the door for more therapeutic psychedelics to be used in the future, such as ketamine, ayahuasca, LSD and psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic” mushrooms.