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How MDMA May Help with the Pain of PTSD

PTSD affects everyone from soldiers, children, to someone recovering from a natural disaster or sexual assault. The memories of the tortured experience torments their mind, sometimes replaying over and over again as they relive the experience. But what if there was a drug that could help them feel in touch with the world again? A drug that, if used in a controlled environment, could bring them back to reality with a fresh set of eyes? MDMA might be the answer for PTSD.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a psychological condition that is triggered by a traumatic event. The person may suffer from nightmares or flashbacks, causing severe anxiety and depression. If someone is suffering from PTSD their symptoms may include negative or suicidal thoughts, detachment from the world, or extreme emotional reactions. This list is not all-inclusive and there may a multitude of other symptoms that arise.

What is MDMA?

3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is a psychoactive drug that acts as a stimulant and a psychedelic. It affects the neurons in our brain that control serotonin production. It gives you a feeling of an increased sense of peace, acceptance, overall well-being, intense feelings of happiness, self-confidence, and pleasure. It sounds amazing, but of course with any drug there are risks and side effects. The user can suffer physical symptoms such as blurred vision, chills, and teeth clenching. When you come down off the high, you may have feelings of being depressed, loss of concentration, and fatigue. Under a controlled environment these symptoms can be mitigated.

MDMA in Psychotherapy for PTSD

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has been working to get MDMA an approved psychotherapy drug since 1986, when it was made illegal. A study done in 2011 on 20 patients with chronic PTSD showed an improvement on the PTSD scale from the baseline for patients, meaning MDMA had a significant positive impact on their cognitive emotions.

Since then there have been many other larger phase II trials carried out by psychotherapists all over the world with promising results. Out of the 107 people that were tested in other trials, 61 that were available for study after 12 months no longer had PTSD. MDMA is able to dampen the typical emotional responses when the user is reliving the traumatic memories, which helps them work through the feelings and memories unguarded and peacefully.

With the heightened sense of euphoria and empathy, the person suffering from PTSD is able to relax their mind and emotions, while still retaining cognitive awareness and being able to remember the session long after they come down from the high.

Having completed the Phase II trials, MAPS was able to reach an agreement with the FDA to conduct Phase III trials. If they are able to garner the $25 million needed to fund the research, they could start as early as spring and finish the trials by 2021. The Phase III trials will be randomized and placebo-controlled with a psychotherapist administering the drug and working with them in the euphoric state.

MDMA being approved for Phase III clinical trials is a huge step for the pharmaceutical industry and opening the world to the possibilities that psychedelics can be positive psychoactive experiences. The public needs more education about mind-altering drugs, and what benefits they may have for people with varying psychological conditions. For MAPS this is a gateway to a future that involves more people being able to work through their conditions and look forward to a brighter future without the debilitating effects of anxiety, depression, or extreme emotional episodes.

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How MDMA May Help with the Pain of PTSD


APA Reference
, A. (2019). How MDMA May Help with the Pain of PTSD. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 15, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 15 Feb 2019 (Originally: 17 Mar 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 15 Feb 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.