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Adding Psychedelic Drugs to Psychotherapy May Help Treat PTSD

Clinical trials suggest that adding psychedelic drugs to traditional psychotherapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be more effective than psychotherapy alone.

More than 3 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed each year with PTSD, whose symptoms include nightmares or unwanted memories of trauma, heightened reactions, anxieties and depression, and can last months, or even years.

People with PTSD, who have difficulty recovering from a traumatic event, have traditionally been treated with a combination of trauma-focused psychotherapy and a regimen of medications.

Many PTSD patients do not respond well to the current treatments, but new research to be presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, suggests that the combination of some psychedelic drugs and traditional psychotherapy holds promise.

Psychedelic substances are often found in nature and have been used in various cultures over thousands of years. Formal medical research into their medicinal uses starting in the 1950s produced promising results published in major journals but was largely halted in the 1970s for political rather than medical or scientific reasons.

New scientific evidence shows that, when administered in a controlled clinical setting, MDMA (ecstasy) and psilocybin (the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms”) have acceptable risk profiles — and patients who experienced temporary adverse reactions did not require additional medical intervention.

In the past few years the FDA has granted both MDMA and psilocybin Breakthrough Therapy Designations for PTSD and depression respectively, acknowledging they may improve upon existing therapies, and agreeing to expedite their development and review.

The research, conducted by Dr. Michael Mithoefer and colleagues from the Medical University of South Carolina, includes six Phase 2 clinical trials conducted by independent researchers in four countries.

In the trials, one group of patients was given MDMA during their psychotherapy sessions, while the other group was administered a placebo or low dose comparator in conjunction with the same psychotherapy. The final results show that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy was significantly more effective at treating patients with persistent PTSD than unassisted psychotherapy.

The researchers aim to review the successes that have been seen in the use of psychedelic drugs to treat trauma-related disorders and depression, as well as address several of the outstanding questions the medical community may still have concerning the safety, efficacy, and neurobiological functions of these novel treatment options.

Source: American College of Neuropsychopharmacology


Adding Psychedelic Drugs to Psychotherapy May Help Treat PTSD

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2020). Adding Psychedelic Drugs to Psychotherapy May Help Treat PTSD. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 18 Jan 2020 (Originally: 18 Jan 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 18 Jan 2020
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