Go Ad-Free
logoThe People's Perspective on Medicine

Will Ecstasy or MDMA Ease the Trauma of PTSD?

Most therapists know that PTSD is hard to treat. Could the controversial drug MDMA help overcome the trauma of PTSD?

A study slated for publication later this month in Nature Medicine suggests that the drug MDMA could be helpful in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. MDMA is also known as “ecstasy” and has been controversial for decades. The new research suggests that this drug, together with psychotherapy, might help overcome the trauma of PTSD.

What Is PTSD?

Many people immediately think of battlefield trauma when the phrase post-traumatic stress disorder is mentioned. Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan suffered horrific violence, and many have experienced long-lasting psychological scars.

But PTSD can be triggered by almost any emotional trauma. A distressing event or series of events can lead to unrelenting symptoms. They include troubling memories that keep recurring. Flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, irritability and anger are also common symptoms.

How Could MDMA Help Against the Trauma of PTSD?

MDMA was originally mentioned by the Merck pharmaceutical company in 1912 (Pharmazie, Nov. 2006). The drug wasn’t tested on human subjects until 1959.

Some psychiatrists in the late 1970s and early 1980s started using MDMA during psychotherapy. They believed it enhanced communication and enabled patients to gain better insights about deep-seated problems. 

One article in the American Journal of Psychiatry (Nov. 1985) titled “Information on ‘Ecstasy’” describes the drug this way: 

“MDMA has been labeled a psychedelic drug, but the scant published literature comparing the subjective effects of this compound to those of the ‘classic’ psychedelic drugs such as LSD, psilocybin, mescaline or dimethyltryptamine, does not clearly support the placement of MDMA in this category. Anecdotal clinical reports describe a lack of the disorientation, ego disruption, perceptual distortions, and transient psychotic states that can occur with the more powerful psychedelics, when MDMA is used in a controlled environment with careful supervision.

“We hope the furor in the media and legislatures that made research with psychedelic compounds so difficult (if not impossible) to pursue in the 1960s will not have the same effect on further rational inquiry into the mechanisms of action and clinical utility of MDMA.”

The Club Drug:

That plea by psychiatrist George Greer was made over 35 years ago. During the interim, there has been relatively little research into the use of MDA for easing the trauma of PTSD.

That’s largely because ecstasy became popular as a club drug. The DEA banned MDMA and categorized it as a Schedule 1 drug with no accepted medical use.

Fast Forward to 2021:

Researchers are starting to study MDMA again. In a phase 3 clinical trial, 90 patients with PTSD received either MDMA or placebo. Both groups also participated in intense psychotherapy.

When they were assessed after two months, one-third of the patients on placebo had improved whereas two-thirds who received MDMA were no longer diagnosed with PTSD. The researchers emphasize that MDMA facilitates psychotherapy and is not itself a magic wand for relieving symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Share Your Story:

Have you suffered from PTSD? Please let others know how damaging this trauma can be in the comment section below. What have you done to overcome the psychological scars? 

Rate this article
4- 2 ratings
About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
Tired of the ads on our website?

Now you can browse our website completely ad-free for just $5 / month. Stay up to date on breaking health news and support our work without the distraction of advertisements.

Browse our website ad-free
Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.