Researchers are gaining ground in the combat against posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in an unlikely way. Touted as “the party drug,” ecstasy, or MDMA, may just be the saving grace for hundreds of thousands of veterans suffering from PTSD.
According to a study by the Rand Corporation, in 2008 one in five soldiers returning home from Afghanistan or Iraq showed symptoms of PTSD. All in all, nearly 300,000 returning soldiers were affected. Letting individuals with PTSD go untreated is detrimental to both the individual and to society as a whole, as it has been linked to higher incidences of depression, health issues, violence, marital problems, drug use, unemployment, homelessness and suicide among veterans. And although each active military service member is provided with $400,000 in military life insurance coverage, that provides little comfort to families of a PTSD-afflicted veterans.
In the first controlled study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in July, 2010, ecstasy was used in combination with psychotherapy to treat patients suffering from PTSD. The subjects tested in the trial were patients with symptoms that were not improving with standard psychotherapy and antidepressants. According to Time Magazine, government-approved drugs such as Paxil and Zoloft typically administered to PTSD patients are only effective in about 20% of cases. Therapy has a higher success rate in alleviating symptoms; however, one-fourth of all patients drop out when asked to recall painful or stressful memories.
The Science behind Ecstasy and PTSD-afflicted Military Veterans
The theory behind this very controversial treatment is that ecstasy releases a large amount of mood-regulating chemicals, serotonin and dopamine, in the brain. Patients who have taken ecstasy are more open in therapy sessions and able to talk about otherwise agonizing events. The results showed that after two months of therapy 83% of the patients that were given ecstasy showed tremendous signs of improvement and were no longer being classified as PTSD patients.
This pilot study has opened a psychedelic door in the pharmaceutical world. There is hope yet for veterans suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder.