According to the Food and Drug Administration, MDMA, the active ingredient in the party drug ecstasy, is likely to help millions of Americans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The “breakthrough therapy” designation usually means faster clinical trials and drug approval. The nonprofit financing the therapy, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, says that if it can raise the required $25 million to run Phase III trials, we could see MDMA used to treat PTSD in the clinic as soon as 2021.
PTSD is also a condition known to harm children of sufferers. Approximately 7 to 8% of the U.S. population will have PTSD at some point in their lives, and about 8 million adults have PTSD during a given year.
A chronic condition, in which a small trigger like a sound or smell can bring a traumatic memory to the surface, PTSD is one of the most difficult psychiatric conditions to treat. Many existing therapies don’t work for many war veterans and trauma victims, and the tragic result is that some take their own lives. “I’m cautious but hopeful,” Charles Marmar, a psychiatrist at New York University’s Langone School of Medicine told The New York Times after preliminary MDMA studies showed promise. “If they can keep getting good results, it will be of great use. Our best therapies right now don’t help 30 to 40 percent of people.”
In one study, 67 percent of PTSD patients had no signs of the disease after three MDMA therapy sessions. Just 23 percent of non-MDMA-assisted patients had the same results. Another long-term study followed 16 people who had PTSD that was unresponsive to all other therapies. Of those, two had relapses and the rest were considered clinically cured (meaning their score on a clinical evaluation fell below the minimum needed for PTSD diagnosis). Those improvements lasted for years after treatment.