More than 30 years after it was outlawed as a widely abused party drug, researchers are once again using ecstasy to treat people with mental health problems. The FDA gave the green light Tuesday to large-scale trials of the drug, which is the last step before it can be approved as a prescription drug, the New York Times reports. A recent smaller-scale clinical trial in Canada found that the drug eased PTSD symptoms in 56% of patients, in part by helping them access repressed memories. "Some people will say 'I don't know why they call this ecstasy' as they're going through the therapy, because there can be a lot of emotions they may not be in touch with," researcher Alison Fudaccia tells the CBC.
The drug, also known as MDMA, releases hormones that reduce fear and increase trust, researchers say. Two recent US trials focused on long-term PTSD sufferers, including emergency workers and combat veterans, whose symptoms had not been eased by other drugs or therapies. A few experts fear that using the drug for PTSD therapy will increase recreational use, as happened with opioids, the Verge notes, but some patients say taking it in therapy was enough. "It gave me my life back, but it wasn’t a party drug," a former firefighter who got his life back together after the treatment tells the Times. "It was a lot of work." (A recent study found that male and female brains react differently to trauma.)