Ecstasy appears on track to become an FDA-approved prescription treatment if the results of the first Phase 3 trial on psychedelic-assisted therapy are any indication. As the New York Times reports, 67% of PTSD patients who were given a dose of the drug during therapy no longer qualified for a PTSD diagnosis two months after treatment. That was compared to 32% of PTSD patients given a placebo. There was evidence that ecstasy, also known as MDMA, helped therapy patients in the late 1970s, before it became a recreational drug and was criminalized in 1985. It enhances the release of serotonin and dopamine, both of which regulate mood. A 2019 study on mice found that MDMA may also return the brain to a "state of malleability," per the Times. But "it's the therapy enhanced by the drug" that's doing the work here, says senior author Rick Doblin of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.
Ninety participants in the US, Canada, and Israel, the majority of whom were white, attended two sessions with trained therapists before they were given MDMA or an inactive placebo during three eight-hour sessions. One participant said his debilitating nightmares stopped after his sessions, which involved him reliving key memories from a 2007 deployment in Iraq, then engaging with the PTSD "bully," as he called it. The "medicine … stimulated my own consciousness's ability for self-healing," the man tells the Times. "Literally, I'm a different person." Another participant revisited a traumatic experience from age 4. "This allowed me to accept myself and recognize who I am," he says. "It's made me really understand what the feeling of joy is." The only side effects were mild nausea and loss of appetite, per the Times. If the results of a second, ongoing Phase 3 trial are as promising, the FDA could approve MDMA-assisted therapy by 2023. (Read more MDMA stories.)