The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized a new study looking at possible treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with the illegal party drug ecstasy.
Clinical trials of PTSD treatment with MDMA, the active ingredient in ecstasy, began in 2012 and are promising for long-term treatment of the illness. The FDA approved Phase 3 trials of MDMA treatment Tuesday, which if successful, could put ecstasy on the medical market by 2021. Officials are not revealing results from previous studies at this time but patients who participated in earlier trials of MDMA treatment said the drug saved their lives and helped them overcome addictions, according to The New York Times.
The Phase 3 research will include 230 patients following successes in Phase 2 trials. A treatment test in Charleston, South Carolina showed patients experiencing a 56 percent decrease in severe PTSD symptoms, which lasted after treatment for more than a year.
“It changed my life,” C.J. Harden, who served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, told The New York Times. “It allowed me to see my trauma without fear or hesitation and finally process things and move forward.”
Hardin said he was withdrawn and abusing alcohol before he reluctantly volunteered for the treatment trial in 2013. After the treatment he went back to college, got a steady job as an airplane mechanic and remarried. Health officials are hopeful the Phase 3 trials will prove a massive success and are petitioning the FDA to accelerate the approval process.
Many health experts are deeply concerned with the direction of the trials, given the euphoric effects of MDMA that can lead to abuse and addiction. It is classified as a Schedule 1 drug by the FDA and long-term use is known to cause brain damage. They fear approval of the drug for prescription treatments will simply normalize MDMA use and lead to an epidemic similar to the current opioid crisis.
“It sends the message that this drug will help you solve your problems, when often it just creates problems,” Andrew Parrot, a psychologist at Swansea University, told The New York Times. “This is a messy drug we know can do damage.”
The researchers suggest that MDMA only be approved for treatment plans administered and overseen by a psychotherapists, to limit the risk of abuse. Critics of the research still think approval is a slippery slope, considering other options that have much weaker addictive properties.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) recently studied the relationship between marijuana use and mental health. It showed that marijuana could aid those suffering from PTSD and depression, and is also a helpful tool for those suffering addictions to more harmful substances, like prescription painkillers.
The psychologists note that research into marijuana’s medicinal value remains limited due to the federal government’s designation of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug.
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