Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a chronic and devastating illness associated with high rates of disability and suicide. 5 Sufferers often struggle to maintain healthy relationships and stay employed.
PTSD can be caused by war, sexual assault, childhood abuse, torture, violent crime, accidents, natural disasters, or other severely stressful events. These events are frequently re-experienced as dreams, flashbacks, memories, or negative reactions to situations that remind them of their trauma. Patterns of avoidance and withdrawal reinforce the painful memories instead of extinguishing them.
PTSD is a biological illness. Studies show that PTSD patients have decreased activity in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex (brain areas associated with memory and learning) and increased activity in the amygdala (associated with fear). 11 12
Existing treatments are not always effective. Two selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)—paroxetine (Paxil®) and sertraline (Zoloft®)—are currently marketed as PTSD medications in the U.S. These drugs must be taken every day for a long period of time in order to be effective, increasing the prevalence of side effects.
A third of PTSD patients do not respond adequately to established psychotherapies. 2 15 Cognitive behavioral therapies such as prolonged exposure and cognitive processing therapy, psychodynamic therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, and other psychotherapeutic treatments for PTSD are all similarly ineffective for some patients. 16
Even after treatment, over a third of PTSD patients still have symptoms. 7
In MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, MDMA is only administered a few times, and even a single session can have a profound effect. Conventional pharmaceutical treatments require patients to take drugs daily for months, years, or even their entire lives. 14
MDMA-assisted psychotherapy may show PTSD patients a way out. MDMA’s unique ability to reduce fear and increase interpersonal trust makes it well suited as an adjunct to psychotherapy for PTSD. 21
MDMA makes it easier for patients to be comfortable between the extremes of fear and avoidance. 19 Studies are exploring whether MDMA can increase the effectiveness of psychotherapy by strengthening the alliance between therapist and patient and opening a “window of tolerance” in patients. With MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, patients are able to experience and express fear, anger, and grief with less likelihood of feeling overwhelmed.