UBC: MDMA-Breakthrough therapies for PTSD on Psychable

PTSD

Research continues to mount showing the transformative and healing properties of MDMA. As legislation surrounding the decriminalization of psychedlics progresses across the country, Psychable. has proven itself to be an incredibly value resource to expand education of psychedelic-assisted therapy treatment options, as well as to connect those looking for more information on legal treatment to practitioners near them.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious mental health condition individuals may develop after witnessing or experiencing traumatic events and circumstances. The symptoms can be invasive and prevent those it affects from living fulfilling lives.

Unfortunately, treatments for PTSD tend to lack efficacy due to the obstacles presented by the complexity of symptoms as well as insufficient relief provided by available prescription medications. There is an urgent need for swift, innovative therapies to offer more effective relief to those living with PTSD.

Because of this deficit in treatment options, researchers have been reexamining the therapeutic benefits of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). It is a synthetic psychoactive substance that was used as a psychotherapeutic aid before being banned in 1985 due to its recreational popularity (referred to as ecstasy or Molly).

Here is a brief overview of PTSD and its detrimental impact, as well as the reasons MDMA has been designated a Breakthrough Therapy for PTSD. If trials continue to show promise this would expedite the process of approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

What Is PTSD?

The 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-5, (American Psychiatric Association, 2013), lists PTSD symptoms including intrusive and recurrent traumatic memories, avoidance of trauma-related cues, shifts in mood, and shifts in arousal levels. Combat duty, sexual assault, natural disasters, and incidents that threaten injury or death are common reasons for developing PTSD. This condition can also develop as a result of deprivation, vulnerability, abuse, instability, and significant change .

Symptoms might include avoiding people or places that evoke flashbacks or vivid, disturbing memories related to the cause of trauma, nightmares, overly sensitive startle reflex or aversion to touch, emotional withdrawal, depression, and cognitive changes like impaired memory.

Around 80 percent of people with PTSD have been diagnosed with at least one other mental health condition such as major depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders. PTSD is debilitating; without successful interventions, symptoms can hinder emotional connections and functionality over time.

More than half of suicides in people diagnosed with PTSD are determined to be a direct result of the condition. It is more prevalent in women than men, and fatality from suicide is seven times more likely for women diagnosed with PTSD than those who are not.

Why is PTSD challenging to treat?

Treating PTSD is complex and requires psychotherapeutic and (typically) pharmaceutical approaches to treat the condition effectively. Psychotherapy treatment modalities include cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive processing therapy (CPT), cognitive therapy (CT), and prolonged exposure therapy (PE), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and narrative exposure therapy.  Coping mechanisms associated with the condition frequently present barriers to successful treatment. Increased physiological activation when processing traumatic memories often leads clients to prematurely discontinue treatment.

Emotional avoidance behaviors are common and problematic obstacles to PTSD recovery because the individual experiences constant, immense fear of re-experiencing their trauma. Avoidance behaviors make psychotherapy and concurrent cognitive-behavioral efforts challenging because these therapies rely heavily on the individual’s awareness of their feelings and behaviors in order to change them. The fear response causes an instinctive aversion to the engagement required to benefit from therapy and begin the process of healing. Highly active fear centers in the brain’s limbic center inhibit cortical processing, which leads clients to feel easily overwhelmed, shut down, and give up on therapy.

How can MDMA help people with PTSD?

MDMA, a stimulant and mild hallucinogenic, is known for promoting feelings of empathy, connectedness, and increased perception of meaning.

These effects help individuals struggling with PTSD fully engage with the therapeutic process. Despite debilitating depression, traumatized individuals are often unable to engage with the present or think about the future due to fears that they will reencounter the source of trauma, regardless of whether this avoidant behavior is rational or even conscious.

Researchers at The University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBC) found that fewer than three MDMA-assisted psychotherapy sessions can have immense benefits, making it possible for those living with PTSD to revisit memories of trauma and examine them with a significantly reduced level of anxiety and fear. Over 50 percent of study participants no longer met the criteria for an active PTSD diagnosis after two sessions.

“Too many people with PTSD struggle to find effective treatment,” said Zach Walsh, Associate Professor of Psychology and co-author of the UBC study: “…use of MDMA in a supportive environment with trained mental health professionals could be an important addition to our treatment options.”

Organizations like the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies are on the front lines of studying the therapeutic potential of MDMA as a Breakthrough Therapy for PTSD. The studies are currently in Phase 3 clinical trials.
Learn more about the studies here and the research investigating its use as a treatment for PTSD on Psychable. They facilitate connections with practitioners, provide knowledge, and offer a community platform for those interested in the healing power of psychedelics to connect.

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