Americans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, may soon be able to alleviate their symptoms with MDMA, also known as ecstasy.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration green-lighted Phase 3 clinical trials of the otherwise illegal party drug, which is the final step before potentially approving it for medical use, the New York Times reported.
Researchers have found that the euphoria, decreased inhibition, and contentment that often come with use of the drug may be beneficial to those who suffer with PTSD, including military veterans, conflict journalists, and trauma survivors.
Potential psychiatric uses of MDMA have been studied for decades.
In the 1970s, Leo Zeff, a psychologist and former Army colonel, advocated ecstasy’s benefits within the psychotherapeutic community in California. He nicknamed the drug “Adam” because he believed it stripped away neuroses and returned patients to their primordial states.
A 2012 study led by David Nutt, the Edmond J. Safra Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College of London, used a brain scan to show how ecstasy consumption affects emotions. Healthy volunteers were asked to recall their most painful and favorite memories while undergoing a brain scan. Activity in the limbic system — which controls the part of the brain involved in emotional response — decreased among volunteers who had taken ecstasy, rather than a placebo, when recalling negative, scary, or unhappy memories. In contrast, joyful memories were experienced more intensely and vividly by the volunteers who had taken ecstasy.
Nutt cautioned against “drawing too many conclusions from a study in healthy volunteers.”
This study followed another in the U.S. that same year, conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.
Ecstasy is classified as a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency, meaning it is viewed as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
Abuse can be lethal. One U.K. study examined all 202 ecstasy-related deaths in the country between 1996 and 2002. Of those, three out of four victims were under the age of 29. In 17 percent of those deaths, ecstasy was the only drug implicated; the remainders were situations where the victim had combined ecstasy consumption with another drug, such as cocaine or opiates.