By Allison Kubo Hutchison
New research published May 10 in Nature Medicine adds to the stack of evidence that Psychedelic drugs can be used to treat mental health. The study administered their test group with 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA) in an attempt to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). After three eight-hour sessions supervised by an attentive therapist, it was “found to induce significant and robust attenuation” of suicidality and impairment. At the conclusion of the study, 67 percent of the participants who were given MDMA no longer qualified to be diagnosed with PTSD. However, it is unclear how long the effects will last and larger, more racially diverse studies are still necessary to establish robustness.
This is just the latest data point in research on psychedelic treatment. Other studies have shown that psilocybin (an active component of magic mushrooms) or lysergic acid (LSD) lowers distress in cancer patients with end-of-life anxiety. Other applications include the treatment of drug addiction with ibogaine which is an alkaloid derived from the iboga shrub.
The mechanism behind these seemingly miraculous drugs is unclear. In the recent work on MDMA, researchers speculate that it may work on the place of your brain that processes fearful memories reverting it to a state similar to one pre-adolescence. This reopening allows channels in the amygdala to be flooded with oxytocin and allows for the healing and processing of trauma. Another possibility is that it allows patients with trauma to revisit and retell it without significant anxiety during therapy.
On May 12, the Food and Drug Administration approved Phase 1 clinical trials for healthy healthcare professionals to study MDMA assisted therapy. This program focusing on therapists themselves is the first step to MDMA-assisted therapy and the more widespread application of a potentially life-changing treatment.