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Research continues into therapeutic uses of MDMA (ecstasy) -Is it working for you?

Posted by mandyf on July 26, 2011

Photo by "T to the Anus"

The drug ecstasy is primarily associated to raves, wild teenagers, and all sorts of promiscuous sexual activity, but times are changing, or more appropriately time is taking two steps back. Ecstasy (3,4-Methylendioxymethamphetamine) , also known as MDMA is being looked at again for its practical medicinal purposes. Research and even the use of the drug for therapeutic applications is not a new thing – it’s just been on hold a very long time.

A German company. Merck pharmaceuticals, patented MDMA in 1912 and first produced MDMA (ecstasy) in 1913. The use it was initially believed to have was as an appetite suppressant. The side effects however made it unfit to market and the drug primarily disappeared until the 1960’s when MDA which is an analogue of MDAM surfaced and became a popular drug among the counter culture groups. By the time the late 1970’s rolled around, MDMA was being used as an aid for psychotherapeutic treatment. When the DEA and drug czar caught wind that MDMA was becoming a more popular recreational drug  in 1985, they pulled the plug on it and made MDMA illegal.

MDMA remained an underground drug that continued to rise in popularity, and despite numerous petitions from members of the medical community to given the green light to continue researching medical applications for the drug, the government failed to be compliant. European nations which mostly had similar bans began loosening their restrictions on medical testing first, and a few years after the fact the FDA finally agreed to limited testing of MDMA for certain medical applications.

MDMA was, and is, primarily being tested for treatment applications associated to PTSD (post Traumatic Stress Disorder), anxiety, and pain – but only in regards to terminal cancer patients. Julie Holland, an NYU Medical Center psychiatrist, stated “There is nothing like this in psychiatry – a fast-acting anti-anxiety medication that makes people alert and talkative.” tests conducted at Harvard, in Switzerland, South Carolina, and Israel seem to back that claim up as well.

The problem however is that tests also indicate that MDMA can impair memory so the application of MDMA as a part of a treatment plan may be very limited in scope. Another problem is that while MDMA is not known to be physically addictive, psychological addiction is a whole other issue. While it is believed psychological addiction can be controlled when doses are administered on a strictly monitored schedule on  site at a medical facility that patients are restricted to for the first three hours after the dose enters the body, there has not yet been enough testing conducted to verify that hypothesis.

While not everyone is on board with using MDMA as a practical option in treatment programs, more and more researchers are beginning to seriously explore the possibility despite the drug’s long standing Schedule 1 stigma. Currently, most research indicates that MDMA can be particularly helpful for patients suffering from PTSD. The problem with PTSD is that even with intense psychotherapy and all the anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications in the world, treatment is often very slow, can stretch out for decades at times as many Vietnam veterans can attest to, and there is no real answer as to what treatments work and which do not.

The problem many point out with PTSD treatment is that not all trauma is insurmountable. Not everyone is equipped to revisit the horrors of war or rape for instance and move on to the healing stage. In those cases people live in constant fear that something will trigger the trauma and they are forced to relive the moment again and again. MDMA by nature engenders feelings of trust and helps people open up which is what many PTSD suffers lack the ability to do. When using MDMA patients can be guided back through the trauma without being overwhelmed which allows them to process the scene more as an observer than as a victim. Once that has been a achieved the attending psychiatrist or therapist can plant positive thoughts in a sense to help the patient cope with potential triggers in the future so that the likelihood of flashbacks are not only lessened, but less traumatic when they do occur.

Due diligence dictates that studies are ongoing and there are no definitive answers that the conclusions of primary studies will be upheld when replicated, although the outlook is positive. The MDMA that is administered in a clinical setting is also one of pure chemical composition which is far different than the MDMA floating around illegally that is commonly referred to as ecstasy. It must also be stressed that no person should in any way attempt to treat any psychological disorder on their own via the use of any medication or recreational drug. The treatment that accompanies the use of MDMA is as integral a part of the process as the drug itself to a certain degree.

Sources:

http://healthpsych.psy.vanderbilt.edu/ECSTASY.htm

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/heal th/article3850302.ece

http://www.jointogether.org/news/headlines/inthenews /2007/multiple-studies-look-at.html

http://www.essortment.com/articles/ecstasy_100011.ht m

http://www.cnn.com/2004/HEALTH/02/25/ecstasy.study/i ndex.html

http://www.nuaa.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=59:alex-clarke&catid=5:number-54-winter-2008&Itemid=55

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/medical_notes/2000 729.stm

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One Response to “Research continues into therapeutic uses of MDMA (ecstasy) -Is it working for you?”

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