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Researchers Use Ecstasy to Treat PTSD
Date:7/19/2010

By Madonna Behen
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, July 19 (HealthDay News) -- A small study suggests that the illicit "club drug" Ecstasy may have one positive use: making psychotherapy more effective for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The drug, also known by its chemical acronym MDMA, appears to benefit patients for whom standard treatments have failed. But experts stressed that the study is preliminary and safety issues must be resolved before any recommendations can be made.

"PTSD treatment involves revisiting the trauma in a therapeutic setting, but many patients become overwhelmed by anxiety or numb themselves emotionally, and so they can't really successfully engage," said study lead researcher Dr. Michael Mithoefer, a psychiatrist in private practice in Charleston, S.C. "But what we found is that the MDMA seemed to temporarily decrease fear without blunting emotions, and so it helped patients better process their grief."

In PTSD, the sufferer typically "relives" the trauma via flashbacks or in other ways, such as becoming hyper-vigilant to everyday sounds. Other mental health issues include depression, anxiety disorder, adjustment disorder and alcohol and substance abuse.

Mithoefer and his colleagues studied 20 patients who'd had PTSD for an average of 19 years but had failed to get relief from psychotherapy and medications. The study participants underwent two eight-hour psychotherapy sessions scheduled about a month apart, with 12 patients taking MDMA, and eight taking a placebo. Subjects were also given psychotherapy on a weekly basis before and after each experimental session. An independent psychologist evaluated each patient's symptoms of PTSD prior to and after the sessions.

At the end of the trial, more than 80 percent of the patients who received a combination of MDMA and psychotherapy no longer met the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, compared w
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