A couple of very interesting news stories recently caught our attention about possible therapeutic uses of Ecstasy and of psychedelics. For many years both drugs have been considered “drugs of abuse,” so it is very intriguing to learn that there may be beneficial uses for these drugs.
The first article(1) described the use of Ecstasy, or MDMA, to treat Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. The article described a trial study with 26 combat veterans and first responders with chronic PTSD who had not been helped by traditional treatment methods. Participants in the study had two eight-hour sessions in which they were administered a low dose of MDMA, with psychotherapists sitting with the participants as “guides” during the experience. The MDMA sessions were followed up with therapy sessions to process the emotions and insights experienced while under the influence of MDMA.
The results were dramatic. 62%, or 16 of the 26 participants, improved so much that they no longer met the clinical definition of PTSD. Participants also reported drastic improvements in sleep. The FDA is impressed enough with this and similar studies showing the benefits of using MDMA in psychotherapy settings that it has granted MDMA “breakthrough” therapy status which can speed FDA approval.
There is one more surprise to go along with the surprising effectiveness of using MDMA with PTSD patients. That second surprise is that MDMA is no longer under patent. Originally patented in 1912, the patent lapsed because the drug was never marketed. The FDA has granted the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (M.A.P.S.) data exclusivity because of the studies they have been doing with Ecstasy; M.A.P.S. will own the patent for MDMA if they are successful in bringing the drug to market.
You may have caught the word “psychedelics” in the preceding paragraph. That was the topic of the second article(2) that caught our eye this week. This article described experimental research into using psilocybin, a psychedelic drug very similar to LSD, to treat depression and alcoholism, and to assist with smoking cessation. The protocol used is virtually identical to the one described earlier with MDMA. Used in conjunction with psychotherapy, the patient takes a dose of psilocybin in the presence of two psychotherapists who serve as “guides” and to comfort the patient if necessary. Follow up therapy sessions enable the patient to process the emotions and insights for the experience.
The results of psilocybin with smoking cessation were dramatic. Six months after the session 80% had quit smoking. 67% were not smoking after one year. These rates significantly exceed the success rate of other treatments. Results of treating depression are equally significant. The FDA was impressed enough by early results with using psilocybin to treat depression and anxiety that they asked researches to conduct a large phase 3 trial of psilocybin for depression.
Bob Dylan wrote his song “The Times They Are a Changin’” in 1964, about the same time that Timothy Leary was popularizing LSD as a mind-expanding drug. Who would have thought that these drugs, which our culture for many years has categorized as “drugs of abuse,” would be so promising when used in a controlled therapeutic environment?
1 A Drug From the Dance Floor May Soon Help Ease Veterans’ PTSD, The New York Times National Edition, May 2, 2018.
2 The New Science of Psychedelics, The Wall Street Journal, May 5 – 6, 2018.