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How About a Little Ecstasy for Your PTSD?

A new PTSD treatment has been found to have a long term, lasting positive impact three years later in two-thirds of the 19 people tested.

What’s the therapy, you ask? Why, it’s the love drug, of course: ecstasy.

In CNN’s glowing report on the positive impact of ecstasy (or, its technical and not so salacious sounding name “MDMA”), both the doctor who studied the drug and a few of the people who tested it raved about its positive impact on their condition. One described it as allowing her to be aware of the “hard wiring decisions that (her) brain had made.” They said it allowed them to process their trauma and move on.

When subjects were given the drug for the study they were held in a controlled therapy environment where the doctor and a nurse monitored their bodies (such as heart rate) and talked them through their experiences, similar (it sounds) to other talking therapies that do not include illicit drugs.

Still, a 19 person test is very, very small. And of course a drug known as the “happy pill” is going to make your brain feel alive and hyper aware. That’s what ecstasy does. (Or so I’m told. Let’s be clear: I have no personal experience with the drug).

But the doctor in charge of the study says patients show tremendous improvement in their reported symptoms even years after the therapy. Why? From the story:

“We think it gives people this window of time in which they can process things without being overwhelmed by emotion, but also not being numbed up.”

Even the skeptics, at least as painted in the CNN story, do not seem to take issue with the means so much as the lack of adherence to traditional treatment methods.

Some in the PTSD support community, such as this group, seem to embrace the idea of alternate therapies, even those involving currently “illegal” drugs. Several said they wish they could use Marijuana as a treatment. Of those who expressed worries, some were concerned about the synthetic nature of ecstasy,  while at least one wondered if the known side effects of ecstasy use, including an increased likelihood of substance abuse, wouldn’t be a problem for those in MDMA therapy.

The study addresses the substance abuse question (researches found no increased likelihood among those in the test run), but there seems to be a lot more at stake here than just that.

For example, ecstasy is known as a readily available street drug. Surely a study such as this one will result in PTSD suffers seeking self treatment in a non-controlled environment. And what report does not say is that taking ecstasy without the guidance of a therapist is a good idea. I’d go even so far as to guess that it’s a terrible idea.

And yet I wonder if giving this a go in a larger study isn’t something that should be done — and soon. FDA approved psychotropic drugs are prescribed all the time – what makes those more safe on a controlled, non-abuse basis than ecstasy … or marijuana, for that matter? If my husband was suffering from an extreme case of PTSD, I would be doing my best to get him to every possible treatment available. I would not be quibbling over whether or not synthetic drugs are a good idea.

What do you think? How would you feel about your spouse (or yourself) taking ecstasy to deal with PTSD?

About Amy Bushatz

Amy is the managing editor of Military.com’s spouse and family blog SpouseBuzz.com. A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for Military.com where she is an Associate Editor. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on NPR and in the New York Times. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.