BOULDER — The Federal Government is looking into whether a popular party drug could be the closest thing to a cure for combat veterans suffering from PTSD.
The FDA gave researchers the ‘go-ahead’ to conduct a third and final phase of a study showing how fast and effective MDMA (known as ecstasy/molly) works to alleviate traumatic emotional distress.
A good chunk of the research is happening here in Colorado; more specifically: Boulder and Fort Collins.
One of the people working on the study is Dr. Will Van Derveer, a psychiatrist from Boulder.
“At first I was very shocked that they were using MDMA to treat PTSD because I learned in medical school that it was a drug of abuse and had no clinical benefit, basically,” said Dr. Van Derveer.
After Dr. Van Derveer read the initial first phase of the study his outlook changed.
“Eighty-three percent (83%) of people who went through that study didn’t meet criteria for PTSD anymore [after they completed their trials]. So I was really blown away,” Dr. Van Derveer said.
On average, each person who participated in the initial trial had struggled with chronic PTSD symptoms for 19 years. But after completing three 8-hour sessions, where they were given a dose of MDMA, along with psychotherapy, most patients saw their PTSD disappear in a mere five months time.
“To be able to get a result like that with chronic resistant PTSD in 5 months is incredible,” Dr. Van Derveer explained. “I’ve had people under my care for 10 years, 15 years, [and they’re] still struggling”.
In terms of helping people overcome trauma, Dr. Van Derveer said he’s never seen anything work the way MDMA does.
“I don’t think there’s any drug that comes near that in my experience,” he said.
Dr. Van Derveer added how ordinary medications for depression and anxiety only suppress symptoms, whereas MDMA appears to get to the root of it. The study shows that in follow-up sessions.
“People actually improved over the tail end of the study where no treatment was given but people were continuing to integrate what they had learned in the first part of the study,” Dr. Van Derveer said.
MDMA is known as a ‘feel good’ drug. It forces the brain to release hormones and neurotransmitters that evoke feelings of love, trust and well-being, according to medical experts. All while silencing fear and memories that bring about emotional distress.
“The weeks and months of ordinary psychotherapy that it takes to build rapport and trust with a client happen very quickly with MDMA,” Dr. Van Derveer added.
While the study highlights the potential benefits of MDMA, there’s also the bad side. MDMA is currently classified as a Schedule 1 drug and plenty of people abuse it in rave and party situations.
At the same time, government research hasn’t been able to definitively answer whether MDMA has any addictive effects the way opiates or alcohol do.
“It’s not like alcohol where you go into drug withdrawal reaction if you don’t get more MDMA. But certainly people do abuse it and overuse it,” Dr. Van Derveer said.
With a trial already complete in Boulder (and another one schedule there this Spring), MAPS is currently looking for volunteers to participate in its Fort Collins trial, which begins soon.
“I think what we’re seeing is a ground swell of people who realize the medications available for anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar, even schizophrenia often times don’t work and have a lot of side effects,” Dr. Van Derveer explained.
The study is about to begin phase 3 of the FDA issued trial. If phase 3 shows promising results (the way phases 1 & 2 do), medical experts say MDMA will likely become a legal prescription by 2021.
If you're a healthy adult and are interested in participating in the Fort Collins research project, click here.