Colorado study shows benefits of using ecstasy with psychotherapy to treat PTSD

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BOULDER, Colo. -- A study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology Monday took a look at the use of ecstasy during psychotherapy to treat chronic PTSD.  Part of the study was conducted in Boulder and the result are promising.

Ecstasy, or MDMA, is a schedule 1 drug that plenty of people abuse during raves or party situations.  But therapists found it had benefits for people like Jessi Appleton, who was a part of the study.

Jessi says she was surprised at first.  “My first thought was like,  you want to give me what?” she said.  But she agreed to the trial, saying that nothing else was helping her chronic PTSD.  “I was scared all the time, I wasn`t able to leave my house for weeks at a time because of my anxiety,” she said.

During three appointments over three months, she was administered the drug before an eight hour psychotherapy session.  “I feel like your guard goes down, it’s like everything.  You are able to process things with less fear, less anxiety,” she said.

That’s when she was able to tackle some of her serious traumas including sexual abuse.  “It was intense,” she said.

She faced it all, and the other 27 participants, including veterans, had similar results.  One year out, 76 percent of the participants no longer had PTSD.

“It was a big experiment.  There were a lot of things that we had never done before, and the results were amazing,” said Marcela Ot’alora G, the principal investigator and psychotherapist in Boulder.  She says patients felt safer to confront their trauma, accept it, and move forward.

“People’s lives actually changed,” said her partner, Bruce Poulter.  If these kinds of results continue in the next phase, Poulter believes the FDA could approve this use of the drug by 2021.  “I find it incredibly hopeful, for something that is so difficult for people,” he said.

Government research has not been able to definitely say if MDMA is addictive, but during the trial it is administered only three times.

The study was sponsored by MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.  They are looking for participants for the next phase.

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