In 1985 the Drug Enforcement Administration banned MDMA, a.k.a. Ecstasy, because it had become popular as a party drug, despite protests from psychotherapists who said their clients found it useful. A quarter of a century later, researchers finally have completed the first study of MDMA’s therapeutic potential to be allowed by the U.S. government. Their findings, announced in July, lend support to those early reports.
The researchers, led by the South Carolina psychiatrist Michael Mithoefer, randomly assigned “twenty patients with chronic posttraumatic stress disorder” to receive either MDMA or a placebo while participating in two eight-hour “experimental psychotherapy sessions.” As measured by a “Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale,” 83 percent of the subjects who received MDMA showed statistically significant improvement, compared to 25 percent of the controls. No negative reactions were observed.
The study was supported by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a group that seeks to rehabilitate taboo drugs and win government approval for their medical use. Reporting their findings in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, Mithoefer and his co-authors conclude that “MDMA-assisted psychotherapy can be administered to posttraumatic stress disorder patients without evidence of harm, and it may be useful in patients refractory to other treatments.”