MDMA has the potential to be a treatment for the symptoms of PTSD for which other therapies are not effective. Rick Doblin, founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), explains1 , MDMA appears to be effective in treating PTSD because it decreases activity in the amygdala—the part of the brain that processes fear. This area of the brain is overactive in PTSD patients, and increases activity in the prefrontal cortex, which generates rational thought. In people suffering from PTSD, decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex destroys trust and makes it difficult to feel safe.
MDMA also increases connectivity between the hippocampus and amygdala, where memories are moved into long term storage. This is especially useful for PTSD patients, for whom traumatic memories remain alive in the present. Once called the “love drug,” MDMA also signals the release of prolactin and oxytocin, which build feelings of trust and safety, as well as serotonin which engenders a euphoric sensation, making it easier to face challenging psychological material.
According to research findings2 , MDMA-assisted therapy reduced symptoms of chronic PTSD in people who are non-responsive to typical psychotherapy or psychopharmacology. Studies have found that it can reduces symptoms for periods lasting up to 74 months. Long-term follow-up (LTFU) outcomes of trials investigating MDMA-assisted therapy for treating PTSD showed that the percentage of participants that no longer qualified for PTSD diagnoses increased from 56 percent to 67 percent between treatment exit and LTFU. Two to three sessions of MDMA-assisted therapy were found to be more effective at reducing symptoms of PTSD than the current SSRI PTSD treatments paroxetine and sertraline. The results from the world’s first Phase 3 trial using MDMA found that after three MDMA-assisted therapy sessions, 67 percent of participants no longer qualify for a PTSD diagnosis and 88 percent experienced a clinically significant reduction in symptoms.