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In a challenging and demanding world, mental health awareness is increasingly imperative to maintain a strong global identity. In fact, 1 in 25 American adults experiences a serious mental illness in any given year that substantially interferes with his or her daily life. With more than 200 classified forms of mental illness, the most common being clinical depression and anxiety disorders, there’s a clear need for further research, treatment and destigmatization to help those struggling. Anxiety disorders, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), affect more than 18 percent of Americans every year, and lack of proper treatment forces many into desperate situations. PTSD develops in individuals who have survived a shocking or terrifying event, although not everyone who experiences terror will develop the illness. Common triggers include war, assault, childhood trauma, car accidents, and other frightening situations. Common symptoms are flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance, and negative mood changes. While current treatment for PTSD is a combination of talk therapy and medication, the Food and Drug Administration’s most recent breakthrough treatment designation includes the use of low dose MDMA in patients not responding to traditional medication. The drug is most commonly known as the main component in “Molly” and “Ecstasy,” but these street drugs often involve other, more harmful chemical additions. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) recently held a government-approved clinical trial that suggests MDMA offers significant help for those suffering from anxiety disorders such as PTSD. The study leaves a lot to unpack, but here are the basics.


What is MDMA-assisted psychotherapy?

The combination of low doses of MDMA alongside regular talk therapy. The goal is to allow the euphoric elements of the drug to help catalyze the therapeutic process and confront harmful thoughts and memories.


How does it treat PTSD?

The drug is a synthetic compound that decreases fear and defensiveness in patients, while increasing trust, allowing those struggling with severe anxiety to cope during periods of terror. It also increases the release of oxytocin and prolactin, chemicals that encourage feelings of relaxation and peace, fostering a candid discussion of frightening memories with a therapist. In essence, patients who were administered the MDMA felt more confident working through their fears than those given a placebo.


How helpful is it?

According to the most recent study, very helpful. Patients were given doses of MDMA during two eight-hour sessions three to five weeks apart, along with weekly non-psychotherapy sessions. The results showed that 80 percent were no longer diagnosed with PTSD after two months. Among the 780 human subjects administered the drug, only one had adverse effects. All other subjects reported at least some benefit from the study, with little to no negative cognitive effects.


What are the risks?

The use of MDMA alongside therapy is relatively new, and although it’s considered a breakthrough treatment by the FDA, there are always risks when perfecting new treatments. MDMA as a recreational drug is considered addictive and known to induce paranoia, memory problems, and more serious adverse effects in higher doses. MDMA is considered an illegal controlled substance under U.S. law.


Will I have access to this treatment?

The treatment has yet to be streamlined, but some alternative therapists have been known to use it. Because of the drug’s recreational stigma, there could be potential blocks on the road to mainstream use. MAPS is working to make the treatment available to those struggling as soon as possible.