I’ve recently seen numerous articles published in the “mainstream media” questioning the use of illegal narcotics in the treatment of PTSD.
This issue isn’t something new; the 60s and 70s saw the same debate, though then it quieted for a while.
Well, it’s back.
The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) held its first US clinical trial using a psychedelic drug, MDMA (ecstasy).
They sponsored the work of Michael Mithoefer, MD who looked at whether MDMA could be useful in the treatment of PTSD for individuals who previously had been “treatment-resistant.” A majority of the 21 participants were women who had been sexually assaulted.
Other researchers are also getting involved, including those at Harvard, NYU and the University of Arizona.
Roland Griffiths, PhD, from Johns Hopkins, has been looking at the effects psilocybin can have on personal meaning and spiritual significance.
Charles S. Grob, MD, from UCLA has studied the use of MDMA with cancer patients.
Brain imagining from these studies suggest that MDMA quiets the amygdala, releases serotonin and dopamine while increasing oxytocin and prolactin. This would decrease fear and increase connectivity with others, perhaps allowing for better treatment of trauma.
Some guidelines have been established for these types of experiments, including the availability of expert monitors in case someone experiences a negative “trip.” MRIs have been taken of participants under the influence of the psychedelic drugs and standard protocols have been established in order to gauge the drug’s effects.
Now, most findings from psychedelic trials are still preliminary. Many critics have noted that further studies allowing for double-blind or triple-blind experiments are needed, as well as larger numbers of participants in each study.
Having lived through the original debate about the use of psychedelics in psychotherapy, I find myself on the fence about whether it’s appropriate or not.
I would love to see more research on the area and quite frankly, make sure that it’s fully safe for the individuals who are opting to use it to treat their PTSD.
PTSD is an important topic, and one we discuss frequently in our programs on trauma treatment.
Do you have an opinion on the use of psychedelic drugs for PTSD treatment? I invite you to leave a message on the comment board.