Igor Giusti PhD(c)
75 Manhattan Dr. Suite 302
Boulder, CO 80303

There are many tools available for people who struggle with trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These include medication, lifestyle changes, peer support groups, and sessions with a counselor. MDMA research has the potential to be another asset in helping those who experienced trauma to find resolution.

What is MDMA?According to the U.S. Government, MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) is a drug, taken in pill form, that affects the brain’s neurotransmitters. It also:

  • Leaves one feeling increased enjoyment and energized.  
  • Can cause harm to nerve cells, if taken in large doses, MDMA.  
  • The drug has also been known to raise the body’s temperature.  

MDMA is often mixed with other drugs such as caffeine, cocaine, methamphetamine, and dextromethorphan. It is also called Ecstasy or Molly on the street, and is used by party-goers attending concerts seeking a heightened, mind-altering experience. MDMA is illegal in the United States.

How Can MDMA Help People with Trauma?

MDMA may have the potential to help people with trauma when used during a session with a trained counselor. The drug allows a user to feel more open, empathetic, and euphoric.  These feelings can help the user become more open and trusting with a counselor, who can then discuss with the client about their trauma and to process their experiences. One patient interviewed on NPR said that MDMA caused her to see a maze that led back to her childhood and trauma that until then she had not remembered. This allowed her to process these experiences with her therapist and find closure.

MDMA Research by MAPS

Currently, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is conducting MDMA research and lobbying the U.S. Government on the subject. Some of the results of their research show that:

  • MDMA helps to increase the release of prolactin and oxytocin, which are hormones connected with trust.
  • MDMA affects the brain by lowering activity in the left amygdala, which affects traumatic memory and fear.
  • MDMA is only given a few times during therapy sessions, unlike other medications that must be taken daily for long periods of time.

Results of MDMA Research

During the MAPS MDMA research, people were given either MDMA or a placebo during two 8-hour sessions that were 3-5 weeks apart. This was in combination with other weekly therapy sessions. After two months 83% of the participants were no long considered to have PTSD. Follow-ups after over three years, reported that the benefits from the treatment were maintained by the patients. There was no negative impact on the brain as a result of using MDMA for therapy.

What Does MDMA Research Mean for Trauma Patients?

MDMA research shows some promise for patients who struggle with PTSD and its symptoms. However, more study into the subject is necessary before MDMA can be made widely available. Dr. Eugene Kiyatkin of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) notes in a USA Today article that MDMA in its pure form can kill research rats when given moderate doses, and reproducing the conditions found in a hot and crowded music concert. Other negative side effects can include:

  • Nausea
  • Involuntary teeth clenching
  • Muscle tension
  • Fainting
  • Blurred vision
  • Sweating
  • Chills

In some cases MDMA can cause hyperthermia, which is when the body overheats. This can lead to kidney, liver, or heart failure, and death.

MDMA, when used under the guidance of a therapist and combined with traditional talk therapies, has the possibility of significantly helping people with PTSD resolve their symptoms. Although more research is needed into the effects of the drug, MDMA holds the promise for PTSD sufferers for hope and finding healing.