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XTC: Hard drug or medicine?

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Olivia Morris, Reporter

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Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is the scientific name for ecstasy, although not everything that gets sold as ecstasy these days contains MDMA. While rappers and pop stars have glorified it, federal and state laws include penalties for possessing, using, making or selling it. But researchers are now exploring its potential for use in curing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

PTSD can develop after a very stressful, frightening or distressing event. The Australian Centre for Post Traumatic Mental Health estimated that up to 10% of people will suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives, with Centre director Professor David Forbes saying that “rates of PTSD are second only to depression”.

Researchers at the University of South Carolina in the USA conducted an experimental study, published this month in The Lancet, that tested the effectiveness of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. In all 26 service personnel (22 veterans; 3 firefighters; 1 police officer) took part in the study. All had experienced PTSD for at least six months, resulting from a traumatic experience during their service.

The trial was delivered in a clinical setting alongside intensive psychotherapy. Each course of treatment included 18 hours of non-drug psychotherapy and 16-24 hours (2-3 sessions) of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. The researchers concluded that it was safe and might enhance the benefits of psychotherapy in the treatment of PTSD.

While trying out using MDMA to improve mental illnesses might be somewhat intriguing, going to a psychologist won’t get you a script. Dr Bronwyn Harman told NewsVineWA “psychologists don’t have prescribing rights, its only psychiatrists and doctors.” – and besides the study is an early stage exploration, it is not a well established therapeutic practice yet.

In the study, before the first dose of MDMA, participants took part in three 90-minute psychotherapy sessions to establish a therapeutic alliance with the therapist and prepare for the MDMA experience. MDMA was then administered during 8-hour experimental sessions of specially-adapted psychotherapy. These were followed by an overnight stay, seven days of telephone contact, and three 90 minute psychotherapy sessions aimed at integrating the experience.

Dr Stephen Bright, a psychologist based at ECU said: “It is possible to be treated with MDMA without becoming addicted.”

He said the most recent South Carolina study built on earlier studies in which participants were followed up  from a year to three years after the trial. There were a couple of participants who tried MDMA therapy after the trial was over, but their experience wasn’t as they predicted and they said they’d never do it again.

In summarising the latest research the authors wrote: “Participants who had not previously taken ecstasy before the study did not report taking it after having received MDMA as part of the trial.”

One of the researchers, Dr Allison Feduccia from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) said: “Key elements that contribute to the safety and efficacy of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy include careful medical and psychological screening, preparing participants for the MDMA experience and treatment, close support by trained psychotherapists during the sessions as well as professional follow-up support.”

The MAPS team are continuing their investigation, looking into the long term effects for their participants.

Dr Bright said articles about this research could potentially trigger people with mental illnesses to want to try using ecstasy but he stressed that “it is important to distinguish between the clinical trials, where MDMA is used in a controlled setting with trained psychotherapists and pharmacists versus trying to do it at home.”

He stated: “I recommend people don’t attempt to use MDMA outside of the context of a clinical setting.”

But added that he fears it may already be happening in Australia, via underground therapists in a way that is completely unregulated and illegal. He is worried about the dangers of this and said: “These aren’t therapists you find in the yellow pages.”

 

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About the Writer
Olivia Morris, Reporter
Hi, I’m Liv a self-confessed beauty junkie and qualified make up artist who lets all my love for it out on my YouTube channel. I’m a passionate person who tends to talk a lot and tries to find humour in most situations. When asked if I believe in something, my response is this: ‘stars’. And...
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XTC: Hard drug or medicine?