The science world is shocked by the potential ecstasy holds for treating mental health disorders

In Science & Technology
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The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined that 3,4-methylenediozymethampthtamine (MDMA) could be a “breakthrough therapy” in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

This means that The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) can now further their research to determine how effectively the drug can be used to treat PTSD.

This comes on the back of several studies that have suggested that MDMA might have benefits in helping with the symptoms of anxiety and PTSD.

A 2014 study conducted at Imperial College London, found the ways that ecstasy, or MDMA, might be useful in treatment of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  

You’ve probably heard of MDMA. It’s been a popular recreational drug since the 1980s, but there’s been little research on how it actually affects the brain.

However, this revolutionary study used fMRI scans on people under its influence.

Twenty-five volunteers underwent brain scans after taking the drug and one after taking a placebo. At the time, they didn’t know which they were taking.

So, what actually happens in the brain after taking MDMA?

The results show that MDMA decreases activity in the limbic system – a part of the brain involved in emotional responses.

Messages between the medial temporal lobe and medial prefrontal cortex (involved in emotional control) was reduced. This effect is opposite to patterns seen in patients who suffer from anxiety.

MDMA has also been found to increase messaging between the amygdala and the hippocampus.

Studies on patients with PTSD have found a reduction in communication between these areas.

In general, people who use ecstasy report a range of positive effects including increased confidence, well-being, happiness, empathy and sex drive.

MDMA enhances social behaviour and empathy towards others.

Some of the less desirable effects include nausea, jaw clenching, and increased heart rate and blood pressure. It’s also known to have a large come down because it releases such large levels of serontonin.

Isn’t ecstasy just a party drug?

Ecstasy was never created with the intention of being a “party drug”.

MDMA was first manufactured in Germany in the early 1900s as a precursor chemical for a pharmaceutical drug to stop bleeding. It wasn’t really considered significant at the time.

In the 1960s, Alex Shlugin, discovered it and created an easier way to make the drug. He personally tested it.

In the 1970s and 80s it was used for a range of therapeutic purposes, including in psychotherapy for couples.

However,  in the late 1980s, it started to become a dance party favorite in many different parts of the world.

Shulgin found that the chemical contained powerful therapeutic potential for people who have experiened trauma, martial troubles, depression and more.

Once word went out about this, users started enjoying it in nightclubs because of its ability to induce euphoria and a sense of connectedness.

Shulgin and Zeff were distributing it for free. But it became far too popular for this to be affordable.

Nobody had been harmed by the drug until police became aware of the growing trend.

MDMA was declared Schedule 1 in 1985, which means that the Government found it extremely harmful with high abuse potential. This also made it almost impossible to get research approval, which is way FDA’s recent ruling is significant.

The problem was that once it became illegal, MDMA went from being carefully produced by a trained chemist to being poorly synthesized by the illegal market looking to make money.

It started getting made with other chemicals to reduce distribution costs. Now it’s been produced in the illegal market, it is known to contain anything from meth to cocaine.

It’s not just ecstasy – other psychedelics could be useful with more research

It’s not just MDMA that could be useful for treatment of mental health diseases. Studies have found that psilocybin, the main ingredient in magic mushrooms, affects patients with anxiety and depression.

In this study, the researchers likened the treatment to a “surgical invention”.

The researchers believe psilocybin could be nothing less than a breakthrough in treating some of the common and tragic illnesses of the brain.

With depression the leading cause of disability worldwide, the timing seems ideal.

Other studies have found that anaesthetic and recreational drug ketamine could be used to treat depression.

How long before this will be used as a medication?

There’s a huge amount of research that still needs be done before these drugs can be safely sold as “medication”. Unfortunately, due to the stigma of psychedelics, research has been incredibly hard to get approval for.

The drugs then need to go through an approval process. Any pharmaceutical company who has ever produced prescription drugs has to go through the stages.

According to one expert, the fact that MAPS is in a third stage of clinical trials for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy treatment for victims of trauma, it could be come a prescription by 2021.

Psychedelic mushrooms on depression is at about the same stage, with clinical trials showing promise.

Let’s hope for the millions of people suffering from mental health disorders that research continues to show promising signs so that it can eventually be prescribed under medical circumstances.