C. Michael White, University of Connecticut –MDMA Assisted Psychotherapy for PTSD Patients

C. Michael White on March 15, 2019. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

Treating mental disorders may require some out of the box thinking.

C. Michael White, distinguished professor and chair of pharmacy practice at the University of Connecticut, discusses a form of treatment that is gaining steam with positive results.

Michael White, Pharm.D. is a Distinguished Professor and Chair at the UConn School of Pharmacy. His research interests are in drug, dietary supplement, and substances of abuse safety and effectiveness. His over 400 publications in biomedical journals have been cited over 14,000 times and covered by major media television, radio, newspaper, and internet sites. He has received national awards from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, and the American College of Clinical Pharmacy.

MDMA Assisted Psychotherapy for PTSD Patients

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MDMA is an active ingredient in the street drugs Ecstasy or Molly. People in dance clubs or raves like the surreal feeling they get from MDMAs psychedelic effects, the improved mood from serotonin release, and the feeling of bonding to strangers from oxytocin release.  Investigators hypothesized that these same effects would benefit people with post-traumatic stress disorder who struggle to share their traumatic events or work through them with psychotherapists. We recently published a meta-analysis statistically pooling all the trials assessing MDMA-assisted psychotherapy with psychotherapy alone.

Patients receiving MDMA-assisted psychotherapy reduced the severity of their PTSD symptoms by 22 points and were twice as likely to no longer meet the definition of PTSD by the end of the study than those with unenhanced psychotherapy. Furthermore, one year after having their last MDMA-assisted psychotherapy session, 86% of participants said they received substantial benefits from the combined MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, 71% had fewer nightmares, 69% had less anxiety, and 66% had improved sleep.

However, people cannot replicate these benefits by trying illicit MDMA on their own. First off, most Ecstasy or Molly tablets have other drugs of abuse in them like LSD or methamphetamine which enhances the risks. Second, it isn’t MDMA alone that works, it is MDMA allowing people to feel comfortable enough with the psychotherapists to reveal and work through their traumatic events with less panic or anxiety. Third, patients require careful monitoring and management from psychotherapists during the MDMA sessions to keep them safe. So, for the half of patients with PTSD not fully benefiting from psychotherapy alone, adding 2 or 3 MDMA-assisted psychotherapy sessions to the mix can make a big difference.  

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