By Amy Maxmen
Psychologists have occasionally given people psychedelic drugs such as LSD or magic mushrooms to induce altered states, in an attempt to treat mental illness. Today, many of those drugs are illegal, but if clinical trials testing their efficacy yield positive results, a handful could become prescription medicines in the next decade. The furthest along in this process is MDMA — a drug sold illegally as ecstasy or Molly — which is showing promise in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Last week, at the Psychedelic Science 2017 conference in Oakland, California, researchers presented unpublished results from phase II trials involving a total of 107 people diagnosed with PTSD. The trial treatment involved a combination of psychotherapy and MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine). The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviewed these data in November, which were not released to the public at the time. The agency recommended that the researchers move forward with phase III trials, the final stage before potential approval of the drug.
At the conference, researchers affiliated with the non-profit organization that is sponsoring the trials, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) in Santa Cruz, California, presented some of their latest resutls. They used a cinically validated scale that assesses PTSD symptoms such as frequency of nightmares and anxiety levels. More than one year after two or three sessions of MDMA-assisted therapy, about 67% of participants no longer had the illness, according to that scale. About 23% of the control group — who received psychotherapy and a placebo drug — experienced the same benefit.
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