Scientists and researchers have long tried to prove that psychedelic drugs could treat some of the most intractable problems in human health, like addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Now, they have data to back their claims, paving the way for the bourgeoning psychedelics market.
On Monday, the journal Nature published the phase-III clinical trial results on MDMA-assisted psychotherapy as a treatment for PTSD, operated by the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). The data is impressive. After 18 weeks and three sessions, 67% of participants receiving MDMA therapy saw so much symptom reduction that they no longer met the threshold for a PTSD diagnosis.
“You see [an] increase in sleep—bad sleep is a huge symptom of PTSD and nightmares,” says Amy Emerson, the CEO of MAPS. After MDMA-assisted therapy, nightmares decreased. In general, says Emerson, patients’ relationships with friends and family improved, as did their overall quality of life and ability to work. Emerson says there was also a decrease in substance abuse, which will be more finely examined in a forthcoming study. By comparison, less than a third of the control group, which received a placebo pill alongside therapy, had similar outcomes. The data shows that while therapy itself can help with PTSD symptoms, adding MDMA to the equation aids more people in overcoming the disorder faster.
This expediency is important because a high portion of people in trauma-focused therapy don’t complete it. A recent study found that an average of 16% of participants in randomized controlled trials for PTSD treatments dropped out. Among combat veterans, the dropout rate can be even higher, anywhere from 5% to 78%, according to another study. One reason for those high dropout rates is that working through trauma can itself be traumatizing, Emerson says.