Controversial Study Evaluates Pure Form of Ecstasy as PTSD Treatment

War veterans and scientists have joined hands to fight for the illegal drug MDMA — a purer form of the street drug Ecstasy — to be allowed for medical use, after US research found it may be able to treat post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.

Research on MDMA clinical utility stopped when it entered the recreational drug scene but has slowly resurrected in the past decade.


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), traumatic events and loss are common in people’s lives. Researchers found that an estimated 3.6% of the world’s population has suffered from PTSD; an emotional and behavioral disturbance that can occur after experiencing a very stressful, threatening or catastrophic event. The mental disorder is often associated with the military and combat veterans.

June is National PTSD Awareness month and Saturday was National PTSD Awareness Day.


There is limited substantial research in the field and it is not a recommended treatment, but clinical trials with MDMA have shown promising results.

The non-profit organization Multidisciplinary Association For Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has conducted research in the controversial area of using the drug MDMA in alleviating PTSD in several test patients.

According to the latest pilot study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, 83% of the subjects receiving MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, no longer met the criteria for PTSD and experienced significant recovery from symptoms.

The research has found that those taking the drug in a supervised session, once a month, experienced lasting improvements. Patients reported progress in their general wellbeing three-and-a-half years after treatment, and 68 percent reported fewer flashbacks, nightmares and intrusive memories.

The study’s authors believe that “MDMA-assisted psychotherapy can be administered to post-traumatic stress disorder patients without evidence of harm, and it may be useful in patients refractory to other treatments”.


According to an article published in the British Journal of Psychiatry currently, there is enough evidence for MDMA to be removed from its Schedule 1 status of ‘no medical use’ and be considered alongside other misused but useful medicines such as heroin and amphetamine.

Scientists urge policymakers to distinguish the clinical use of pure MDMA from the recreational use of ecstasy. The reservations about lasting neurophysiological damage, popularised in the 1990s, have since been challenged, gradually validating the low-risk use of moderate and infrequent medically supervised doses of the drug.

Although skepticism is still prevalent today, according to psychiatrists Ben Sessa and David Nutt, with dozens of individuals with post-combat treatment-resistant PTSD dying by suicide every day, “the massive social, financial and clinical burden of untreated PTSD is a far greater risk to society than the low risks associated with using MDMA in the clinical setting”.