From an era when psychedelic drugs were favorites of war protesters in the Vietnam Era to now when psychedelic drugs may be lifesavers for injured war veterans the world of psychedelic medicines has come a long way. The status of psychedelic treatment for PTSD is such that a drug like MDMA may become the key treatment within only a few years. Both MDMA and psilocybin are undergoing FDA testing traits and are designated as breakthrough therapies, psilocybin for depression and MDMA for PTSD.
History of PTSD
Anyone who undergoes severe stress can develop a post-traumatic stress disorder. It is not surprising that the incidence of PTSD is higher among military veterans than throughout the civilian population. Although this condition has in all likelihood been present in veterans of military service forever it was only first recognized as a specific condition and described as a unique diagnosis during the First World War. It was first called shell shock and was believed to be the result of the physical trauma of repeated bombardment in trench warfare. After World War II survivors of Nazi concentration camps experienced nightmares, depression, and anxiety years later as did soldiers of that war. In 1963 a psychiatrist, Paul Chodoff, described this state as being constantly preoccupied with ruminations or recollections of past experiences and family or friends who died. Chodoff call this the concentration camp syndrome. During the Vietnam War and after soldiers continued to suffer from this constellation of symptoms and it was named post-traumatic stress disorder. Today PTSD is prevalent in veterans of American military service and risk factor for veteran suicide.
Existing Treatments for PTSD
Although PTSD has been a recognized condition for decades there has not been a new medicine for PTSD for more than two decades. Currently the only medicines approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for treatment of PTSD are antidepressants that work by manipulating levels of serotonin in the brain. This situation would be fine if these medicines worked well but they do not. Patients with PTSD need to take these medicines daily for years and commonly to not obtain significant relief of their PTSD. Persistently high suicide rates among veterans are one of the sad outcomes of this lack of effective treatment for PTSD.
Psychedelic Treatment for PTSD
Back in the 1960s there was research into the use of LSD for conditions like PTSD but the research was of poor quality and societal reaction against drug use put pressure on the research community. Research stopped until the 1990s. Since that time research studies have demonstrated that just one or a few doses of MDMA can be effective in treating PTSD. This is why the FDA has OK’d its use in studies for treatment of PTSD and given it a breakthrough drug status. This means that the FDA provides support to companies developing this drug and setting up clinical studies to test its safety and effectiveness.
The amazing part of treating PTSD with MDMA is that patients need only be given a dose of two of pharmaceutical grade medication along with appropriate psychological support to get better and stay better for significant periods of time. When compared to the use of standard antidepressant therapy which requires daily medicine for weeks, months, or years this is virtually a miracle.
How MDMA Works in Treating PTSD
Like psilocybin, MDMA induces a state of mental plasticity which makes learning new things and rewiring neural circuits easier for patients with PTSD. Researchers have likened this to how kids learn. This makes simply therapeutic measures hugely effective in making new brain connections and relieving symptoms of PTSD.
According to Mydecine, a company working on psychedelic medicines, brain imaging studies show that MDMA physically changes cell networks responsible for us knowing where we are in time and space called the default node network. Treatment for PTSD involves a guide trained in treating PTSD helping the patient realize at the deep level that they are no longer in a war but home and safe in civilian society. In this way MDMA is an adjunct to such therapy and helps the patient access old memories without falling into the same routine of depression and anxiety. Patients with PTSD work with guides or therapists who explain the treatment and talk about the patient’s experiences with PTSD and their life aims. Roughly half an hour after taking the medicine, the effects begin and last for around six hours. What has become clear in current studies is that the setting and working through issues with the guide is critical as individuals who use MDMA for recreational purposes do not get any relief of PTSD symptoms. MDMA is currently in clinical trials and in all likelihood will be the standard treatment for PTSD in a year or two.