Saturday, January 10, 2009

Why play Tetris when you can do X?

Screw Tetris.

More and more research seems to be accumulating to support MDMA (or Ecstasy, to the street-wise reader) for the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

MDMA, or 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine, is well-loved by drug enthusiasts for its experiential effects which include feelings of intimacy, lack of fear or anxiety, and, of course, the feeling of euphoria it is named for. It does this by increasing oxytocin in the brain, a hormone which is otherwise released after orgasm, dopamine, and 'stress hormones' like noradrenaline and cortisol. Though its mechanism isn't well understood, the drug appears to have high affinity for serotonin transporters, which are responsible for removing serotonin from synapses after its stimulation.

It's obvious why such a drug would be popular with the frisky youth who are looking to break out of social expectations and 'have a really good time'. What's not as clear is why it would be useful in treating PTSD.

Yet that is exactly what the non-profit research organization MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies), has been claiming for years. MDMA had been used in psychotherapy in the earlier part of the 20th century, until it became illegal worldwide under the UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances. However, MAPS researchers believe that the drug should be legalized for pharmaceutical reasons, and the recent conclusion of a phase II clinical trial shows strong support for their position.

The study, presented as a poster at the 24th Annual Meeting of the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies in Chicago, found that giving patients low doses of MDMA during psychotherapy significantly increased their likelihood of recovery from PTSD. 92% of patients who received a little E alongside good old fashioned therapy had clinically significant improvement in their conditions, whereas only 25% of those who received the placebo improved.

And, as far as they can tell, there were no lasting side effects. Patients did not seek out MDMA after treatment, and managed to move past their pain that six months of therapy and three months of previous drug treatment had failed to alleviate. Neuropsychological tests even showed that patients might have improved mental ability after treatment.

While the reasons behind its efficacy are unclear, scientists speculate that the increased feelings of trust and lack of anxiety make the therapy sessions more effective at dispelling the trauma that caused the PTSD.

The trial was small, and further testing is required to convince hard-minded anti-drug lords (who categorized the drug as "having no medical uses and a high potential for abuse ") to legalize the substance for therapeutic uses. But it's enough to convince some that MDMA is a useful agent. The Norwegian government has just decided to be the first to publicly fund further investigation into MDMA's usefulness, following upon the heels of MDMA research successes like this one. If is is approved for clinical use, the real question will be:

Why play Tetris to prevent PTSD when you can have a whole lot more fun tripping on a little hug-drug once you're diagnosed? I mean, Tetris is a great game, but come on - it's clear which one would be more fun.


Anonymous said...

I'm not against studying Ecstasy in principle. But I'm leery of pharmaceuticals and their profiteering. Current psychiatric meds have many side effects, long-term studies show efficacy to be dubious, and withdrawal symptoms are so severe as to keep people on meds (which as an aside might relate to the current financial crisis). So I'm just expressing some concern. Maybe rec drugs should stay as rec drugs. Maybe they're safer that way.

Christie Lynn said...

While I agree somewhat that using drugs for non-recreation uses might be dangerous, it depends on the drug/side effects. Ecstasy, as a rec. drug, is mostly dangerous due to everything else they add to the MDMA - like coke, PMA, meth, etc to make it a "better roll". The MDMA itself has some critics, but hasn't shown to be very damaging on its own (in the long-term sense). Also, this use of it wouldn't be prolonged, like using opiates for pain management (for example), leaving little likelihood of long-term side effects. Of course we'd need to do more research, but I think the idea of it is promising.